While VR is still in its infancy, there are many compelling options for users who want a higher-quality VR experience. Both of these headsets are tethered units, which means they require a fairly powerful computer in order to allow them to work. The PC provides all of the processing power and graphics capabilities while the headsets themselves focus on rendering the images and tracking the player’s location alongside the grips and lightboxes.
This style of VR headset is still the king in terms of performance, and two of the most popular options are the Vive Pro, made by HTC, and the Valve Index.
Both of these headsets are great VR systems in their own right, and there are a few similarities between them.
They both use lightboxes, they both use tethers and they are both on the upper end of the scale in terms of performance and price.
That being said, they also provide some of the smoothest graphics and performance available.
In this article, we’re going to look at both of these headsets and their specs, then compare their performance and how the different accessories compete with each other. This will allow you to make an informed decision when it comes to which of these headsets is most suitable for you and your needs.
HTC Vive Pro
The HTC Vive Pro is one of the best-tethered headsets, featuring an array of great specifications.
First and foremost, let’s talk about the displays, arguably the most important part of any VR system.
The Vive Pro features two AMOLED screens (one for each eye) with a combined resolution of 2,880 × 1,600 or 1280×1440 per eye. The field of view is 110 degrees and the displays have a refresh rate of 90Hz, which means that they display 90 individual frames each second as long as you have the PC to power that sort of performance.
The headset has an integrated microphone and was one of the very first VR headsets to come with integrated audio as standard. For tracking it uses two lightboxes and Steam’s own SteamVR Tracking 2.0 system to keep tabs on you over expansive play areas.
The headset itself weighs just over a kilo which will take a bit of getting used to, however when you’re playing you will often totally forget you’re wearing it thanks to the clever mounting system which allows for as much comfort and stability as possible.
The controllers are fairly simple and are tracked by the lightboxes independently. They each have side grips, triggers, thumb buttons, and a touch wheel for control and navigation.
The Index shares many similarities with the Vive Pro, as it uses integrated audio and microphone and uses lightboxes and Steam’s SteamVR 2.0 tracking system, meaning that there’s very little difference between their ability to actually track your movement effectively.
The Index has slightly different displays, however, using the exact same max and per eye resolution, but using LCD display technology instead of AMOLED displays as on the Vive Pro. There is also a fairly considerable difference in the field of view (FOV) with the Index offering 130 degrees of view over the 110 degrees provided by the Vive Pro. This means that you’ll be able to see more, and have a more natural and immersive experience using the Index thanks to the increased peripheral vision you’ll have access to.
The Index has the Vive comprehensively beaten when it comes to refresh rates, as the Index renders 144Hz over the Vive’s 90Hz. This means that the Index renders 1.6x more frames per second than the Vive Pro, and can therefore display games and experiences much more smoothly and with greater responsiveness. This of course only benefits you if you have a PC that is capable of rendering these sorts of frame rates, as underpowered graphics cards and CPUs may make your actual frame rate much lower depending on the game, the graphics, how well optimized it is, and other factors.
The controllers also see the Index gain a little, thanks to a few extra features such as grip sensors and individual finger tracking that the Vive controllers don’t offer.
The Index weighs 800g compared to the 1017g of the Vive Pro which makes it that little bit more comfortable especially when used over long playing sessions which is a great thing for dedicated VR fanatics.
The Index is also a good bit cheaper than the Vive Pro when you factor in all the required accessories, which overall indicates that the Index may just pip the Vive Pro in terms of overall performance and price.
The redeeming factor of the Vive Pro is that its AMOLED displays render color truly beautifully and feel like they give a much higher fidelity than the LCD displays in the Vive, although there are drawbacks with both systems.
Before you make your decision, however, let’s take a look at some of the individual accessories and parts to make sure we’re not missing any crucial details.
In terms of comfortability, both headsets make great strides towards making VR a reasonably comfortable endeavor. Well, as comfortable as you can be wearing a fairly warm and weighty series of straps and electronics mounted to your head.
The included audio system with both headsets helps to make mounting the headset easy and the headphones on both systems provide a pretty good sound quality while sitting comfortably on the ears.
The straps on both headsets feel secure and well made, and are adjusted fairly easily to various head shapes and sizes to ensure that the headset doesn’t move around too much when performing the inevitably physical activity that VR experiences encourage.
The grips are another important part of the VR experience, and while both systems have fairly unique takes on their form and function, both of them work well and are comfortable for various hand sizes.
The Index does use slightly more advanced tech with individual finger tracking and grip sensors, but the drawback is that the grips are far bulkier and a little more awkward to use in some scenarios.
Lightboxes are the sensors that are positioned to track your movement. They are essentially two boxes that talk to your grips and headset keeping track of where you are and what you’re doing.
Both of these headsets use very similar lightboxes that both run Steam’s SteamVR 2.0 tracking system, meaning they perform largely the same.
Another thing they have in common is how annoying it can be to adjust and set up lightboxes and play areas particularly if you don’t have a fixed and regular play space or fixed wall mounts to optimally position your lightboxes.
This explains why Oculus has discontinued their Rift S tethered headset and moved to focus on their lightbox-free Quest 2 system, however that’s a topic for another article.
In terms of displays, both headsets use identical resolutions for each eye meaning the only difference is in the actual technology used for the displays.
The Index uses the relatively familiar LCD system, while the Vive Pro uses AMOLED displays. While the OLED displays sound advanced and do provide amazing colors, the LCD displays look a little smoother with smaller subpixels. The LCD displays are also capable of 144Hz refresh rates which as mentioned earlier is considerably higher than the 90Hz the OLEDs muster up.
In terms of price, the Index has the Vive Pro totally beaten, there’s almost no other way around it unless you manage to find some sort of unique deal. This puts the Index in a great position over its competitor when you factor in the specifications, features, and accessories.
Honorable mentions/Alternative Contenders
While still in development, the Vive Pro 2 is due to be released, meaning that although the Index is a very compelling option currently, the constant development and competition between brands continues apace. This has benefits for you if you’re willing to be patient and wait to see what the latest offerings do to shake up the established standard, however, it can also mean that there’s no perfect time to invest in a VR headset.
Other options such as the Quest 2 and Vive Cosmos are compelling options for a more streamlined and simpler approach that doesn’t require troublesome lightbox configuration.
In terms of the Vive Pro vs. Valve Index, they are both very good VR headsets and will deliver a very high-quality experience when paired with the appropriate hardware. Although the Index narrowly beats the Vive Pro in a few important areas of design and value, they really do perform very similarly.
The Index is quite a bit newer than the Vive Pro so the playing field wasn’t entirely level to start with. With the release of the Vive Pro 2, things will get very interesting and it is likely that the Index will face a much more competitive package than the original Vive Pro.