Unboxing & Setup
The Vive Pro 2 review sample kit arrived in the same style box as our 2018 review sample of the original Vive Pro. Everything between the two kits are identical except for the headsets and the cable link boxes. Here is the full unboxing of the Vive Pro kit that is the same for the Pro 2.
We tested and benchmarked the Pro 2 review sample for 3 weeks and then returned it to Vive as we had received our own Pro 2 headset that we purchased from Newegg for $729 from their preorder promotion. Following is the unboxing of the retail headset. If you already have an original Vive or Pro setup, you are ready for the Pro 2 – just swap the headsets and the link boxes – and follow the software prompts.
We like Viveport for the ability to preview and play many VR games and we will take advantage of their free two month subscription included with our purchase of the Pro 2 headset.
In the box you will find the Pro 2 headset, the link box, and the necessary DisplayPort and USB 3.0 cables..
Below we see the Pro 2 (left) go face-to-face with the the original Pro. Only the colors have changed.
The new design does a much better job of accommodating glasses wearers. Easy adjustments for tightening the headset remain permanent until changed which makes it easy to remove or to put on the headset.
The VIVE Pro 2 uses a new bespoke dual stacked lens design paired with a “5K” LED panel. Actually, it’s “2.5K” to each eye (4896×2448 total; 2448×2448 per eye) which is a huge amount of pixels for any video card to handle. By comparison, the original Pro currently boasts 1440×1600 pixels per eye. Once the sweet spot is found, one can see that the FoV has been widened to what Vive calls 120 degrees – probably not, but slightly wider than the Index and definitely wider than the original Pro. Although we lik the deeper blacks of OLED panels, the Pro 2’s LCD is a superior panel and its blacks are deeper than the Index and good enough for Elite Dangerous.
The base station external tracking of the Pro 2 remains outstanding and it is the single factor that makes it an overall better choice over the Reverb G2. Although the G2’s positional head tracking is responsive, some rotational latency may be noticed at times, and positional controller tracking jitter is more noticeable for shooters that is not visible with the Pro 2.
The setup for the Vive Pro requires installing two base stations on opposite sides of the room with the VR gamer in the middle. Usually they are mounted high up on a wall for tracking which is much more complex and time-consuming than setting up the self-contained tracking of the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) G2. Refer to BTR’s original review of the Pro for setup procedures. The main difference is that the Pro only needed SteamVR whereas the Pro 2 requires the new Vive Console to run alongside it.
There are currently five settings in the Vive Console to cover most capable video cards from a GTX 1070 to a RTX 3090. However, to take full advantage of the Pro 2’s high native resolution with a fast video card, only Ultra and Extreme should be considered. Unfortunately, setting Extreme for demanding VR games which requires exactly 120 FPS delivered at a strict cadence – never falling below 120 FPS – will require faster video cards than are currently available. If exactly 120 FPS cannot be delivered, then the framerate is automatically halved to 60 FPS which is not ideal and somewhat defeats the purpose of using the Extreme setting in the first place.
A reason for considering Extreme 120Hz is for visually undemanding action games or for games where the player may be satisfied with a 60 FPS delivery which is still a better option than 45 FPS (from using Ultra/90 FPS where the framerate is also halved). We tested and benchmarked the Pro 2 on Ultra and Extreme settings since we want to take advantage of the full 2448×2448 per eye native resolution of the panel and also look for some general rules for setting the SteamVR Render Resolution for the best VR experience.
Motion Smoothing & Delivering framerates at an Exact Cadence
Benchmarking VR is quite complex due to the fact that VR needs to sustain a fixed framerate target locked to 90 FPS (or 120Hz; but we will use 90Hz in our following examples). If a PC can not meet that 90 FPS target, the frame rate is halved to 45 FPS to make sure that there is no judder or it may cause a VR type of motion sickness.
A game cannot exceed 90 FPS otherwise the player will see tearing in the HMD and may also feel sick. A VR game’s delivered framerates simply cannot vary from a locked framerate or the player may get VR sick. It is essential to a great VR experience that framerates are locked to either 45 FPS or to 90 FPS.
