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HTC Vive Pro 2 review: Virtual reality for the fortunate few

Say what you will about virtual reality, but the barrier for entry is still exceedingly high. The recent release of self-contained VR headsets such as the Oculus Quest have managed to bring the entry price down a smidge, but if you’re craving the best that VR gaming has to offer, then you’ll probably need to invest a lot of money (and time) to get things up and running.

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The HTC Vive Pro 2 is no different. Building upon the successes of its predecessor, HTC’s next-gen headset is once again the most expensive way to access virtual reality right now – and that’s before you take into consideration the beefy gaming PC needed to enjoy it to the fullest.

Still, if you can afford the high price and you’ve somehow managed to pick up a new graphics card without having to pay inflated scalping prices, then the Vive Pro 2 currently offers a premium VR experience like no other.

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HTC Vive Pro 2 review: What you need to know

It’s worth tempering your expectations to begin with, though, since the Vive Pro 2 is still more of a refinement to the original 2018 headset than a radical change.

Design-wise, it’s exactly the same as the original. You still plug it into your PC via a confusing mess of wires and it still uses a pair of base-station sensors to track your movements. It also requires plenty of play space to get going.

The Vive Pro 2’s key improvements come from the display side of things. The headset’s LCD panel now has an increased resolution per eye of 2,448 x 2,448, with a wider 120-degree field-of-view and a boosted maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, up from 90Hz. Clearly, the Vive Pro 2 is geared more towards gamers with high-end rigs, using modern graphics cards capable of pushing VR to its limits.

HTC Vive Pro 2 review: Price and competition

Price is where things really start to get interesting. With standalone VR headsets bringing the entry cost to less than £300, the Vive Pro 2 finds itself in a bit of a sticky situation. And that’s because the headset itself (sans controllers and base stations) costs a hefty £719.

Unlike the Oculus Quest 2, the Vive Pro 2 won’t work on its own. If you aren’t planning on upgrading from the original headset you’ll also need to buy a pair of base stations and two controllers – either Vive’s own or any others from Oculus or Valve. According to HTC, a full bundle will also be available to buy for first-time Vive buyers in August for £1,299.

How does the Vive Pro 2’s sky-high cost stack up against the competition? If you’ve got a gaming PC and you’re hoping to push VR to the max, then you do have a few other alternatives.

As I’ve mentioned, perhaps the most well-known is the Oculus Quest 2, which costs £300 and can either be used on its own or connected to your PC via a single USB-C to USB 3.1 cable for some extra processing grunt. HTC’s other VR headset, the Vive Cosmos, also uses a no-fuss, inside-out system for head tracking, although it costs £400 more than the Oculus (£700).

Finally, the Valve Index – like the Vive Pro 2 – needs a pair of base stations, costs £919 for the full bundle (with a free copy of Half-Life: Alyx) and has a higher maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, as well as a wider 130-degree FOV. However, as is the case with all the other VR headsets listed above, it doesn’t come close to the Vive Pro 2’s generous per-eye resolution.

HTC Vive Pro 2 review: Setup, design and key features

The Vive Pro 2’s design is immediately familiar. It’s mostly identical in appearance to the original 2018 headset and shares the same ergonomics, cable setup and overall weight (850g). However, HTC has added a matte black faceplate on the front, which to my eyes looks a bit out of place next to the rest of the headset’s blue/navy colour.

What this all means is that, for better or worse, you’re getting exactly the same comfort experience with the Vive Pro 2 as you did with the original. You’re still going to look a bit silly with one of these strapped to your face (as my pictures show), but the Vive Pro 2 does a good job of evenly distributing weight across your head, and the adjustable headband can accommodate a wide range of noggin sizes as well.

On that note, the Vive Pro 2 is just as well suited to glasses wearers and, like the previous model, you’re also able to adjust the interpupillary distance (the space between both lenses) by between 57mm and 72mm in order to get the image correctly in focus. It’s easy enough to do this, too: you simply hold down a small button on the left side of the headset and pull the front either towards or away from your face until everything looks clear.

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One thing I’m not pleased about is the return of the Vive Pro’s removable face cushion. Using the same fabric as the original, it felt itchy during long VR sessions and is generally a bit of a sweat sponge. It’s no good at blocking out light, either, since it doesn’t sit around your nose. The good news is that you can pretty much eliminate these problems if you attach a (far better) third-party face pad.

