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Hands-on review: HTC Vive Wireless Adapter and Vive Pro 2 VR headset
Wed, 29th Mar 2023

It's been an intense month of virtual reality for me as I get to grips with Sony's PlayStation VR2, experiencing both the highs and the lows of the best VR headset for consoles. There has been, I believe, some unwarranted criticism regarding the Sony headset's dependency on a wired connection to the PlayStation 5. I've also been trying out HTC's new wireless Vive XR Elite headset. 

Soon after it launched back in 2021, I purchased an HTC Vive Pro 2. My first VR headset was the original Vive, some seven years ago, with a short dabble with the Vive Cosmos before settling with the Pro 2. All of these devices are what are known as tethered VR headsets. Throughout my years of VR experience, I've had a cable connecting the headset to the PC. I've long become used to having cables getting caught on my chair or wrapped around my legs.

Right after previewing HTC's very cool (but very expensive) Vive XR Elite wireless next-gen headset, a package arrived from HTC. It was a wireless adapter for my trusty Vive Pro 2.

The Vive Wireless Adapter has been available for a few years, but I've never seen the point and, likely the same as Sony has with its PSVR 2, I just thought wireless VR just adds another level of trouble to my PC VR setup for very little gain.

Despite the Vive Pro 2's shortcomings, being the tiny sweet spot, the awful Fresnel lenses (that, thankfully, HTC have now abandoned with their newer headsets), and the peculiar letterbox viewing shape, it's arguably, one of the best headsets available for PC. The proven high-precision lighthouse tracking system, developed in conjunction with Valve, allows the controllers to be located even when they are behind your back.

Even with guns akimbo, one gun pointing behind you and one in front, there's no fear that the tracking with go haywire, unlike the so-called inside-out tracking popular with newer headsets. Then there are the crystal-clear LCD panels, delivering 2.5K resolution to each eye up to 120hz.

It's truly a premium PC VR experience.

One of the other reasons I've not previously gone with the Vive Wireless Adapter is that it drops the resolution of the Vive Pro 2 from 2448×2448 to 1632×1632 per eye and limits the refresh rate to 90 Hz. It's an understandable but significant technical limitation of the wireless technology used by the adapter.

The Vive Pro/Cosmos Wireless Adapter kit comes with quite a few components, some of which are not required, depending on your Vive model. It's neatly packaged but a bit overwhelming, especially as there are no physical instructions, just a link to the HTC Vive website. Following the link, however, provided me with a detailed animation showing me exactly what I needed to do with all the bits in the box.

The most frightening part for most people is probably installing the PCIe WiGig card in the host PC. It isn't difficult, but it may be a bit nerve-racking if you've not opened up your machine before. The card is connected to the included mountable wireless link box (which looks more like a webcam than an actual box) via a cable. 

The wireless link box broadcasts the video and audio signal to the headset and receives tracking data. It needs to be located in the line of sight of the play area. A clip is included for fixing the link box to the top of your monitor.

Replacing the existing cable with the shorter cable for the Vive Wireless Adapter is not for the faint-hearted; the Vive Pro 2 is an expensive bit of kit. The headset's face gasket has to be removed, and a small cover exposing the cable connection needs to be unclipped. The cover is on rather tight and needs a bit of force to get it off. I carefully removed the Vive Pro 2's existing long tether cable and replaced it with the shorter cable included in the kit. 

The actual Vive Wireless Adapter is pretty easy to fit onto the headset. The foam head pad at the back of the head strap is removed and replaced with the larger one in the kit. There are some other pads included for fitting the adapter to a Vive Cosmos, which I didn't need. With the new head pad installed, the adapter is simply attached to the back of the headset with a Velcro strap. The short cable is routed around the side of the headset, the same as the old long cable was, and connected to the back of the mounted adapter.   

Being wireless, the Vive is powered by a rechargeable power bank that's included in the box. There's also a holder for clipping the power bank to your belt. An included long USB cable is used for connecting the power bank to the headset, and another shorter USB cable is for charging.

