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HTC Vive Pro Headset Review: A High Bar for Premium VR

Editor's Choice

How We Tested the HTC Vive Pro

If you’ve read our review of the Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality headset, you should already be familiar with the evaluation process that we used for the Vive Pro headset. Conveniently, we were just wrapping up our tests with the Samsung headset when HTC dropped the Vive Pro on our doorstep. We ran the Vive Pro through the same group of games, with the same graphics settings, on the same test machine, and with the same graphics drivers as we did with the Odyssey headset.

Our VR performance analysis suite consists a handful of games with varying visual fidelity, including Rick & Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, Gorn, Arizona Sunshine, Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope, and Island 359. Gorn, Rick & Morty, and Arizona Sunshine are all based on the Unity 3D engine. Gorn and Rick & Morty have basic graphics profiles, which don’t exactly push the limits of modern powerful graphics cards. Arizona Sunshine is a much more demanding title, though the CPU takes the brunt of the hit in that game.

Croteam’s Serious Sam VR, which is built on Croteam’s proprietary Serious Engine, provides a heavier load for the GPU to crunch through. And Cloudgate Studio’s Island 359, which is built on Unreal Engine, puts heavy stress on our graphics system. In fact, it’s the only game in our suite that consistently pushes our test rig beyond its limits.

Test Hardware

Our VR test system features an Intel Core i7-5930K, 16GB of Crucial Balistix Sport DDR4 2133, and an MSI X99S Xpower motherboard. We tested each HMD with a Gigabyte GTX 980 Ti Xtreme Gaming card, as well as an EVGA GTX 970 SC.

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As we discussed in the Odyssey review, SteamVR has a feature called the Rendering Target, which dictates the rendering resolution independent of the display panels in the headset. For the HTC Vive, which features 2,160x1,200 resolution, SteamVR pushes 1,512x1,680 pixels, which equates to 5.1 megapixels per frame. SteamVR gives the Oculus Rift a slightly lighter workload for the same display resolution. The Rift receives a 1,344x1,600-pixel signal, which works out to 4.3 megapixels per frame.

During our evaluation of the Samsung Odyssey, we discovered that, despite the higher-resolution 2,880x1,600 display, SteamVR wasn’t sending a higher-resolution image to the Odyssey headset compared to the Vive. SteamVR’s default rendering target for the Odyssey is 1,433x1,772 pixels, which works out to 5.1 megapixels, like the signal destined for the Vive.

With the Vive Pro, SteamVR kicks the rendering target up a lot. HTC boasts that the Vive Pro’s display resolution is 78% higher than the original Vive's. Consider that SteamVR’s rendering target is a full 77% higher resolution than the panels in the headset. SteamVR delivers a 2,016x2,240 pixel signal to HTC's new HMD, which works out to 9 megapixels per frame. As a result, the Vive Pro’s default SteamVR configuration offers even better image clarity than that of the Odyssey headset, despite the two headsets using the same panels.

But this level of image fidelity comes with a heavy price. The Vive Pro demands a much stronger graphics subsystem to drive the display. The original Vive HMD required a GeForce GTX 970 or a Radeon R9 290/390 (or better) to drive the HMD at 90Hz in all experiences. To power the new headset, you’ll want something a little more powerful. HTC said the new HMD is compatible with all VR-ready GPUs, but a GeForce GTX 1070 or a Radeon RX Vega 54 (or better) is strongly recommended.

System RequirementsHTC Vive Pro
ProcessorIntel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350, equivalent or better
Minimum GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480, equivalent or better
Recommended GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 1070/Quadro P5000 or above, or AMD Radeon Vega 56 or above
Memory4GB RAM or more
Video outDisplayPort 1.2 or newer
USB ports1x USB 3.0 or newer port
Operating systemWindows 8.1 or later, Windows 10

Performance Tests

We used Nvidia’s FCAT VR performance-analysis tool to capture the frame-rate and frame-timing data our of game tests. The version that we’re using is an unreleased beta provided by Nvidia.

For each game, we captured 60 seconds of gameplay with each HMD and each graphics card. VR games aren’t really conducive to repeating precise movements, but to the best of our ability, we tried to replicate each run as closely as possible.

We used the data from our Samsung Odyssey review for comparison numbers instead of running new tests. Because of the significant difference in SteamVR’s default rendering target for the Vive Pro and the Samsung Odyssey, we also reran our tests with Samsung’s headset with SteamVR’s rendering target set to 1.8x, which works out to 1,923x2,377 pixels per eye, or the equivalent of 9.1 megapixels per frame. We didn’t test the GTX 970 with the 9.1-megapixel render target but instead stuck to the standard 5.1 megapixels for the Odyssey headset, as the GTX 970 isn't up to the task of pushing most games at such high resolutions.

Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews of graphics cards and virtual reality hardware.