HTC Vive Pro Headset Review: A High Bar for Premium VR

HTC's Vive platform has a solid foothold on the PC VR segment with 45% market share, despite fierce competition from the Facebook-backed Oculus Rift and Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality initiative. Now, despite the fact that the hardware requirements for VR are still pricey, HTC seems to be aiming for (or aiming to create) a premium VR market. The Vive Pro is the first big step in that direction. 

The Vive Pro represents the best headset that HTC believes it can build right now, and it comes with a price tag to match. The company is asking $800 for the Vive Pro headset, which is designed as an upgrade for Vive owners, not a full VR setup package. In other words, if you don’t already own an original Vive, you’ll need to shell out another $300 for a Vive Starter Kit, which includes base stations and controllers. For those just getting into VR, that's an $1,100 investment, not counting the gaming PC required to run VR games and software well.

Why Such a High Price?

HTC’s Vive platform has never been a bargain item, and the company doesn’t seem interested in targeting the budget VR segment. When HTC launched the Vive, it came to market with a significantly higher price than the Oculus Rift (which also had a significantly higher price than expected). And yet, HTC’s Vive managed to keep up and even outsell Oculus’s Rift for the better part of the last two years.

When HTC released the Vive Trackers last fall for $99 each, the company sent a clear message that it is more interested in delivering an advanced, premium home VR experience, than making VR affordable. And frankly, that’s not really a problem. If there’s room in this world for such luxury items as Lamborghini super cars, Rolex watches, and Titan V graphics cards, then why shouldn’t there be a premium VR system?

HTC's Big Bet on VR 

We shouldn’t be surprised that HTC is asking a high price for the Vive Pro headset. HTC’s position as an early pioneer in consumer VR affords it the opportunity to move to an upper-class position in the market where it can justify somewhat higher margins while newcomers such as Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality hardware partners scramble to gain traction in the more-affordable VR segment where competition is getting tough.

HTC’s customers have demonstrated that they are willing to pay more for a better experience, so the company is taking advantage of the opportunity to offer up a new product. And going after the premium market is probably the right move for HTC. After all, the company has struggled financially for some time--particularly its smartphone business--and the company bet big on its pivot to virtual reality. If it can’t stay afloat with revenue from the Vive platform, the company could be in very serious trouble.

Not for Everyone, and That's OK

HTC announced the Vive Pro headset in January at CES 2018. The excitement about the headset’s high-resolution displays, updated head strap, and the fact that it would support Valve’s next-generation SteamVR Tracking 2.0 system stirred up a lot of hype. HTC tried to warn the public that the new headset wouldn’t be cheap, but the message somehow fell on deaf ears. Despite the company’s repeated insistence that the Vive Pro is a premium piece of equipment, the press and public alike seemed shocked over the price of the new headset when HTC revealed it on March 19.

After HTC announced that the Vive Pro would cost $800 for just the headset, we witnessed a lot of chatter about HTC being out of touch with reality. Most people with that view also believe that the most significant improvement that the Vive Pro has over the standard Vive is the display resolution.

We disagree. Now don’t get us wrong, the resolution bump is not an insignificant change. HTC will proudly tell you that the new screens feature 78% more pixels than the standard Vive. However, the company introduced several serious improvements to VR head-mounted display (HMD) design with the Vive Pro, and to glance over those changes would be to miss the bigger picture.

HTC considers the Vive Pro a mid-cycle refresh of sorts, but that attitude sells short the major overhaul that is the Vive Pro HMD. To be sure, $800 is expensive, likely be out of the budget of many people who would appreciate the upgrade. But just because something isn’t affordable, doesn’t mean it’s not worth the price.

I can’t afford a Mercedes, but I don’t begrudge the company for making a luxury item that exceeds my means to pay for it. The Vive Pro should be viewed in a similar light. It’s a luxury device that not everyone can justify buying. But the people who have deep enough pockets to shell out for it will undoubtedly appreciate the new headset’s improvements. And advancements and investments on the high end often lead to improvements in more mainstream products down the line. After spending a fair amount of time with the Vive Pro, we’ve concluded that HTC’s pricing isn’t as out of line as it might seem on the surface.

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