VIRTUAL Reality headsets continue to evolve and offer better and better experiences with each new development.
We’re still some way off a Ready Player One style situation where we can all live inside a VR world, but products such as the HTC Vive Pro 2 that’s reviewed here continue to offer promising glimpses of where the tech can take us.
With a resolution of 2448×2448 pixels for each eyescreen – giving a total resolution of 4896x 2448 pixels – and a 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate (depending on application), the HTC Vive Pro offers a high resolution, high-refresh experience for PC VR enthusiasts.
The HTC Vive Pro 2 is an incredibly comfortable headset to wear – indeed, it’s probably the most comfortable VR headset I’ve used. It sat really well on my head, didn’t slip, and I didn’t have any issues wearing it for extended time periods.
The high refresh certainly helps with avoiding simulation sickness; I didn’t have any issues at all after using the unit – no headaches, no lingering vague feeling of being a bit off-balance, no nausea, none of the side-effects which can come from a poor VR experience.
The audio wasn’t bad either, considering it comes from the unit’s in-built speakers, and while it’s not up to the level of a high-end set of Astro or EPOS earphones, they were absolutely serviceable albeit a bit light on the bass.
There are two wireless controllers with the unit and I found them, like the headset itself, to be comfortable and well-made. They work pretty much the same as any other VR controller, but are still charged by Micro USB cables so again, it’s either another two powerpoints to charge them both simultaneously, or take a lot longer and charge them one at a time.
The HTC Vive Pro 2’s high resolution also makes the games look excellent – No Man’s Sky in VR, for example, was a really good and immersive experience, and I didn’t encounter the ‘screen door effect’ (the tendency of some VR games to look like they’re being viewed through screen door mesh) with anything I played or tested either.
Tracking on the headset and controllers was excellent too; it was extremely accurate, tracked smoothly, and there were no issues with the image jumping around as the screen tried to recalibrate itself or anything like that.
As part of the Steam VR platform, you can also enjoy a range of non-gaming VR experiences (both as an experience and as a sort of lobby) and some of these are absolutely breathtaking.
Two in particular that stood out for me were the Mars environment and an English Churchyard. The Mars environment was one of those “Wow” moments – it features the Curiosity Rover as a centrepiece and a small area you can move around to learn more about the area it is set in
The English Churchyard was equally impressive, and just perfectly captured the feeling of going for a stroll around a quaint rural church in the UK – complete with tweeting birds, that “it’s just rained” environment, and a wonderful sense of serenity.
It’s this sort of thing that reminds me why VR has so much possibility, but it’s thrown into sharp contrast by some of the technical challenges which still need to be overcome.
Case in point: while the technical performance and comfort of the HTC Vive Pro 2 is excellent, it still has a massive drawback: Base stations, and their accompanying power points.
The HTC Vive Pro needs three power outlets to work – one for the headset and one each for the base stations.
Just to make things complicated, though, the design of the AC adaptors sits at right angles to the power point. This is fine for plugging into a single power point in the wall (if you have three of them scattered in different places for some reason) but doesn’t work even with a standard spaced straight-six power board as there’s just not enough room between the sockets to fit all three on; you need to get one of the power boards with two rows of sockets.
In addition to the powerpoint thing, there’s also the fact there are cables running everywhere as a result – and trying to set the unit up in a home office is likely to result in a cable jungle and even (depending where your power points/power board is located) a potential trip hazard.
The technology to make purely inside-out tracking enabled PC VR headsets exists and has done for a while now (The Oculus Quest 2 doesn’t need base stations, for example) and I can’t help shake the feeling that while the base stations offer superior tracking abilities, most people (myself included) would rather do without them if it meant fewer wires, fewer power point spaces, more streamlined setup and better suitability for small area use.
One of the biggest issue facing the unit isn’t a quality or design one – it’s that there’s still just not enough really good VR games to make buying a really good high-end VR headset like the HTC Vive Pro 2 worthwhile for most people at the moment.
I mean, besides Half-Life: Alyx and No Man’s Sky, plus games like Beat Sabre and the VR ports of things like Fallout 4, Skyrim and Doom, there’s still not many AAA-level VR games out there.
That isn’t the fault of the headset designers and it’s not a criticism of the unit, but it is a reality – these things cost a lot of money and are still very much for the enthusiast who knows that they’re getting into.
In keeping with that, if you are a VR enthusiast looking to upgrade, the HTC Vive Pro 2 has a lot to recommend, and offers an excellent VR experience – but it’s still AUD$1299, so perhaps not the unit for someone on a budget looking to dip their toes in to the world of VR gaming.