HTC Vive Pro 2 full review
Three years after the release of the original Pro VR headset, the HTC Vive Pro 2 has arrived. And the specs should be enough to have any PC VR fan drooling, such as the 5K display and 120-degree field-of-view.
The problem is that they don't translate well to real-world use and - despite a three-year gap between the generations - not much aside from the display has changed.
When you consider the VR market is more competitive now than ever, thanks mainly to the Oculus Quest 2, Valve Index and HP Reverb G2, can HTC attract enough attention for its Pro-level £1299/$1399 VR system? It certainly has its work cut out.
Design and fit
You might look at the Vive Pro 2 and mistake it for the original Vive Pro because of its near-identical design and ergonomics. However, thanks to the original’s ability to fit a range of head shapes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The black head-mounted display (HMD), covered in a smattering of sensors and pass-through cameras, is attached to a hard plastic head strap with a hand-crank mechanism on the rear to tighten and loosen the headset on your head. There’s thick cushioning at the rear to help dissipate pressure, with a shape designed to cradle the back of your head.
It’s one of the better VR headset systems, offering a more secure fit and it's simpler than Velcro straps, although you will still find one atop the headset to further adjust the placement of the headset on your head.
The HMD can rotate backwards like a pair of flip-up sunglasses to make it easier to lift up without completely removing the headset, perfect for answering a quick phone call, checking the time or seeing who's laughing at your badass VR moves in Beat Saber. It doesn’t lean too far forward though, which may limit just how well it can adapt to different head shapes.
You’ll find a physical IPD adjustment dial (which moves the lenses closer or further apart) on the side of the Vive Pro 2 HMD, which ranges from 57-72mm, and there’s also an eye-relief system that does something similar for the distance of the lenses from your eyes – ideal for glasses-wearers.
The former may not sound like an important feature, but compared to the like of the Oculus Quest 2 that requires you to take the headset off, physically move the lenses and put it back on to see whether it’s right for you, it’s a dream.
Like the first-gen Vive Pro, you’ll find Hi-Res-certified on-ear headphones on the Vive Pro 2’s head strap. These come with a great angle adjustment, allowing you to get the ideal placement on your ears, and they can be easily lifted away to interact with people in the real world while you’re busy in the virtual one.
Unsurprisingly, they sound decent too, although there is a lack of bass compared to proper over-ear headphones that could leave some wanting more in intense shooters.
The good news is that you can detach them if you want to use your own headset. Given that it’d add even more bulk to an already bulky headset, it’s probably not something many owners will choose to do.
While the Vive Pro 2 does a lot to accommodate a wide range of head sizes and shapes, it’s not the most comfortable VR system. It’s still quite heavy and bulky, and despite the fact that HTC has tried to balance the weight between the front and rear, it still feels a little front-heavy at times.
There’s thick padded cushioning that lines the HMD to make it less noticeable, but there’s still a build-up of pressure across your forehead over longer VR sessions.
The design, while versatile, is also showing its age in some areas. Take the crank system for example; it may be the best system for VR headsets generally, but other manufacturers have taken it a step further by including spring-loaded arms that make it easier to put on and take off without having to adjust the dial, and it makes all the difference in everyday use.
It’s worth pointing out that the Vive Pro 2 is a wired-only system out of the box, with a thick cable running from the side of the headset to a nearby gaming PC or laptop. There are wireless systems available at additional cost, but it’ll hike up the price of an already premium VR headset.
Though not comparable in terms of specs, standalone systems such as the Oculus Quest 2 are worth considering for a much lower price, and thanks to AirLink you can use the Quest 2 wirelessly with your PC now.
Display and FOV
While the overall design of the headset seems familiar, the display has had an overhaul that makes it sound like the ultimate VR headset display on paper, offering a wider field of view and resolution than any other headset available right now. However, the eyes-on experience tells a slightly different story, making it difficult to justify the high cost.