A TV uses Motion Smoothing to create a new frame between two existing frames to smooth out and increase the framerate. Unfortunately this adds latency so it must be adapted differently for VR. Motion Smoothing is used when a VR application can’t deliver exactly 90 FPS. By examining the last two delivered frames, Motion Smoothing predicts the future motion and animation to extrapolate a new in-between frame. Synthesizing new frames keeps the current application at the full 90Hz framerate, advances motion forward properly, and avoids judder.
One may think of VR benchmarking in terms of how often the framerate meets or does not meet the 90 FPS standard for a premium VR experience. The more often performance drops below 90 FPS, the worse the VR experience becomes. SteamVR’s Motion Smoothing (or Vive’s Motion Compensation) helps to reduce potential motion sickness by dropping to 45 FPS, but it is a degraded visual experience.
Since VR is personal to each individual’s tolerances, it’s difficult to determine what is or what is not “acceptable”. When the framerates are downgraded to 45 FPS there are some artifacting and ghosting especially of objects in motion because of Motion Smoothing that may often be perceived as a blur with some temporal displacement.
Motion Smoothing does motion prediction by inserting a synthetic frame, every other frame with a cadence that looks something like this:
Frame 0: Frame created by the GPU
Frame 1: Frame synthesized by Motion Smoothing
Frame 2: Frame created by the GPU
Frame 3: Frame synthesized by Motion Smoothing
Frame 4: Frame created by the GPU … and so on.
Even though there is a downgraded visual experience with 45 FPS Motion Smoothing compared with 90 FPS, it is generally better to have Motion Smoothing than not to have it. If the framerates cannot be locked at 90 FPS and do not drop to a locked on 45 FPS, then frames will be dropped and the resulting judder may result in unease and/or VR sickness. Motion Smoothing will lock you into 45 FPS if your frame rate is anywhere between 45 and 90 FPS. The lower frame rate is in exchange for a smoother frame delivery. Motion Smoothing scaling may also synthesize two or even three frames for every frame delivered.
Why the Vive Console’s Motion Compensation is not the same as SteamVR’s Motion Smoothing
SteamVR’s Motion Smoothing comes with a cost of reduced image quality due to synthesized and extrapolated frames which are also sometimes called “reprojection” and it unfortunately is even more pronounced with Vive’s Motion Compensation. We have witnessed it cause some very strange and jarring artifacting with shimmering or bubbling and distortion on object edges that can be very distracting.
Although the Vive Console’s Motion Compensation is supposedly the same as SteamVR’s Motion Smoothing according to Vive, because the new lens and display require its own algorithms, it is visibly inferior to Steam’s solution and we hope it is a work-in-progress. Its distortion varies from game to game, being particularly bad in Elite Dangerous on higher settings and in racings sims, to barely noticeable in other VR games.
Because of its current flaws, we benchmark with Motion Compensation off and aim for a continuously delivered 90 FPS requiring a higher standard for our RTX 3080 Ti than if we left the Vive Console at default. We also recommend that a VR gamer test each game to see if Motion Compensation works properly without annoying artifacting; and if not, play with it off and lower settings or drop the SteamVR Render Resolution to ensure that 90 FPS are being constantly delivered.
A VR gamer can view delivered framerates using the SteamVR console under the “Developer” tab and check the setting to allow you to see framerates/Hz in the HMD overlay. You need to aim for all-green with maybe a few orange bars here and there for an ideal custom VR experience.
Variability with setting SteamVR’s Render Resolution why it may be lowered from its default 150%
There is variability built into SteamVR so that a custom render resolution is set each time it is started and it may vary depending on the PC’s processes that are running when it runs its test. Generally, for high end video cards (RTX 3080 through RTX 3090) it is set at 3900×3900 per eye which is SteamVR’s default 150% Render Resolution Render resolution which automatically scales to whatever it thinks is best for your system while the Vive Console handles display resolution.
Unfortunately, even a RTX 3090 cannot handle the demands of 3900×3900 per eye resolution at a minimum and steady delivery of 90 FPS for most modern visually demanding VR games so we have to find another way to improve performance without impacting visuals too badly – nor do we want to use Vive’s current implementation of Motion Compensation. This will require lowering the SteamVR Render Resolution on a per app basis.
Some may question why it appears necessary that 150% Render Resolution (3900×3900) is used in the first place when the Pro 2’s native panel resolution is only a per eye 2448×2448. This is because of lens barrel distortion and the way VR images are warped and then adjusted in software.
