Hands-on: The Vive Pro and Wireless Adaptor are important steps forward for VR

At a press announcement on Monday as part of CES 2018, HTC Vive revealed their new Vive Pro headset, with a higher resolution than the base model along with improved ergonomics and built-in headphones, along with a new wireless VR attachment based on Intel's WiGig technology, dubbed the Wireless Adaptor.

I had a chance to go hands-on with the new tech right after it was revealed. Here's how the new Vive experiences stack up against the previous versions.

Vive Pro

For reference, I was an early Vive adopter, and have used both the Vive and rival Oculus Rift extensively since the headsets released. While I prefer the Vive experience overall, I’ve found that the Rift often provides superior visual experiences-until my Vive Pro demo of the Driftwood VR environment, that is. The Vive Pro took my breath away.

True to HTC’s promises during the press event before the demo stations opened up, the Vive Pro makes virtual text and other fine details much clearer than the standard Vive. While reading text on the existing HMD often involves a bit of a struggle to get the text into the central “sweet spot” of the headset lenses to make it readable, all of the text in the Driftwood virtual environment I explored in my Vive Pro demo was instantly, perfectly clear. Whether signs that were close up or book titles on shelves that were a few virtual yards away, text was easy to make out regardless of the portion of the lenses in which it was displayed.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the Vive Pro has drastically reduced the visibility of the concentric rings that are sometimes hard to ignore in the standard Vive, and which can be both distracting and immersion breaking. With the Vive Pro, you just feel like you’re looking at the virtual world, rather than lenses a short distance in front of your eyes.

My VR experience also featured falling snow particles, which were each crisp and distinct at various distances, adding a great deal to the sense of depth offered by the headset. As a whole the Vive Pro visual experience felt clearer, crisper, brighter, and more colorful than what I have experienced with the standard Vive.

In addition to the display improvements, the Vive Pro is lighter and offers improved ergonomics and stability compared to the standard Vive. This is something you will notice immediately if you have experience with the previous Vive, as the Pro feels much less front-heavy, and doesn’t wobble or move out of place in the same way when you move your head rapidly. There’s also a built-in adjustment dial as part of the Vive Pro, building the best feature of the Deluxe Audio Strap into the new headset.

All together, the Vive Pro offers a collection of improvements that make the headset feel significantly more immersive than it ever has before. It's lighter, clearer, more vibrant, and sturdier on your head, and it's much easier to forget you are wearing a VR headset and lose yourself in virtual worlds.

Vive Wireless Adaptor

While there has been an existing wireless Vive solution for a while now in the form of the TPCAST peripheral, the new Adaptor is the first wireless option to come officially from Vive. If my demo was any indication, it offers a significantly better experience than the TPCAST option, and comes with the level of polish and performance you’d expect from a product from HTC and Intel.

The Adaptor itself attaches to the Vive headset and extends as a pair of “horns” on top of the wearer’s head. There’s an attached battery pack (the design of which hasn’t been finalized yet) you can hold in your pocket. Wireless tracking requires an additional sensor (pictured below) you can mount on your wall right above your existing Vive tracking sensors.

For my demo with the Adaptor, I tried out Doom VFR on a standard Vive headset (not the new Pro) with the Deluxe Audio Strap. I’ve played Doom VFR before, and have found that under the right circumstances it’s one of the best looking games available on the Vive. Playing wirelessly with the adaptor I noticed what I believe to be a slight dip in graphical quality and resolution but, more importantly, I didn’t encounter any tracking or latency issues whatsoever.

In an FPS like Doom freedom of movement is essential, and after a minute or two spent adjusting I was able to move easily around the demo area through a combination of joystick movement and physical real-world movement, all without the need to worry about tripping over a wire. I did my best to move rapidly and unpredictably, as is natural in a shooter, and I never noticed even a hint of display delay, which is always killer and nausea-inducing in VR. Based on this demo at least, the Wireless Adaptor seems to provide exactly what VR fans have wanted for years: a high-performance, reliable wireless VR solution.

Exciting upgrades for VR fans

The Vive Pro and wireless Vive Adaptor feel like great moves from HTC, especially since both products will work with the existing Vive ecosystem, as the VR marketplace is too young and fragile to survive repeated fracturing and punishing of early adopters with new headsets that make previous ones obsolete. The Vive Pro offers the strongest argument yet for high-end PC VR, offering the greatest combination of comfort and visual fidelity I have ever experienced in a VR headset, while the Adaptor makes the dream of wireless VR much more polished and easy to use than anything previously available in PC VR.

 We’ll have to wait and see about pricing for all these fancy new VR toys from HTC to make a full evaluation, of course, but since the Pro headset should be available in the first quarter of this year and the Adaptor shipping in Q3, we shouldn’t have to wait too long. Visit HTC Vive's website for further details.

For more, follow along with us at CES 2018 all week long.