Virtual Reality devices seem to have settled into two main groups, with PSVR and Oculus Quest 2 occupying the cheaper, more consumer friendly end of the market, while the Valve Index and Vive Pro aim at the higher and more professional end. With the new Vive Pro 2, HTC has again created a VR Headset that outdoes all the competition, but comes with a price to match. Having spent a few weeks with a loan unit, I can certainly agree that the headset is a superb piece of kit, but is the difference in performance worth the massive difference in price?
Visually, the Vive Pro 2 is almost identical to the original, with the functional upgrades all coming under the hood. The headset is comfortable but it is certainly bulkier than the Quest 2 and does start to feel heavy after more than half an hour of playtime. There is plenty of room for glasses wearers within, which is always welcome – although I’m always anxious about the risk of scratching the lenses. On the whole, the headset is a very solid piece of kit and feels far more robust than the Quest 2, and has a much more solid wire connection than the USB–C equivalent on Quest. This is essential, of course, because the Vive Pro 2 is a wired PC VR option and offers none of the flexibility of Oculus’ standalone alternative.
The technical specifications of the Pro 2 are hugely impressive, with it offering up to 120 Hz and 2448 x 2448 pixels per eye. Coming from my everyday Oculus Quest 2 gaming, the Vive Pro 2 proves that cramming more pixels into VR headsets can still help be appreciated. Games like Half-Life: Alyx still look great on Quest via Oculus Link, and developers now do a great job of focussing your view, but the Vive Pro 2 does give you an appreciable higher resolution. It also graces your ears with built-in Hi-Res certified headphones that offer up an impressive soundscape with a rich range of tones and decent bass.
Upon opening the box for the Pro 2 you are confronted with an initially imposing assortment of plugs and wires. Unlike the inside-out tracking of Oculus’ headset, the Pro 2 uses SteamVR Base Station 2.0 emitters, two of which are provided in the full kit box. Anybody upgrading from a previous Vive can use their old ones, though, thanks to the modular nature of the Vive system. Larger room scale experiences (10m x 10m) require an additional two Base Stations, but the size of houses in the UK make this a theoretical rather than an actual issue.
The use of external tracking does bring about a number of logistical issues, however, as well as the need for at least three power sockets – five if you include the charging cables for the controllers. This isn’t necessarily a major issue but may be awkward if your PC setup is already using most of the sockets in your gaming space.
Again, setup is a far cry from the relative simplicity of the Quest 2. While you don’t need to link to a mobile app or log into Facebook, you do obviously need to install the VIVE software and initialise everything through the PC. Even before you reach this step, though, you need to physically set up the system correctly for optimal performance. The Base stations have a standard mounting thread so can be fixed to tripods or wall mounts. Sadly this wasn’t really an option for the loan period, so I had to precariously balance the cameras on top of cabinets with books underneath them to achieve the tilt angle. This setup left me extremely paranoid that they would fall at any time – especially with two children and two cats in the house.
The static nature of the Vive setup was compounded by the fact that many users don’t have their PC in the biggest room of the house. PSVR also requires space but the PlayStation tends to be set up with the main TV and living room. In my case, my PC is tucked away in a corner office so things were more than a little cramped. Obviously this made for a less than optimal user experience, though it’s one that, were Vive to become a permanent fixture in your gaming life, could certainly be adapted to.
Once the system is set up (and in normal user cases this would be a one-time thing) everything runs smoothly. I had a brief moment of panic when the software told me my system wasn’t powerful enough despite exceeding the recommended specifications, but this didn’t seem to affect performance or gameplay at all.
While there have been reports that maxing graphical settings is only just about manageable with an RTX 3090 – which is frankly ridiculous – my RTX 2060 paired with a Ryzen 3600 had no problems getting smooth and responsive gameplay. Still, needing a well-specced PC is something that needs to be factored into the cost. The Vive Pro 2 will cost £1299 for the full kit – available from 4th August – but if you’re needing to upgrade or build a new PC to match, your actual price will be closer to £3000.
One element that did affect my enjoyment was the controller design. Where Valve has their Knuckles controller, and systems with inside out tracking (including Oculus Quest, HTC’s Vive Cosmos and the upcoming PSVR 2) have an upward tracking hoop, the Vive Pro 2 sticks with HTC’s original Vive controller design. These are surprisingly huge and just didn’t feel as comfortable or secure as those on the Quest 2. The use of trackpads rather than analogue sticks also had a really negative effect on accuracy and I didn’t really adapt to their feel in the hand throughout my time with them. They do have built in batteries rather than taking AAs, but then that requires more charging sockets…