HTC has announced to day that their Vive Pro headset will ship on April 5th and will include six-month Viveport Subscription for those who buy before the 3rd of June. This will entitle the buyer to choose up to 5 titles per month from a range of 400. The price of the headset will be $799 in the USA and £799 in Britain.
At the same time, the price of the current Vive (full kit including 2 controllers and 2 Lighthouse base stations) will be slashed by $100 to $499. The price of the Vive Pro covers the headset only, but the controllers and lighthouses from the current Vive are the same and will work with it.
This is a piece of exciting news that we have all been waiting for! HTC promised the headset by the end of the first quarter of 2018. So they have more or less lived up to their boast.
The launch of the Vive Pro marks a clear shift in the battle lines. Before now, the HTC Vive and the Oculus/Facebook Rift were battling it out for the high end of the market in terms of responsiveness, low-latency and price. But now the Rift has been moving down in price and aiming for standalone device that uses inside-out tracking and does need to be tethered to a PC or other external device.
This leaves the field clear for HTC in the upper end of the market, for those customers who are ready to endure being tethered and requiring base stations as the price to be paid (along with those good ol' greenbacks) for the low latency and quick response time.
With the best tracking on the market already, HTC is concentrating on improving the Vive in other areas. This includes improving physical comfort, increasing the resolution and minimizing the cable mess. To that end, they have redesigned the Link Box for the Pro version. Instead of having a USB Type-A port, an HDMI port and an AC power port, on the headset side, they now have a single, integrated cable.
On the computer side, out of practical necessity, they still have a USB Type-B port, a power port for an AC adapter, and a Mini DisplayPort for the video. The old HDMI connection is gone.
In the comfort area, they have completely redesigned the head strap, drawing. The viewing portion is hinged, like the Windows Mixed Reality visors, making it easier to put on and take off. Also like the WMR headsets, you can tighten or loosen it by rotating a dial at the back. But because it is somewhat heavier than the WMR headsets, it still needs - and has - an overhead strap.
This arrangement serves to distribute the weight well, adding to user comfort. It also stays in place well, even when moving around vigorously in the course of active and intense game play!
As far as visual quality is concerned, the Vive Pro matches the Samsung Odyssey and beats the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets currently on the market. The AMOLED display has a resolution of 2880 x 1600. This is a 78% increase in overall pixels over the original Vive's 2160 x 1200. At 615 PPI, it is also a 37% increase in Pixels Per Inch. And like the WMR headsets, it achieves this resolution at a 90 Hz refresh rate.
It has to be said that even this high resolution is not quite enough to completely eliminate the screen door effect. And while 110 degree FoV is great, others are talking about the more truly immersive 210 degrees, that covers the entire field of vision.
Also, it still uses the same old Fresnel lenses. This means that those occasional, annoying circular bands of light, still appear every now and then. And of course, to get these benefits you need a high-spec PC on your desk.
However, the new headset is better blocking out of ambient light from external sources, thanks to a redesigned nose pad which is also more comfortable than before.
Another area, where HTC have pushed ahead is in audio quality. The Vive Pro comes with built-in, noise cancelling audio its own headphones attached. On the left earpiece is a two button volume control.
But maybe the most interesting feature of all is that the headset will also have a pair of forward facing cameras. It is not yet clear what these are for. It could be for use with the VR Chaperone system, to prevent you from bumping into walls or other obstacles when you play highly active games. But it may be that HTC have other uses in mind. Watch this space...