HTC pulled out the surprise reveal of CES 2018 when it announced the Vive Pro.
Here was an upgraded version of one of the best virtual reality headsets in the business, with a massive resolution boost that no-one else could touch. Add in a few ergonomics improvements and things were already looking good - and then it went and cut the cord, too.
If you can't already tell, we were pretty stoked to try one on.
We got that chance at HTC's CES showcase, in order to see what a difference 78% more resolution can make to an already excellent VR experience.
SO WHAT'S NEW?
The Vive Pro is more than a Vive with a lick of blue paint - HTC has taken user feedback on board and made some very welcome improvements.
The original Vive was more than a bit top-heavy, and was a nightmare to adjust on the fly. The Pro fixes that with a sizing dial at the back of the redesigned strap, which makes fine adjustment so much easier. The strap does a better job of balancing weight, too, so it doesn't feel like the HMD is dragging your head down.
Two cameras are now fixed to the front of the headset, instead of one. They'll be used for augmented reality, once developers get round to supporting them - which could mean big things later down the road, even if we're not quite there today.
Trying to squeeze a gaming headset over the original Vive's head strap was awkward at best, and like putting your bonce in a medieval torture device at worst. The Pro has built-in headphones now, which is a massive change for the better. They flip up and out of the way when you don't need 'em, and are easy to adjust to almost any angle. There's plenty of padding on the ear cups for a comfortable fit, too.
You get spacial audio support, which is essential for VR games, but a lot of the demos we tried weren't exactly cranked up to maximum volume - with no noise cancelling on board, you'll get the best audio performance by playing in a quiet room. A crowded CES demo space wasn't exactly ideal for critical listening.
The biggest change, though? That resolution upgrade. It really does make all the difference.
VIVE PRO IN ACTION
The vanilla Vive managed 1080×1200 for each eye, but the Vive Pro bumps that up to a whopping 1440x1600. Combined, you're getting a 2880x1600 image, barely an inch in front of your face.
That is a huge leap in terms of definition, with a much clearer picture than you got before. Small text that was unreadable on the original Vive is now clear to see, and image quality in general is significantly better, with fewer jaggies to spoil your immersion.
Sure, you can still see the pixels if you go looking for them, but when you're hurtling around Austria's Red Bull Ring in a virtual McLaren 670s, things are moving too fast to notice. HTC has stuck with a 90Hz refresh rate, so as long as you've got a PC with the GPU grunt to keep up, the experience is flawless. Details that simply weren't there before, like the lap time information on your dashboard, or objects in your rear view mirror really leapt out at us.
Field of view should be HTC's next hurdle: it still feels like you're looking through a pair of goggles, rather than being completely enveloped in VR. Once you're playing a game, though, you forget all that - the Pro really is a huge step up, and the increased definition should be a sign of things to come for all VR.
CUTTING THE CORD
The Vive Pro wasn't HTC's only CES announcement. It also revealed the Vive Wireless Adapter, an upgrade kit that'll cut the cords on your headset for obstruction-free movement. It snaps onto the back of the headset, which is a hell of a lot more convenient than squeezing a PC into a backpack and lugging it around.
The extra weight it adds isn't substantial, and the battery pack easily slips in a pocket. Combine it with a large room, and HTC's upgraded Base Station 2.0 sensors for a wider detection radius, and room-scale VR has never felt so liberating.
Worrying about tripping over a cable was always at the back of our mind with the vanilla Vive, and not having that concern helped us to lose ourselves in VR that much quicker. Going back to the original is going to be tough now.
Because it uses Intel's WiGig tech, which works on its own dedicated frequency and has a colossal amount of bandwidth, you don't have to worry about interference - whether you're hooked in to a Vive Pro or vanilla Vive headset. HTC reckons there's 7ms of latency, but in practice this is pretty much imperceptible compared to a wired connection.
HTC VIVE PRO INITIAL VERDICT
The Vive Pro feels like HTC answering its critics, making the changes its die-hard fanbase has been asking for, and drawing a line in the sand for the rest of the VR world - all in one fell swoop.
While Oculus has been busy diversifying with cheaper, self-contained VR, HTC has doubled down on high-end hardware that can be truly immersive. Add in the wireless adapter and VR has never felt more ready for the mainstream.
We'll have to wait a while longer yet, though, as HTC hasn't committed to a specific date for either the Vive Pro or the wireless adapter. Price is still up for debate, too, with the existing Vive and its optional deluxe audio strap setting you back £750 (S$1350)- adding a wireless Vive Pro to your VR setup could potentially set you back £1000 (S$1800).
Hopefully HTC manages to keep the price down. We'll find out when we give the Vive Pro a full review, a little closer to launch.