Back in the 90s, companies tried making virtual reality a thing, most notably Nintendo, whose Virtual Boy was so distasteful that it caused people to abandon the entire category for the next 20 years. But then in 2016, headsets from Oculus and HTC/Vive showed that the VR experiences people had been writing about in scifi books for years were finally within our reach.
That brings us to now, at CES 2018, where Vive is taking the next step forward in VR with the new Vive Pro head-mounted display and Vive Wireless Adaptor. The biggest improvement on the new Vive Pro is new AMOED display sporting a combined resolution of 2880 x 1600, which is 78 percent denser than what you get on the current Vive. This should result in a less obtrusive “screen door” effect that’s caused by lower-resolution screens.
Additionally, the Vive Pro will also now feature built-in headphones with their own dedicated amp, dual mics, and a redesigned headstrap for more comfortable marathon VR sessions. Vive is even adding a second front-facing camera to the Pro, so that developers can better integrate AR features into the headsets range of functions.
These spec bumps sound great, and are an expected upgrade for a platform has been on the market for little under two years. But the thing that is going to take VR to the next level is the Vive Wireless Adaptor, something that was originally teased as a prototype made by TPCast at CES 2017.
This little wishbone shaped box has the power to completely transform the modern VR experience. No longer will you have to worry about tripping over cords or yanking the guts out of your PC if you walk to far away. You can freely immerse yourself in a whole other world, without needing to settle the reduced fidelity and graphics from a mobile based VR headset like a Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream.
There’s no official information yet on how much the Vive Pro will cost, or when it will be available. However, Vive has said that the Wireless Adaptor will be available sometime in Q3 2018.
[Update 7:15 PM EST] After getting a chance to try out the new Vive Pro, I have some mixed reactions. While a 78 percent increase in resolution sounds like a lot, the difference between standard Vive and Vive Pro isn’t as pronounced as you might think. That said, the screen door effect is less noticeable, to the point where it’s easier to ignore the issue, as opposed to it being a distraction, like it often is on Vive’s original headset.
The new increased fidelity also makes the redesigned headstrap even more important, because if your eyes are even slightly out of the headset’s sweet spot, you’re right back to seeing blurry, low-res images. But when everything lines up just right, it’s even easier to get sucked into other worlds.
This was never more apparent than when I got a chance to try out a racing simulation that had me hurling around Laguna Seca raceway. This is something I’ve done a million times in other games like Gran Tursimo, but in VR and with the Vive Pro’s optics better able to convey a real sense of speed, my braid started to battle against my instincts as I became more focused on avoiding crashing into walls, instead of nailing corners and exit vectors like I should have been.
The addition of the Vive Wireless Adaptor on the other hand, can’t be understated. As someone who is largely immune from motion sickness and other VR-induced nausea, the wireless adapter combined with PC-power graphics and very little lag created the closest thing to real freedom I’ve ever experienced in VR.
When I played Doom VFR wire-free, after taking a minute to appreciate my new untethered boundaries, I was soon spinning around like a top, blasting demons and other hellspawn with the sort of breakneck speed that up till now, I think VR has been really lacking. With nothing tugging on your head and no wires trying to trip you up, the sense of getting transported somewhere else is even more distinct. It feels like the difference between riding a bike or riding a motorcyle. After this, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with tethered VR again.
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