All VR headset lenses distort the image presented on a virtual reality screen which has to be warped by software to counteract the optical effects of the lenses. Instead of being square, the images appear curved and distorted until viewed through appropriate lenses.
VR platforms typically use a two-step process that first renders a normal image (above left) and afterward uses a post-processing pass that warps the image to the HMD’s view (right). The original Pro’s and the Index’ display resolution is 1440×1600 but the SteamVR Render Resolution is 2016×2240. The G2’s display resolution is 2160×2160 but the SteamVR Render Resolution increases to 3168×3096 whereas the Pro 2’s display resolution is 2448×2448 and the SteamVR Render Resolution is 3090×3090.
VR does not use simple upscaling like Supersampling a flat display. In VR, if you render at 150% of a panel’s native resolution, you still need to assign actual color/light values to the pixels, and assigning values from that 150% render resolution to 100% pixels isn’t straightforward. SteamVR uses complex algorithms for image scaling which may not be for only “clarity”; rather they’re methods of fitting an image rendered at one resolution to the display of a different resolution. Motion Smoothing/reprojection/frame synthesis may complicate it further as headsets apparently have to do some color correction when using it.
SteamVR has apparently decided that approximately 150% is optimum for fast video cards since the first HMD generation and it appears that they haven’t updated their formula to account for the high-resolution panels of the G2/Pro 2.
Increasing the render resolution to 150% is efficient especially for the pixels in the center of the viewing area because they are close to the ideal 1:1 native resolution after applying a 1.3x to 1.4x lens barrel distortion compensation. It’s done because the barrel distortion compensation countering the distortion caused by the lenses enlarges what is viewed in the center of the viewing area. Not all pixels in a VR HMD have the same value to the viewer because of distortion that is somewhat analogous to the human eye – the center of our vision is for detail while the periphery is better at noticing quick motion.
SteamVR’s frame buffer is about 150% of a panel’s native resolution but that extra resolution is wasted on the viewing periphery where the lens distortion compresses objects. In this case, it is rather wasteful like using pancake full screen Supersampling for anti-aliasing. Here is where NVIDIA’s Lens Matched Shading would be really helpful if the devs would implement it.
The problem is that the Pro 2’s native per eye resolution at 2448×2448 using SteamVR’s default 150% render resolution is scaled to approximately 3900×3900 per eye and no current GPU can run that resolution at a constant 90 FPS for demanding modern VR games. It is far more demanding than pancake gaming’s Ultra/4K 120 FPS goal.
It appears to us that Vive set a slightly lower base/100% value for the Pro 2 (1.3X compensation for barrel distortion, not 1.4X) but SteamVR’s default 150% render resolution still scales it too high. Actually viewing through the Pro 2’s lenses starting at 100%, at 120% Render Resolution the overall visuals seem to improve to nearly as good as at 150%. Although there are small visual differences that can be seen primarily when switching back and forth, 150% over 120% or even over 100% isn’t generally too noticeable while VR gaming.
It is interesting that Vive makes a compromise when setting Extreme/120Hz which is a much more demanding setting requiring that framerates be delivered above 120Hz in a steady cadence. For Extreme, SteamVR only scales to around 3344×3344 at 150% Render Resolution which evidently uses a lower compensation factor for lens distortion.
Either way, 150% is not practically better than 100% or native resolution for the playing experience compared with bogging down the video card by too high of a Render Resolution. In fact, the image quality of the Pro 2 set to the original Pro’s SteamVR Render Resolution of 2016×2240 is much better on the new HMD and the SDE is eliminated. On the other hand, one cannot increase the Render Resolution or Supersample the original Pro’s image to eliminate the SDE or to match the Pro 2 visuals.
Perhaps Pro 2 gamers may set their SteamVR base global resolution to the panel’s native 2448×2448 resolution and then increase the render resolution on a per app basis as far as it can so long as a constant framerate above 90 FPS (or at least above 45 FPS) is steadily delivered. And forget about Extreme (120%) unless you are simply aiming for a steady 60 FPS.
Next up we give our experiences and a comparison of the Pro 2 with the Reverb G2, Index, and Pro followed by the test configuration before we head to benchmarking. There we will focus on how to maintain the best playable settings for a steadily delivered framerate without the need for synthetic or dropped frames which are especially distressing for simmers.