Introducing the Vive Pro vs. the Oculus Rift

Intro

Introducing the Vive Pro versus the Oculus Rift – Part 1

We have been benchmarking VR games since December, 2016.  In early August, BTR received a Vive Pro on loan from HTC Vive, just before we left for Honolulu and then on to Gamescom.  Although the Vive Pro has the same 110 degree field of view (FoV), it features 78% higher resolution than the original Vive or the Rift, and it is aimed mostly at the enterprise market, priced at $799 for the Pro’s HMD (head mounted display).  Since the Oculus Rift and the Vive Pro each represent competing VR platforms, we will evaluate and compare them.

Since  BTR’s original VR evaluation in January 2017, using FCAT-VR we have benchmarked more and more VR games in our follow-ups until our current VR benchmark suite includes 25 VR games.  We have compared FCAT-VR with our own video benchmarks by using a camera to capture images directly from a HMD’s lens. For BTR’s VR testing methodology, please refer to this evaluation.

Things have changed since our original review when we wrote that the main reason we picked the Rift over the Vive is because we are mobility-limited.  Two years ago, the Oculus Rift offered a great “seated” experience while Vive featured more precise-tracking for a large “room-sized” experience.  Since then, there are many more SteamVR games that adapt very well to seated and to smaller-sized rooms, and the Oculus Rift also works well in a fairly large room after adding a third sensor.

The Oculus Rift at $399 and the original Vive at $499 are competitors, but now the Vive Pro has been released at $1399 – by itself, it costs $799 for the Pro HMD. The Vive Pro is aimed somewhat at VR enthusiasts, but primarily at enterprise; at devs and for professional uses including for arcades and for simulations, because of its higher resolution (2880 x 1660/615 PPI) and large room-scale precise tracking (with two base stations up to 20’x20′; and with 3 up to 33’x33′) whereas the Rift is limited to a much smaller area.

The State of VR Today

BabelTechReviews (BTR) has continued to focus on VR, and not only do we review selected VR games, we benchmark them and chart their frametimes and unconstrained framerates (the performance headroom) with multiple video cards from AMD and NVIDIA using FCAT-VR.  And we look forward to measuring the performance of twenty-five top VR games using NVIDIA’s upcoming highest-performing RTX video cards.

From the very beginning, we realized that VR is the future, but also that mass adoption is still years off.  There is no way that most video gaming enthusiasts are going to buy a very expensive PC just to power a relatively hot and heavy HMD that isolates them from the world and tethers them by cables.  Wireless and glasses-friendly smaller and lighter headsets will be needed before mass acceptance becomes possible. There is also the issue of needing an expensive video card for a great PC VR experience.

However, with the advent of NVIDIA’s RTX on the desktop and Microsoft’s adoption of ray tracing (RT), a whole new world of photorealistic video gaming opens up to PC gamers, and there are real implications that this same technology will be used for VR.  This move to ray traced photorealism will require that the devs implement RT into each VR app.  The future of VR is exciting but there is no easy pathway to this goal for many practical reasons.  We were the only tech site at NVIDIA’s Gamescom Editor’s Day event that even asked about VR, but we are glad to report that NVIDIA is working to make VR better with Turing architecture.

HTC Vive has partnered with libraries to use VR for education.

VR and AR are growing incredibly fast in the professional world already as a two billion dollar industry! – air and space travel, automotive, healthcare, training and education, have adopted VR as essential to their growth, besides entertainment.  VR will not stop growing even though VR is still niche in the gaming world.

Operators are trained by VR simulators long before being allowed to control heavy equipment.

Although VR adventures are being adopted by arcades, using mechanics together with HMDs to simulate a virtual world, AAA titles are not quickly coming to VR nor do they translate into big bucks for publishers in the same way that they do for PC and console games.  The big publishers, possibly with the exception of Bethesda whose popular games translate well into VR, can’t make the same profit that they get from their established game franchises, so VR is largely ignored.

Growing VR gaming generally means that the VR independent developers are left to support what they believe in.  Indies realize that virtual and augmented reality is our future, but they don’t want to starve until a mythical “killer app” drives mass VR adoption.  Similarly, BTR doesn’t get a lot of views from VR reviews compared with regular PC reviews, but we feature them because we believe in VR’s future despite experiencing its limitations every time we don a HMD.

Despite current limitations, the VR experience is beyond amazing compared with regular video gaming, and the intense feeling of “being there” in an immersive and realistic world simply cannot be conveyed by words or by video.  It actually takes entering and interacting within a well-done VR production to make believers out of skeptics.  But few enthusiasts can afford to recreate an arcade-like VR experience at home outside of expensive racing and/or flying sims.  The first time this editor stepped into a VR world and crawled under a desk to examine its underside, met a T-Rex face-to-face, stared down into an abyss, and felt the wind while racing in the Indy 500, it became certain that VR will be the future of everything.  Eventually.

Indie devs cannot afford to create an AAA 30-hour VR game because it takes years and a team – and financial success is never guaranteed, especially with VR.  So most new full-length VR games are often priced at $30-$60 and they are generally short.  Fortunately, many of them are memorable and creatively well-done VR experiences implemented in many effective but different ways which leads one to hope that even VR locomotion will finally be resolved.

