Hands-On: HTC Vive Pro – What Screendoor Effect?

An incremental update, but one which is more than welcome.

The HTC Vive arguably offers one of the most superior virtual reality (VR) experiences currently available to consumers. The head-mounted display (HMD) pioneered roomscale tracking at a time when seated VR was the given norm. Now, Vive are looking to deliver a higher quality experience for those who demand it.

The Vive Pro, revealed today at Vive’s CES 2018 press conference, Las Vegas, isn’t an easy sell. The new HMD’s improved screens, built-in headphones and heavy-duty headstrap are likely to bump-up the price of the device considerably, and though Vive has stated that there will be an ‘upgrade option’ for existing HTC Vive owners, we don’t yet know how much that will run. What we do know however, is where the improvements lie.

The most immediate discussion concerning the Vive Pro is the improved resolution. Housing two dual-OLED displays for a combined resolution of 2880 x 1600, the Vive Pro presents a 78% increase over the HTC Vive. And that increase is noticeable. This isn’t a case of the Samsung Gear VR’s improved resolution from Galaxy Note 4 to Galaxy S6; this is a whole new beast. The screendoor effect (where the lines between pixels are visible) is all but removed and the latency of the display – though no official statistics have yet been revealed – doesn’t seem to have suffered one bit. If it’s a visual quality upgrade you’re looking for, Vive Pro certainly delivers an answer.

More impressive however is the audio quality. The new built-in headphones are comfortable and include cup-mounted volume controls. When tested with a demonstration version of Ready Player One’s Sansar environment, the dual-microphone system was really put to the test. Guided through the experience by a second player in a remote location, the audio was crystal clear without any feedback from the busy press conference floor.

The HMD itself features a significantly different form factor to the original HTC Vive. A more rectangular housing and a revised version of the Deluxe Audiostrap present a design that appears just as bulky as the original, and yet the Vive Pro is discernibly more comfortable. The weight difference (the Vive Pro is reportedly lighter) was not hugely evident, though a more direct comparison between the two versions of the HMD will need to be made before anything more conclusive can be offered.

Of course, one of the potentially biggest changes from the HTC Vive to the Vive Pro has not yet been discussed: the two front-facing cameras mounted upon the device. While the HTC Vive included a single camera its functionality was decidedly limited. Now, the Vive Pro would presumably be capable of stereo-tracking, and thus opening up many options for inside-out tracking and potentially augmented reality (AR), in addition to VR. Exactly what Vive has planned for this however, is not yet known.

The Vive Pro is essentially a small update to the HTC Vive, but in the areas that actually really matter. It’s hard to say anything discouraging about the changes to the HMD as they are all for the better – some more so than others – and to many of VR’s early-adopters will be seen as the right step forward for Vive to be making. However, the usefulness of these new additions will surely have to be weighed up against price, which is an important factor Vive has not yet discussed in any capacity. VRFocus has much more coverage of the Vive Pro to come, so you can be sure we’ll keep you updated with any further statements regarding this important question

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