Let’s start with the good; with a whopping 2448 x 2448 resolution per eye and a fast 120Hz refresh rate, the visuals on offer from the Vive Pro 2 are crisp. It gets rid of several long-time issues in VR, with the biggest being the screen door effect, otherwise known as SDE.
As the name suggests, the effect is similar to looking through the world via a screen door - a visible mesh caused by tiny gaps between each pixel in the display. It was prominent in first-gen VR headsets, and as resolutions have increased, the effect has decreased, but it’s the first time we’ve seen a headset that completely gets rid of it. You literally cannot see it even if you’re actively looking for it.
That removes one of the biggest barriers to an immersive VR experience, but that’s not all. The increased resolution also makes text much easier to read from afar – no longer do you need to get within inches of text to be able to clearly read it. That’s great not only for gaming, but for work and collaboration purposes too – there are plenty of people that use HTC systems for business purposes, after all.
Of course, it’s not just text that looks better. The increased resolution makes everything look clearer and sharper, making for a more immersive virtual experience overall. Even games that you’ve played for hundreds of hours will look new and fresh, with added detail not previously noticeable in VR.
The upside to the LCD tech, aside from the increased resolution, is the reduction of ghosting to an unnoticeable level and, when combined with a 120Hz refresh rate, everything is silky smooth - if you have a PC beefy enough to power it at those settings.
However, it’s missing the vibrant colours and deep blacks of the original Vive Pro’s OLED panel, and that could be a potential sticking point for existing Vive Pro owners.
That high-res display is paired with what HTC claims is a 120-degree field of view, promising an expansive virtual reality experience with improved lenses that improve clarity right up to the edges.
In reality, though, the display isn’t quite as expansive as you'd expect. That's because the 120-degree range refers to the horizontal field of view, and benchmark tests using TestHMD 1.2 suggest it’s even smaller than that – closer to the 102 degrees.
While it’s still an increase compared to the original Vive Pro, the same can’t be said for the vertical FOV, which appears narrower than the original and most of the competition. This leads to a view that feels cropped above and below your eyeline, like you’re watching an ultrawide 21:9 Hollywood blockbuster.
Though the new lenses aim to make the most of the extended field of view, it has the same classically weak edge-to-edge clarity found in most HTC Vive headsets, with a very small sweet spot for crisp VR visuals – if you look to the left and right of the display, rather than looking dead-on, you’ll be greeted by blurred optics.
It’s easier to get over the move from OLED to LCD with the benefits to SDE, resolution and ghosting, but the FOV and lens issues are harder to accept from such a premium headset – especially when equally high-end headsets like the Valve Index don’t suffer from the same issues.
Tracking & Controllers
The Vive Pro 2 uses the same exterior SteamVR tracking tech featured in the rest of the Vive collection and the Valve Index too. The good news is that SteamVR’s tracking system is the most accurate on the market, beating the inside-out systems used by the Oculus Quest 2 and HP Reverb G2 for true 1:1 tracking that rarely fails.
It’ll pick up every movement instantly with low-latency tracking, and the play areas can generally be much larger than camera-based systems too, with a maximum play space of 10 x 10 meters on offer from the Vive Pro 2’s SteamVR tracking system.
That provides a great virtual experience without the frustration of occasionally losing tracking on a controller during a high-score streak on Beat Saber or watching your gun-wielding arm float away in Half-Life: Alyx, as is occasionally experienced with inside-out tracking.
But while it’s undoubtedly a reliable system that’ll work flawlessly in even dimly lit environments, make no mistake: it’s a headache to set up properly.
I’ve been reviewing VR headsets since 2016, and I’ve used plenty of SteamVR systems, but it still took repeated attempts before my playspace was deemed big enough, and I had to make sure the Vive Pro base stations were covering my entire playspace too.
With poorly placed base stations, the headset would lose tracking and controllers would randomly disappear. It seemed to be affected by reflective surfaces like TVs and fish tanks. It was nearly an hour before I got the angles right, at which point the controllers and headset were both tracked perfectly.