Using a bit of care, putting the Vive Pro 2 and the Wireless Adapter together isn't really that hard. I do think that the "short cable" connecting the headset to the adapter is a bit long, making the adapter sit a little awkward. Loosening the cable through the headset's cable guides made it look slightly better, though. It's likely a "one-size-fits-all" cable sized for all the different Vive models.

The wireless software installation went without a hitch, and the wireless link box paired with the adapter the first time. What I didn't appreciate was that even though I no longer needed the Vive's DisplayPort cable connected between the old link box and the PC, the link box is still needed for the Lighthouse base stations' power-saving feature.

With everything switched on and the new Vive Wireless app running, confirming the wireless connection was active, the Vive Console app and SteamVR found each other as normal. The headset, base stations, and controllers all registered green in the Steam VR dialogue box.

A lot of my good fortune is likely down to the maturity of both the SteamVR and Vive Console applications. This wasn't always the case, with frequent and unprovoked connection issues being the norm once upon a time, even with a wired setup. Thankfully, those days are (touch wood) behind me.    

The integrity of the wireless connection is impressive. Apart from a couple of grey screens lasting milliseconds, the wireless audio and video were without fault. I do think that there is a bit of latency compared to the direct cable connection, as I had to recalibrate the Harmonix rhythm game Audica to hit the targets. 

Wireless VR adds so much to the immersion of standing and room-scale games but not so much sitting-down games like MS Flight Simulator. The bigger your playspace, the better the wireless VR experience, as you can move about without tripping over a cable. The Vive Wireless Adapter isn't 100% wire-free in that you still have the battery pack in your pocket (or on your belt), but that's much better than a cable trailing around the room.

But, this freedom of movement comes at a cost. As is the norm with virtual reality, it's all about compromise. The drop in resolution to 3264x1632 was noticeable, although reducing the refresh rate to the 90Hz limit was not so much. Whilst this may not concern OG Vive and Cosmos players, the "5K" display is a big selling point for the Pro 2. The adapter mounted on the top of the headset does nothing for the device's already cumbersome aesthetics. I also noticed that the adapter does tend to get hot- not burning hot, but hot, nevertheless. 

The 9750 mAh power bank netted me about 2 hours of use, if that. I don't know how many charging cycles it has had, but the consensus is about two to two-and-a-half hours of playtime per charge. Whilst I'm unlikely to be playing long sessions that long, I'd still like the opportunity to decide when to stop rather than have an extended session truncated by the battery. A spare battery may be in order.

The above aside, all told, I was pleasantly surprised by the wireless VR experience afforded by the Vive Wireless Adapter. And I can certainly see the appeal of wireless VR.

It did take a while for me to not instinctively avoid stepping on the cable and move freely in my playspace. Valve's Half-Life: Alyx became an entirely different experience, the Wireless Adapter opening up a freedom of movement that I didn't know I was missing. Similarly, SuperHot VR became the matrix-style bullet-dodging action game it was supposed to be without having a cable wrapped around my legs. 

But, as one that favours "sit-down" VR experiences like MS Flight Simulator, Project Cars 3, and Elite Dangerous, I was still sitting on the fence with the Wireless VR Adapter. I wasn't sure, given the drawbacks of wireless VR with the Vive Pro 2- the lower resolution, battery charge levels, and potential technical issues, that I prefer it over the stability and fidelity of a wired connection. These same concerns have been on my mind regarding the Vive XR Elite and the industry's general push towards more casual, user-friendly, wireless VR headsets.

Of course, room-scale games like Half-Life: Alyx and any number of VR "experiences", as well as party-style games such as Beat Saber, will be improved immensely with wireless VR. Indeed, it could have been the trailing cable I've dealt with over the last seven years of owning a Vive headset that has seen me gravitate to what are, arguably, the more pedestrian uses of virtual reality. Only time will tell.

The HTC Vive Wireless Adapter allows owners of HTC's OG Vive, Cosmos, and Pro series VR headsets to ditch the cable with relative ease. It's a robust wireless VR setup that performed relatively faultlessly and certainly offers a much better experience than I anticipated. Whilst the Wireless Adapter may not be an essential upgrade for tethered Vive owners, it's pretty close, bringing HTC's legacy headset in line with the more modern trend of wireless VR gaming.