Many enthusiasts who believe in VR gaming demonstrate it to all of their friends, post enthusiastically on social media, and buy all of the good games on Day 1 to “encourage” VR development.  Unfortunately, their number is still relatively small which limits the size of the VR market that buys new games.

There are still many rushed and poorly thought-out VR games, and this gamer would rather play a good traditional video game on a flat screen display (called “pancake” games by VR enthusiasts) rather than a poorly-done VR game.  However, as an example, Skyrim VR – a relatively old game with limited VR interactivity – is still worlds better than the pancake version.

Watching a full-size Skyrim dragon blasting out fire, or launching fireballs and spells from your own fingertips, or feeling a thunk as an arrow partially penetrates the shield you are holding for defense, imparts an immersive realism that conveys the feeling of being “inside” the game as pancake games cannot provide more than a window into a game world.

Devs could help make their own VR games more popular by implementing social sharing of in-game VR selfies and 360 degree photos, using Ansel perhaps.  But VR will still be a tough sell to most video gamers, and the next generation of HMDs will hopefully fix more mainstream gaming issues with VR beyond increasing the resolution, FoV, and becoming wireless.

We asked HTC Vive, ‘Why the Pro?’  

An Oculus Rift sells for $399 and a Vive for $499 – but the Vive Pro costs $799 just for the headset (or around $1399 for the complete Pro setup).  We asked HTC Vive why they built the Pro.  They replied, and we quote:

Why did we build Vive Pro?

  • We built Vive Pro with enterprise in mind. Since the earliest days of Vive we’ve heard from businesses that they want to spend more time in VR, they want to be able to read text, and they want larger play spaces.
  • The Vive Pro Full Kit tackles each of these and delivers the best VR headset for an enterprise use case.
  • And outside of the technology of the headset, we want to make it easy for businesses to grow and invest in VR.
  • Vive Pro full kit delivers on the business user’s demand for higher resolution, improved audio, greater comfort, and wireless freedom. This launch reflects HTC’s increased focus to create products for today’s most demanding and innovative VR users.

What are the most important advances in the Vive Pro?

  • HTC is constantly collecting feedback and developing best practices on how to innovate our products.
  • We work closely with our developers and enterprise partners to listen to their feedback. The Vive Pro is a great example of listening to our business partners.
  • Overall, we’re seeing advancements in technology in the platforms with what users wants. Improved displays, audio, comfort, accessories and triple A content.
  • Vive Pro Advances:
  • Larger play space: Users will have a more realistic experience – to get up and move around. This is key to training simulations, because the system provides enough queues to create the illusion of a real-life experience, so the user will have the same reaction in a real-life experience.
  • Vive Pro offers improved display (78% resolution increase)  and spatial audio
  • Tracking: our system is super accurate and creates one-to-one mirroring.

/quote

In addition, the Vive Pro, now in blue and black, features two cameras instead of one camera used for the original Vive.  One of the two cameras can now be devoted to depth mapping and even for mixed reality, but these are still relatively new Pro features that devs need to develop for.  

We are unable to directly compare the audio from the Vive Pro with the original Vive.  We have read some user complaints on social media, and many of them appear to stem from the built-in headphones not seating on the ear properly although it works fine for us.  The bass may also be a bit weak and ambient noise is audible, but that is usually the case with an open-design.  For audiophiles, the Vive Pro HMD has a Type-C connection so they can remove the Pro’s headphones and use their own cans with an adapter.

Everything is padded, and there are multiple personal choice adjustments available.  The audio is positional and very good for an open design.

For us, the Vive Pro’s audio is very good – at least as good as the Oculus Rift’s; better we think, and it is noticeably spatial/positional – we can tell from which direction the sound is coming from.  No doubt audio will continue to improve as devs implement audio ray tracing in real time.

We were able to experience the Vive Pro in action for enterprise at Dave & Buster’s arcade in Honolulu and it is used for the Jurassic Park VR Expedition ride.  The ride uses 5 PCs to power a dinosaur VR experience for 4 adventurers and also mechanically simulates a bumpy ride through a jungle teeming with huge beasts.

The ride’s maintenance expert told me that the Vive Pro is the only HMD and platform that Dave & Buster’s chain would consider.  The Pro is suitable for this ride because of its higher resolution and high-quality electronics that qualifies it as a professional unit unlike the original Vive or the Oculus Rift.  He also told me that the electronics never failed even though the HMDs took a “beating” from their constant use by the riders.

So we see that the Vive Pro is mostly created for enterprise, but also for enthusiasts who want absolutely the best VR experience today.  Of course, with a 78% resolution increase, it will take a more powerful video card to power it, and we plan to test both the Oculus Rift and the Vive Pro with the most powerful video cards in the world.  We will start with the GTX 1080 Ti and the Titan Xp.

We begin this series focusing on the Vive Pro and we will begin by unboxing it, setting it up and comparing its features to the Rift, and finally we will compare VR games and VR game performance across both platforms in a follow-up.  We have a 25-game VR benchmark suite for the Oculus Rift, and we will compare our games’ performance that are common to both platforms.

So let’s get started by first checking out our test bed on the next page followed by unboxing the HTC Vive Pro on the following page.