What do you get in the box, then? Inside, you’ll find the headset itself, a link box (which is used to connect the Vive Pro 2 to your PC), a DisplayPort cable, a USB-A cable and a power adapter. If you buy the bundle, you also get a pair of Vive controllers, two SteamVR 2 base-station sensors and all the relevant chargers and cables that come with them.

Unfortunately, the Vive Pro 2’s setup process is still an absolute nightmare. After you’ve plugged in all the cables, switched on the three extra plugs, appropriately positioned your sensors, charged the controllers and pressed the button on the link box, you then need to launch SteamVR and pray that the software actually detects the headset and all the other gubbins.

It gets even more complicated with the Vive Pro 2, too, since you also need to run HTC’s new Vive Console software alongside SteamVR while playing games and running VR applications. This grants access to all sorts of extra settings, however, allowing you to manually adjust per-eye resolution, maximum refresh rate and apply motion compensation. This last setting is best used for PCs with weaker specs and adapts video resolution during gameplay in order to reach a 90fps target.

HTC Vive Pro 2 review: Display

As for the display, the Vive Pro 2’s low-persistence LCD panel provides a boosted total resolution of 4,896 x 2,448, with a huge per-eye resolution of 2,448 x 2,448. For reference, that’s almost double the resolution of the original, and it’s the highest of any VR headset released to date.

That’s not the only upgrade, though. The Vive Pro 2 now refreshes at 120Hz (up from 90Hz) and has a marginally wider 120-degree field of view. The latter doesn’t make a huge difference during gameplay, but the former is a serious game-changer if you’re lucky enough to own a gaming PC that can reliably push out frames. One thing to note, however, is that the wireless adapter (sold separately) restricts the Vive Pro 2’s refresh rate to 90Hz.

Quality-wise, the Vive Pro 2’s display looks astonishing, and it’s a significant improvement on all the over VR headsets I’ve tested previously. Colours looked rich and vibrant, although since the Vive Pro 2’s lenses are a bit more rectangular than the original lenses, the vertical field of view is reduced slightly.

HTC Vive Pro 2 review: System requirements and performance

The Vive Pro 2’s system requirements are understandably stringent. HTC recommends at least an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500 CPU, 8GB of RAM and either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card. You’ll also need a DisplayPort 1.2 output and a spare USB 3 port for the link box.

As a frame of reference, my testing rig consists of a Ryzen 7 1700 (close to the minimum), an Nvidia RTX 3070 FE graphics card and 16GB of DDR4 RAM.

This finally brings me to the good stuff. I tested the Vive Pro 2 with a variety of games, and (assuming you have the PC for the job) I can confidently say that VR gaming really doesn’t get any better. The stunning post-apocalyptic environments of Half-Life: Alyx were rendered beautifully, with top-notch performance from beginning to end. If there was any slowdown during gameplay, I certainly didn’t notice it.

Wacky wobbly-weapon-waving colosseum battler Gorn also ran without any noticeable performance hiccups, as did time-stopping shooter Superhot VR. The Vive Pro 2’s headsets and controllers support both first- and second-gen SteamVR base stations, and I tested both – neither failed to register my head/body movements and arm waggles.

On a similar note, the Vive Pro 2 uses the same tried-and-tested Vive controllers we’ve seen previously. For some reason, HTC doesn’t want to update the design and functionality of its now five-year-old input devices, and they’re rapidly showing signs of age. The halo design at the top throws off the balance in the hand, and they generally feel a bit cumbersome to use.

HTC Vive Pro 2 review: Verdict

That being said, following a short absence, the Vive Pro’s sequel is yet again the very best that VR has to offer. Provided you’ve got the hardware to support it, the Vive Pro 2 offers a truly exceptional VR experience, with an as-yet-unmatched maximum rendering resolution, as well as a handful of added gaming-friendly benefits.

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Of course, it’s not entirely faultless. The Vive Pro 2’s starting price is hard to stomach, especially when you can pick up a standalone VR headset such as the Oculus Quest 2 for a fraction of the cost. Pair the high cost with the lack of any meaningful design changes and the absence of new controllers, and it’s ultimately a bit of a head-scratching update.

If you’re keen to take your first steps into the virtual world, you still can’t do much better for your money than the Oculus Quest 2. On the flip side, if you identify as a bit of a self-proclaimed VR enthusiast and you’re looking for an excuse to upgrade, then there’s no better reason than this.

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