Second Generation VR Debuts With The HTC VIVE Pro – Upgrade Costs $799, $1330 For The Full Package
The HTC VIVE Pro opened up for pre-orders a while back and I think its about time we did a comparison piece on just what is different between the OG VIVE and the newer model. The VIVE Pro marks the beginning of the second generation of VR technology and is a much more polished product - albeit with a correspondingly higher price tag.
HTC VIVE Pro: Upgraded AMOLED panels with 77.8% more resolution mean higher fidelity visuals, almost no screendoor and reduced motion sickness
I have ranked the changes in the order-of-importance as I see them and probably the biggest update to the OG VIVE is the fact that that HTC upgraded to higher resolution AMOLED panels. These aren't cheap and the alternative is usually going with an LCD display but for VR purposes that is a faux pass. Unlike LCD panels, which usually have a delay between frames, OLED panels update instantaneously, which means that the visual experience that you can get from these - even on the same resolution - will be vastly superior if you want to stave off motion sickness and engage in long VR sessions.
HTC is going with 1440x1600 per eye, which is a net resolution increase of 77.8% over the last generation which had 1080x1200 resolution per eye. This upgrade will allow the headset to transcend the uncanny valley and finally enter the realism threshold. Text will become much sharper, and immersion will also naturally increase. This is the one thing that was lacking in 1st generation VR headsets and we finally have a polished offering where VR fidelity is concerned. There are some concerns with this of course, you will need a much more powerful GPU to drive these at 90 Hz - and considering the GPU pricing level, this might be some time off.
Wireless streaming with the VIVE wireless adapter
The second important update - and this is not included with the base package by the way, is the wireless streaming add on that will theoretically allow you to do away with all the wire clutter and play VR like it was meant to be played. Now there was some chatter earlier on that the wireless mode might not feature the full resolution but the tech behind this add-on is Intel WiGig Wireless and according to the specifications website it can easily support 2x full HD displays, which is a higher standard then the one at play in the HTC VIVE.
Unfortunately, the specifications page does not mention at which standard the Full HD res is supported. Assuming it is 1080p 60. We can see that the aggregate Pix/s will be 248,832,000 whileas HTC VIVE Pro at 90 fps would require 414,720,000. What this means is that unless Intel can support 2 Full HD panels at 90 Hz, it is unlikely that the VIVE wireless adapter will support the native resolution of these panels - and you might be better off playing with the wired mode. All that said, fancy compression techniques could probably make this possible - at an increased performance cost to your computer.
Dual cameras for improved AR, integrated spatial audio and redesign for higher immersion
Some other slight updates to the tech include an addition of another camera. Unlike a single camera, which can only do so much, dual cameras can allow algorithms to determine 3D space in its entirety which would be very useful for Augmented Reality applications. Since this depends entirely on how much devs actually use it and is not a benefit that you will get out of the box, I put it lower down the list.
The headset now comes with integrated audio and HTC marketing material mentions this is hi-res (certified) 3D spatial audio - although this is something that you can only experience after trying it out.The headset itself has been redesigned as well with an optimized center of gravity, more compact dimensions and cleaner seal around the eyes to block light. All in all, things are looking very much polished compared to the first generation.
Is this the year VR goes mainstream? Probably not, but this is definitely the year it loses the 'bleeding edge' moniker
Where the first generation of VR felt like prototypes being mass produced, the HTC VIVE Pro is very much a polished product - but is it the right time to buy? Probably not. The HTC VIVE upgrade costs $799, which means that unless you already have the base towers and controllers, the full system will put you back $1330. Needless to say this level of budget is only within the reach of extreme enthusiasts and early adopters.
This isn't it either, there is an attached cost with it - that of the GPU. For the HTC VIVE Pro, you really do not want to go with anything lesser than the GTX 1080 Ti - and those cost an arm and a leg nowadays due to the cryptocurrency mining boom. It might actually be a good idea to wait for Volta GPU to arrive, and push costs down a bit (hey, a guy can dream) before you consider buying. One thing is for sure though - VR is no longer bleeding edge. it is very much a finished and polished product now.