HTC’s new challenger for best headset in the high end / professional PC VR segment.
HTC Vive Pro 2 Review
The high-end PC VR market is currently a two horse race. The excellent Valve Index has the edge in tracking quality, controllers and 144Hz refresh rate. But it’s falling behind with a 1,440 x 1,600 per-eye resolution. The equally excellent HP Reverb G2 is the leader on visual fidelity, with 2,160 x2,160 pixels per-eye resolution delivering utterly amazing visuals. But its 90Hz refresh rate is starting to look a bit pedestrian and its inside-out tracking system can be a bit hit and miss.
With HTC’s launch of the Vive Pro2 headset a third horse has entered the race, and it is gunning for top spot. On paper the Pro2 looks impressive, boasting a 5K (2,448 x 2,448 per-eye) resolution, 120Hzrefresh rate and 120° horizontal FOV. So, do we have a new king of VR headsets? Let’s find out.
Making good better
The Pro2 starts off strong with the use of Valve Lighthouse tracking. While setup is a bit more complex, it offers arguably the best tracking system in the VR market today. It also means you can replace the standard Vive controllers with Valve Knuckles, which you will want to do immediately. Not to say that the Vive controllers are bad (they are perfectly functional), but the Knuckles revolutionized VR controllers. If you are a serious VR enthusiast, the Knuckles are a must have. Being able to seamlessly integrate the Knuckles with the Pro2 is a big plus.
Ergonomics and comfort are also strong points. The headset is on the bigger and heavier side but is well balanced. Coupled with the soft padded head-strap, face cover and on-ear headphones, the Pro2 is seriously comfortable. It also offers excellent adjustability with 57-72mm IPD range and generous lens distance adjustment catering for use of glasses.
The Pro2’s built in headphones offer good quality audio and are more than sufficient for general gaming. Audiophiles may find they lack a bit of depth and clarity, but this is easily solved as the headphones are removable, allowing you to use your own audio headset or external audio in VR. The Pro2’s mic is best described as adequate. It works fine for general communication, but frequently distorts on plosive sounds. If you are streamer or record your play sessions, you will want to invest in a better alternative.
That leaves visuals, an area where we expect the Pro2 to shine, and for the most part it does. The Pro2’s LCD panels are exceptionally good. Colors are vivid and bright, there is no sign of mura and they offer great contrast. Coupled with the 5K resolution and 120Hz refresh rate the Pro2 can deliver incredibly crisp, clear and buttery smooth visuals.
Unfortunately this goodness is let down somewhat by the Pro2’s optics. The Pro2’s fresnel lenses suffer from god-rays. While no worse than some other headsets (notably the Index), it is disappointing when compared to the G2 where this effect is almost non-existent.
The sweet spot is also small, with noticeable distortion towards display edges. As with most VR headsets this can however be improved by getting the lenses as close as possible to your eyes. I was already running the Pro2 with the lens distance adjustment at minimum, but the Pro2’s standard face cover is pretty thick leaving some room for further improvement. As an experiment I replaced it with a thinner aftermarket cover I had lying around. This resulted in a marked improvement in the visuals for me, and largely eliminated my struggles with the sweet spot.
The PC you’ll need
On the hardware front, achieving a good experience surprisingly does not require unreasonable hardware. HTC lists a GTX1060/RX 480 as the minimum requirement and testing with my causal gaming PC (i7-7700K/GTX 1080Ti) gave good results and visuals, albeit at lower resolutions. But getting the best out of the Pro2 will require the finest grade unobtainable hardware, with even my sim gaming PC (17-10700K/RTX 3090) unable to deliver 120fps at 5K in graphically demanding titles.
As part of testing I ran a range of VR titles, ranging from simpler experiences (Superhot VR, Beat Saber) to some popular VR games (Skyrim VR, Star Wars Squadrons, Elite Dangerous) through to simulation titles (Asset to Cors a Competitione, DCS).
On my 1080Ti system all the titles managed to run well and looked great, although for the more complex games I did have to drop down in-game graphics settings.
The 1080Ti could not run the Pro2 at full visuals though, with resolution capped at1,881 x 1,836 per-eye at 90Hzrefresh rate. This is due to bandwidth limitation on the DisplayPort connection. To run higher resolutions, you require a compression technology (Display Stream Compression or DSC) to fit all those pixels onto the connection. The 1080Ti does not support DSC and so when used with the Pro2 is capped at 1,881 x 1,836 @ 90Hz. It’s worthwhile to confirm your graphics card supports DSC if you want to get the most out of the Pro2.
My RTX 3090 system (DSC compliant) did unlock the full glorious 2,448 x 2,448 at 120Hz experience. But while the simpler VR titles ran without missing a beat, the more complex simulation titles mostly proved too much for even the mighty 3090. In less demanding sequences I could manage periods of play at 120Hz. But as soon as things started getting busy the3090 would drop to 60Hz.
This presents a bit of a dilemma for the Pro2. While it can deliver stunning visuals, until technologies like VRSS and DLSS get better traction, using the Pro2 will be a constant exercise in compromise – meaning either dropping the refresh rate to get better resolution, or dropping the resolution to get the 120Hzrefresh rate. For me, the best compromise was keeping resolution at 2,448 x 2,448 but dropping to 90Hz, which with a bit of tweaking (well, actually quite a lot), I did get to run smoothly on all titles.
So has the Pro2 claimed the top spot? Not in my view. I do think it beats out the Index, but it is a dead heat between the Pro2 and the G2.
If tracking and controllers are important to you, money is not a consideration and you mostly play standing/moving VR games, then the Pro2 (coupled with Lighthouse sensors and Knuckles controllers) will give you the best VR experience.
If tracking is less important (e.g. you mostly play seated or simulation titles), you are irritated by visual irregularities (e.g. god-rays) and cost is a consideration, then the Reverb G2 is still hard to beat.
The Pro2 is an excellent PC VR headset, only held back from being the outright king of PC VR by average lenses suffering from god rays and a small sweet spot.