The inside-out system used by the Oculus Quest 2, on the other hand, only requires you to stand in a well-lit space, put the headset on and outline the area you’ll be playing in – a process that takes 10-15 seconds at max. You won’t get the same 360-degree tracking as the Vive Pro 2, but after spending such a long time fiddling with the base stations of the Vive Pro 2, I’d be happy to make the switch to an inside-out system and never look back.
The inclusion of SteamVR also means you can switch out the Vive Pro 2 wands for other controllers – ideal if you like the look of the Index’s knuckle triggers – and it’s also compatible with a range of third-party accessories too. It’s a versatile bit of kit if you’ve got a specific setup in mind.
Why would you want to switch the Vive Pro wands for the Valve Index controllers? Simply put; the Vive Pro wands are showing their age. They look snazzy enough, with matching blue and black finishes, but the chunky controllers feel much bulkier and heavier in the hand when compared not only to Oculus’ Touch controllers, but the controllers used with Vive’s own standalone headset, the Vive Focus 3.
That’s largely down to the fact the controllers haven’t changed since the introduction of the original HTC Vive back in 2016. That means you’ll still find the large trackpad and awkward grip button synonymous with the original, making the controller less ideal compared to more modern controllers that offer thumbsticks and face buttons for a more conventional controller experience.
It’s fine for business-focused VR software, but it can really frustrate when playing fast-paced games like Half-Life: Alyx, having to rely on swipe motions to move and interact with the environment instead of a standard analogue stick.
This is the hardest part to swallow; the Vive Pro 2 is more expensive than the original, which was already one of the costliest VR headsets you could buy. It’s available in two configurations; you can buy the headset only for £719/$799, ideal if you’ve already got a Vive Pro and want to upgrade, but if you don’t have an existing SteamVR system, the price jumps up to a whopping £1299/$1399.
For context, the Valve Index costs £919/$999, the HP Reverb G2 costs £639/$599 and the Oculus Quest 2, capable of both standalone and wireless PC VR, comes in at just £299/$299. While the improved resolution does provide much more detail in virtual worlds, the flawed FOV and lenses, the chunky controllers and the fact that the headset still looks and feels like something created in 2018, makes it so hard to justify the price tag.
If you are still interested, you can pick up the HMD-only Vive Pro 2 from the Vive Store right now. Pre-orders of the Vive Pro 2 full kit are due to kick off on 23 September 2021 via the Vive Store, with delivery expected from 14 October 2021.
For a better idea of the wider VR market, take a look at our selection of the best VR headsets.
The HTC Vive Pro 2 makes meaningful jumps in some departments, with LCD tech bringing not only a higher resolution and faster refresh rate, but removing SDE and reducing ghosting, and that makes all the difference to the virtual experience. Even older VR titles played for hundreds of hours look new and fresh in higher resolution, allowing you to appreciate finer details in VR for the first time.
However, the fact that the design remains practically unchanged compared to the original Pro means it’s still quite heavy and can become uncomfortable over longer play sessions, and the crank mechanism could do with some tweaking too.
It’s a similar story with the Vive Pro 2 wands, which essentially look and feel the exact same as those that shipped with the first-gen Vive back in 2016, feeling more and more dated compared to more compact options from Oculus.
But it’s the FOV I can’t get over, with an almost rectangular field of view that leaves you feeling as if the top and bottom of the displays have been cropped. It’s nice to be able to see things out of the corner of your eye, but I’d much prefer to see what’s above and below my eye-line for a more expansive virtual reality experience.
So, while the HTC Vive Pro 2 sounds like the ultimate VR headset on paper, the reality is that it doesn’t quite hit the mark – especially when charging such a premium.
HTC Vive Pro 2: Specs
- Dual RGB low persistence LCD display
- 2448 x 2448 pixels per eye
- 120Hz refresh rate
- 120-degree horizontal FOV
- Hi-Res certified headphones
- Integrated dual microphones
- Bluetooth & USB-C connectivity
- SteamVR Tracking V2.0
- Adjustable IPD (57 – 72mm) with lens distance adjustment
- 5m cable
- Passthrough cameras
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