HTC Vive Pro 2 Review – Viva la Vive

VR headset king is deserved of a perch on your crown


Now that I’ve just exited 107 days of lockdown, I have a new appreciation of cabin fever. Moreover, it occurs to me – as I legally stand more than five football fields away from my home, laughing at the sky like Andy Dufrense at the end of Shawshank Redemption – that VR kept me sane through it all.

My crappy, actual reality was avoided as I transitioned from my existing PS VR unit to a Valve Index review unit. Those gruelling final weeks, however, well, they were soundly defeated with today’s subject: the HTC Vive Pro 2.

Fans of this site will already know how much I enjoyed my “Virtual Reality 2.0” experience with 2019’s Index. I was super keen to see if this newer headset could outdo the competition with a year or so of extra R&D time. Not to mention, HTC brings 7+ years of learnings to the table, being a trailblazer and long-time proponent of this tech.

BUILD QUALITY

The first impression of an opened Vive Pro 2 “Full Kit” is that you’ve just purchased something of pure class. You’d certainly want that to be the case, too— like its rivals, the RRP of this “everything you need” bundle exists at the deep end of the games peripheral price pool. Only racing and flight simmers with a penchant for hydraulic cockpits — or possibly Fortnite addicted children with stolen parent VISA cards — wade into deeper waters than these.

That said, you may not even need to drop AU$2,199.00 in one go at all. VR vets will no doubt already know that there’s a bit of a modular ecosystem going on with this medium. Base stations, headsets, and your hand controller devices can be pretty freely interchanged and reused. To put the value of this “whole kit and kaboodle” into perspective, HTC will let you individually purchase the Pro 2 headset for AU$1,299.00, the controllers are AU$199.99 apiece, and the two base stations go for AU$329.00 each.

Everything in the Full Kit box is clearly labelled and, more importantly for the newbies, it’s numbered in “install me next” steps. I’m so glad the spaghetti mess of Gen 1 VR gaming is behind us. You can be up and running (sometimes into walls, depending on your exuberance) in 10 minutes.

Aside from a colour scheme that seriously dials back the Pro 1’s all-over-navy blueness, you’d be hard-pressed to spot many structural differences between the OG and the outer shell of this Pro 2. Looks can be deceiving, however…

Basically, much better tech has been integrated into an already handsome form, and the extra 50g weight of those upgrades still feel perfectly balanced around your noggin. Generous, sensible cushioning makes 850g largely forgettable after a short while.

I also found this headset to be a more melon friendly affair than the Index in terms of new user adjustment time. Both my younger and older test subjects could simply switch, plonk it on, dial in the back strap, and use the IPD (interpupillary) adjuster to pick their own sweet spot in the 57mm to 70mm range offered. Turn-for-turn multiplayer is a breeze.

Likewise, the on-ear headphones are a cinch to adjust. They can be removed entirely, too, if you’d rather chuck on some of your own cans. It has to be said, though, the process of gaining access to the USB-C port that facilitates BYOH is a bit non-user-friendly.

Last and kind of least, the Vive controllers are basically unchanged. 3-year old tech that is just as robust, responsive and reliable as it was when it first debuted. But yeah— they’ve now been soundly overshadowed by Valve’s ten-finger-tracking Index controllers. More on that in a sec.

SPECS / SETUP

Though the Vive Full Kit lags behind a little in the hand peripherals category, it excels on the headset front (with some slight caveats). Resolution-wise, it’s the best consumer-grade VR experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve sampled all the major players in the space. Internally, it pumps out 2,488 by 2,488 pixels to each of your peepers, with an impressive 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate, and a generous 120-degree FOV (field of view).

I have to say I was immediately gobsmacked by the jump in clarity, even though I was coming directly from my cutting-edge Valve Index (1,440 by 1,600 pixels per eye). Better yet, the bump in eye candy here doesn’t require much of a PC spec increase either – the entry requirements are a DisplayPort 1.4 and an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 1500 CPU, plus a GeForce 1060 or Radeon 480 GPU.

Device connection is handled a bit better than the Index, too. As opposed to directly jacking the headset to a 3.0 USB, DisplayPort and power inputs, you get a little Link Box that serves as a nice, safer in between (plus it has a handy power button).

