More Than a Resolution Upgrade
The most prominent update to the Vive Pro headset is the new display resolution. The original Vive rocks two 2.5-inch 1,080x1,200 AMOLED Samsung displays (total resolution: 2,160x1,200), which gets the job done but is far from perfect. The original Vive screens suffer from a fairly prominent screen -door effect, and the panels are somewhat dim. The Vive Pro features much better displays. Inside the visor, HTC installed two 3.5” QHD (1,440x1,600) AMOLED panels (also sourced from Samsung). The new headset’s 2,880x1,600 resolution is a vast improvement over the old Vive, and the new panels offer vivid, much brighter color reproduction.
Sadly, the visual experience is somewhat marred by HTC’s continued use of the Fresnel lenses that it developed for the original Vive. The lenses feature prominent stepping, which you can see with the naked eye from a distance. These concentric stepping lines refract light at certain angles, which results in a phenomenon called "God rays"; they appear when you’re looking at bright features. The rays are most prominent in menus with dark backgrounds and white text. These artifacts aren’t as bad with the Vive Pro—perhaps because the image is less aliased—but they are still visible.
The screen door effect (SDE) is much less visible with the new displays, though. If we look hard for it, we can see the gaps between the sub-pixel array, but even when we looked for it, the SDE in the Vive Pro didn’t distract us. We always found that the SDE of first-generation headsets would fade away into the background when our minds were distracted by compelling content. Now, the content doesn’t need to be compelling to make these image imperfections fade away. The SDE is so subtle with the Vive Pro that we were usually not conscious of it.
The Vive Pro’s display panels aren’t new to us. Samsung’s Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality headset, which we reviewed in March, features the same panels for about $500 (including all the requisite controllers and other hardware). This is one of the reasons that people are upset about the Vive Pro’s price tag. However, once you get your hands on both devices side by side, it becomes quite clear why HTC’s headset carries a much bigger price.
Easier to Put On
The new head strap isn’t just more comfortable to wear; it’s significantly easier to put on correctly. Fitment is one of the biggest problems with the original HTC Vive. The problem isn’t the head strap per se, but more so the way people use it. HTC had a terrible time communicating the correct way to put the original Vive HMD on, which resulted in poor fitment and poor image quality. The Fresnel lenses in the Vive have a small sweet spot, and if you don’t line your eyes up correctly with the lenses, the visual experience is marred significantly. Also, if you don’t put the strap on correctly, it throws off the balance and makes the headset feel heavier than it should.
The Vive Pro’s head strap, in comparison, makes it difficult to put the headset on wrong. The shape of the cushions and head band here encourage you to push the back of the head band low on the back of your head to balance the device, which in turn informs the proper forward alignment of the HMD. We found the simplest way to put the Vive Pro on is to lift the rear of the strap and place the headset against your face, then pull the strap down over your head. The Vive Pro’s visor does not flip up while it’s on your head; its function is to simplify correct fitting of the headset.
The Vive Pro also features an improved relief system to accommodate the wearing of eyeglasses. The relief adjustment on the original Vive required you turn two dials evenly, which was somewhat awkward and not conducive to regular adjustments. The new headset features a button that unlocks that relief slider for manual adjustment. It works just like the relief system on Sony’s PlayStation VR visor. The Vive Pro’s visor is also slightly larger than the original Vive's, which better accommodates wider glasses.
The Vive Pro also features a whole lot more padding than we’re used to seeing on VR headsets. But we are more than a little bit disappointed that HTC didn’t revise its material choice here.
HTC advertises the Vive Pro as a solution for enterprise users and demanding VR enthusiasts. In other words, the company expects people to use the Vive Pro for extended periods and likely share it with others. Unfortunately, the face cushion is made of the same soft-touch foam material as the original Vive, which soaks up moisture like a wash cloth in a sink. Few things are less appealing than putting on a VR headset with someone else’s sweat soaking through, and these cushions are prone to that.
We would have much preferred to see some sort of washable or moisture-resistant cushions installed. If you decide to upgrade to the Vive Pro, you should plan to buy aftermarket cushions for the device, but we’ll have to wait for those to hit the market. The new face cushion is a little larger than the original Vive’s cushion, because the Vive Pro’s lens opening is slightly larger, which means that existing Vive VR Covers won’t fit correctly. We managed to get our thin moisture-resistant VR Cover to fit, but it negatively affected the fit and comfort of the headset.
The Vive Pro also features two prominent cushions on the back of the strap. The first one is attached with Velcro to the inner side of the tightening dial. We’ve racked our brains trying to figure out what the first cushion’s purpose is, but we’re coming up blank. HTC said it's there to facilitate fitment for each idividual, but we can't help be imagine there would be a better way. The second cushion, which attaches via a plastic hinge, covers the first cushion, so your head never even touches it. The hinged cushion is triangular, with a slight curvature at the bottom, which somewhat envelops your neck for a secure, comfortable fit. The rear cushions are made of a slightly different--but equally soft--material as the face cushions.
The Vive Pro head strap also includes padding on the sides to prevent irritation from the rigid plastic. These cushions also hide the screws that secure the headphones in place. The side cushions are made of a thin padding, which is like the padding on the Deluxe Audio Head Strap for the older Vive headset.
Excellent Weight Distribution
The rear section of the Vive Pro adds ballast that helps distribute the weight evenly front-to-back. The new device weighs a little bit less than the original Vive with a Deluxe Audio Head Strap installed. HTC's new headset tipped our scale at 1017g, and our Vive weighs 1060g. With the cable removed, the Vive Pro weighs in at 769g, which is 20g more than our original Vive weighs without the cable.
Despite the similar weight of the two headsets, the Vive Pro is magnitudes more comfortable for long periods of use. Balance makes a huge difference in comfort for VR HMDs, and HTC nailed that aspect of the Vive Pro.