HTC Vive Pro review: Evolution, not revolution

£799
Price when reviewed

Since the HTC Vive first launched in 2016, the VR market hasn’t changed a whole lot. Standalone devices like the HTC Vive Focus and Oculus Go are coming to market to provide PC-less VR experiences and Sony’s PlayStation VR has proved there is an appetite for VR content – as long as it’s accessible content. But, on the whole, VR isn’t a whole lot further along the road to mass uptake than it was two years ago.

That’s probably why the HTC Vive’s room-scale VR setup remains, even now, the best device on the market. Which, of course, is why HTC Vive is choosing now to release its second-generation headset: the HTC Vive Pro. With an increased – near 3K – resolution, an extra chaperone camera, a comfier headband and sporting a new colour scheme, the Pro is better than the original in pretty much every way you can think.

Except, this is not quite the mind-blowing change the industry needs to push it to the next level. It simply feels how modern VR should have felt when it launched back in 2016.

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HTC Vive Pro review: Revamped hardware

On the hardware front, the most noticeable change between the original HTC Vive “VR” (as it’s now called) and the HTC Vive Pro is that it’s no longer boring black but a soft, blue colour. If you’re reasonably observant, you’ll also notice that the Vive Pro now has a dual-camera setup for its Chaperone technology, instead of the single camera found on the Vive.

The headstrap on the Vive Pro is also new, and similar to the Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap, complete with low-slung, adjustable band. It’s considerably more comfortable to wear than the stretchy webbing-based fitting of old and, because a lot of the weight distribution has been shifted towards the back of the headset, you no longer feel as if your forehead is being tugged towards the floor any more. The integrated headphone earpieces are sturdier and more comfortable than on the Deluxe Audio Strap.

The biggest technical advance with the HTC Vive Pro, however, is improved image resolution, new lenses and a brighter display. Instead of Vive VR’s 1,200 x 1,080-pixels per eye displays, the Vive Pro offers up 1,440 x 1,600 pixels per eye, giving you a near 3K gaming experience across both eyes. The new lenses have also been designed to sharpen the image and soften the shutter door effect the regular Vive VR suffers from.

It’s not just the hardware that has seen improvements, though. HTC Vive has made the Vive Pro a lot less fussy to set up this time, with just a single cable leading from the headset to the breakout box that connects to your PC. And, if you’re upgrading to the Vive Pro from Vive VR, you’ll be pleased to know that HTC Vive has put together a “Headset Only” package that doesn’t contain controllers or base stations, meaning you can switch over to the Pro without faffing around replacing absolutely everything.

Perhaps the most surprising news of all, though, is that, despite its higher resolution display, the Vive Pro doesn’t require a more powerful machine to run than the original Vive VR. If you’ve bought a new gaming PC or laptop within the last year, you’ll likely to be able to run HTC Vive Pro on it.

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HTC Vive Pro review: Experiencing “Pro” VR

Obviously, the HTC Vive Pro is no worse than what came before. And, just as the Vive VR was at the time of its launch, the Vive Pro is easily the best VR device available right now. However, I dished out a 4-star score for the HTC Vive and, despite Vive Pro’s numerous advances, I’ve done the same here because it doesn’t quite feel like the step up it needed to be.

The improved optics and screen resolution are certainly impressive. Jumping up to 1,440 x 1,600-pixels per eye makes quite a difference, even if it’s initially only very subtle. Small objects in the distance now appear sharper, with text and objects in the foreground remaining crisp and clear as your focus shifts, instead of turning into a blurry, ghosted mess. On Vive VR, navigating menus was an exercise in pattern recognition if the option you wanted wasn’t immediately within the headset’s sweet spot. Now, though, the small text of menus are as crisp as reading words printed on a page.

Combine these improved visuals with Vive Pro’s room-scale tracking and you’re in for a high-end VR experience you can’t find anywhere else. But, if you’ve already sunk money into an HTC Vive you might wonder the practical point of upgrading is. With access to the same HTC Vive library and Viveport experiences,  there’s there’s nothing that you can do on the Pro that can’t be done on the original headset.

It’s understandable the manufacturer didn’t want to split its user base by offering exclusive experiences for Vive Pro users alone but, in doing so, it’s making it that bit harder to persuade existing users to upgrade.

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HTC Vive Pro review: Price and availability

Pricing around the HTC Vive Pro is a bit confusing, and that’s due to changes to the way the Vive Pro is packaged. On the surface, it looks as if the new headset costs the same as the original Vive VR: £799. In fact, that’s not the case. Unlike the first Vive, the Pro does not arrive in a box complete with controllers, baystations and everything else you need to get started in VR.

Instead, all you’re getting is the HTC Vive Pro headset and cables. This “Headset Only” package really is the only package available. It’s clearly a move to make it less costly for those upgrading from the original Vive VR but it’s certainly not ideal for newcomers who don’t already have the necessary equipment. HTC Vive’s solution is to offer a “Vive Accessory Starter Pack” containing two Vive controllers and two baystations. But that adds a cool £250, knocking the price of a Vive Pro up to a shocking £1,050.

Thankfully, the Vive VR is now just £500 for the whole package, making it a nicer jumping off point for newcomers. HTC Vive is also offering up a finance scheme that lets you pay back the Vive Pro for £48 per month over 24 months. So you’ll be finishing paying it off, just in time for the next HTC Vive headset update to arrive, then.

HTC Vive Pro review: Verdict

It may sound like I’m not entirely sold on the HTC Vive Pro but that isn’t the case. Sure, it’s a lot more expensive than headline price might suggest and it’s only an incremental upgrade over Vive VR, but it’s undeniably the best VR headset on the market right now.

It makes VR experiences feel more believable and realistic than before. It’s also a better-designed, and more comfortable than the original headset, meaning you can spend much longer in the moment.

Is it the transformative VR experience that’ll move the industry forward again? Not really. But if you’re passionate about VR it’s absolutely worth the investment.

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