Once you have your 16-foot umbilical cord hooked up, you need to figure out all the usual logistics of tethered VR gaming. That means two base stations (preferably elevated above you) and either a room-scale play area cleared (2m x 1.5m). Or you can take the much less immersive “standing-only” route. Honestly, that’s the VR equivalent of buying a Ferrari and never shifting above 2nd gear.

Next up, I found the software setup to be relatively painless, though it wasn’t exactly my first rodeo. The Vive Pro 2 has full SteamVR functionality, and though it was initially unfamiliar to me, I found the extra Viveport VR Store to be both user-friendly and packed with cool, unique experiences. (Quick note: HTC throws in a two-month subscription to Viveport Infinity – unlimited access to, like, 3,000 VR experiences).

PERFORMANCE

As mentioned earlier, it was pretty noticeable going from my Index (an RGB LC display with 1,440 x 1,600 per eye) to 2,448 x 2,448 per eye on the Pro 2. I could definitely better discern the features of those crumbling buildings and War of the Worlds-like walkers that exist on the horizon in Half-Life Alyx’s. Likewise, the interactive objects I scooped up were more sharply realised. Bottom line: a series of seemingly minor graphical improvements on paper all add up to quite a richer “there-ness” overall.

Technically speaking, the Index has something over the Pro 2 in terms of max refresh rate – HTC’s headset tops out at 120 Hz instead of 144 Hz. Honestly, though, my eyes could barely grasp much of a difference between the two. Pretty much anything 120 Hz and higher is kinda blanket mind-blowing. You’ll never want to go back.

What is immediately apparent between these two headsets: the differences in field of view. With the Index, my eyeballs had become conditioned to expect a 107° horizontal and 104° vertical viewport. Though the incremental difference may not sound like much, switching to the Pro 2’s 116° horizontal and 96° vertical required a small period of adjustment.

Long story short, and though it varies from game to game, I mostly prefer a sacrifice in vertical awareness if it means my peripherals expand. In the majority of games I enjoy, like GunClub VR, Pistol Whip, Gorn, SuperHot and Project Cars 2, threats typically jack-in-the-box at you from your flanks. Having to make fewer nervous, sideways head twists to spot them, well, that just means fewer neck cramps.

That said, the gargantuan overhead vistas of No Man’s Sky lose a tiny bit of their impact when you have to crane back a little father to drink in their full majesty. Also, you’re always going to want a more vertical headspace in Skyrim VR when you hear the ominous shriek of an overhead dragon preparing to swoop. Lastly, when I was running the VR mod for Alien Isolation, I missed those extra degrees when trying to keep at least one shit-scared eyeball on those ceiling vents.

Honestly, it all depends on what you’re planning to play. And even then, it’s all a little much of a muchness. Your brain will adapt and accept what’s given to it.

Something that cannot be argued away, however, is the step down in interactivity I felt. Don’t get me wrong – I was impressed with the 1:1 tracking of the VIVE controllers, the feel of them, and the remarkable sensitivity of the trackpads (which effectively serve as your left and right thumbsticks). But yeah, they pale in comparison to the freedom and wow-factor of those (admittedly very expensive) ten-finger supporting Index controllers.

VERDICT

After much actual reality denial, and the odd family member accidentally being clobbered, I walked away from my time with the Vive Pro 2 Full Kit very impressed. I’ve had the benefit of being able to evolve with VR, from the unwieldy Sega World Sydney headset that was placed on my head, circa 1998, to what’s perched on my dome right now – the best headset of the bunch.

I can tell you straight as a connoisseur with no brand biases: I honestly think the HTC Pro 2 is the better headset when compared to the Index. But my perfect VR setup would be a hodgepodge affair consisting of a Pro 2 strapped to my bonce, and some Index controllers on my mitts.

Mind you, if you’re new to VR and don’t know any better, the ignorance of using VIVE controllers can be absolute bliss. The extra visual grunt HTC provides, along with the not inexpensive savings provided by the Full Kit package deal still make a compelling case for purchase. If you’ve got the cash to spare and the room space to radical, I say give real-life the finger at your earliest possible convenience with the Pro 2.


The Vive Pro 2 was reviewed using a retail kit provided by HTC Australia.

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Adam Mathew
I grew up knowing and loving a ludicrous amount of games, from dedicated Pong console onwards. Nowadays you'll find me covering and playing the next big things. Often on Stupid-Hard difficulty. Because I'm an idiot.

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