Teardown: HTC Vive Pro VR headset
Image credit: HTC
The tech in this VR headset is less of a leap than its price.
Would you be willing to spend so much on a virtual-reality headset that you had to live in a stacked Portakabin? OK, I’m exaggerating a little, but readies, player one, are what you will need to buy the HTC Vive Pro - and plenty of them.
At £799 for the headset alone (and more than £1,000 if you don’t already have the first-generation Vive’s controller and sensors to trade in), this is an aggressive play.
I haven’t yet mentioned that HTC is also going to add wireless VR to the Pro via a separate peripheral using Intel WiGig technology – price and launch date as yet unknown – alongside the more obvious point that you should also have a PC with a high-end CPU/graphics card configuration.
HTC’s recommended baseline is either an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 CPU, coupled with either an Nvidia GeForce GTX1060 or AMD Radeon TM RX480 graphics card. You should probably aim higher though.
Doing all these sums, going all-in could ultimately cost a Vive Pro owner well over £2,000. For comparison, the Oculus Rift remains on the market at just $500 including sensors and controllers.
So perhaps it isn’t that surprising that while the PC gaming market has long boasted millions of users willing to splash out for custom-built, overclocked hardware, even that niche’s specialist reviewers are mostly concerned that the Vive Pro goes a price point too far.
HTC’s potential problems here are being compounded by observations that while the Vive Pro does represent the state-of-the-art in VR, it does not, its critics say, come across as a clearly second-generation product. As great as the Vive Pro gaming experience apparently is, they say it is rather more of an evolutionary v1.5.
HTC has made some significant improvements upon the Vive, which made its debut exactly two years earlier. The Pro’s resolution has been more than doubled to 2880×1600px (1440×1600px per eye from two separate 3.5in-diagonal AMOLED displays) against that in the original and Facebook’s rival Oculus Rift. The refresh rate is now 90Hz. Angle of view holds steady at 100 degrees, but with less distortion (though still some) at the edges.
On the ergonomics front, the new headset has built-in headphones and, although it weighs slightly more than its predecessor, has been rebalanced to feel less front-heavy. The image signal processor is also thought to have had an upgrade, though HTC is not going into detail about that. And – while that WiGig capability is awaited – HTC has conflated Vive’s earlier and occasionally cumbersome set of wired connections into a single cable.
All that is good, but it’s hard to disagree with the Pro’s critics that it has the appearance of a highly priced package of tweaks.
Wireless could be critical to the Pro’s future with its promise of audio and video data transmission rates in excess of 60GHz – high-performance wireless is generally seen as necessary to send VR truly mass-market eventually – but until it actually gets there, the Pro feels like a status symbol. It would be very much at home in a professional footballer’s ‘crib’.
Even HTC is hedging its bets.It has dropped the US price of the original Vive to just $500 including controllers and ‘lighthouse’ sensors. That might actually do more to grow the VR market, as well as sales for HTC and its gaming platform partner Steam.
There is, however, one domain in which the Vive Pro is receiving unqualified praise. Having asked owners to spend so much on their kit, HTC has made it comparatively easy to repair.
As the exploded view shows, this is still a complex device, but the iFixit teardown team were comfortable both disassembling and reassembling the headset (the X-ray shows a Pro after being put back together). They score it at 8 out of 10 for repairability.
That at least makes a pleasant change from higher-end devices generally, which typically employ all sorts of ‘keep out’ design tricks. Indeed, iFixit could hardly conceal its surprise at how cooperative HTC is being.
“Spring contacts and standard Phillips screws connect the modular headphones to the headset, making for easy removal and replacement,” iFixit says. “And the best part is that HTC even tells you how to remove them.”
Set aside everything else on the Vive Pro: that is almost unheard of.
Key components: HTC Vive Pro
2 Comfort padding
3 Rear support
4 Front outer casings
5 Lens frame
6 Adjustable head strap
7 Comfort padding
8 External centre frame holder
9 Display assembly
11 Main external assembly
13 Dual microphone assembly
14 Main PCB
15 Second PCB
Printed circuit board
16 RF SoC (2x), Nordic Semiconductor
17 Microcontroller, Atmel
18 Flash memory (2x), Winbond
19 Image signal processor, Alpha Imaging Technology
20 FPGA, Lattice Semiconductor