The HTC Vive XR Elite is a lightweight, makeover luxury of a VR headset
As someone who considers Uniqlo an extravagance, the HTC Vive XR Elite might just be the most expensive thing I’ll ever wear. Revealed at CES 2023 and slated to launch in March, it’s the first Vive VR headset in years with true PC gaming credentials, while borrowing from the more compact design of the Vive Flow VR glasses in mind. Mobile VR. I recently went to try them out here in London, with a worried thought in my mind: even with a lighter design than the Vive Cosmos series, how could it be worth £1299/$1099?
The answer, at least from HTC’s perspective, is flexibility. The Vive XR Elite is an all-in-one headset with no need for base stations, and can be worn wirelessly for less demanding VR gaming or tethered to a PC for more advanced fare like Half-Life: Alyx. Good, but a few other AIO headsets can already do this, including the much cheaper Oculus/Meta Quest 2. What sets the latest HTC apart is both the ease of connecting to a PC wirelessly, over Wi-Fi and without any side-loading shenanigans, while also making the battery detachable to turn into a pair of VR/AR specs outright laptops that can be powered from a power bank and connected to a smartphone. It really wants to be everything for all VR fans out there, and at a time when the Quest line is obsessed with chasing those metaverse dollars and/or selling your personal data, that’s not a bad argument.
First impressions: it is indeed very light. Second impressions: Damn, it doesn’t fit on my glasses. Fortunately, the Vive XR Elite also copies the Flow’s adjustable-lens diopter dials, so although their maximum myopia setting of -6 was just below the -7 prescription of my troublesome right eye, I could still swing my way around. towards a fairly clear image while setting my glasses aside.
Besides a slightly snug fit around the nose, the Vive XR Elite is a comfortable fit. Moving the battery to the back of the headband distributes the overall weight more evenly than just squeezing everything into a big block up front, and there’s not much to distribute to begin with. Complete with battery, this headset weighs 625g, almost 80g less than the Cosmos Elite and 184g less than the Valve Index.
If you fancy getting rid of even more bulk, it’s easy enough to detach the battery and replace the straps with a pair of glasses-style temples. This is intended for mobile use, but you can wear the Vive XR Elite like this as part of a PC setup, but at the cost of being wireless, as you’ll need a power cable. I must say that I preferred the battery configuration, as it felt much safer on my big noggin. In goggle mode, it’s much heavier up front, and I’d be concerned it would fly off with sufficiently vigorous head movements.
Unfortunately, HTC didn’t have a desktop PC available, so I was limited to playing in all-in-one mode. Still, I got a good taste of the Vive XR Elite’s performance, especially since one of the games installed – Hubris – is an AIO port of a desktop PC VR adventure. From compelling first-person swimming to doubtfully necessary jellyfish-blasting, Hubris gave a good account of the headset’s 1920×1920 per-eye displays and sleek controllers. The former are crisp and dynamic, while the latter’s tracking is precise and not too jittery. Not bad at all, for an upside-down follow-up.
Less exciting was bare-hand tracking, which I put to the test in Maestro VR, an otherwise likeable and whimsical conductor simulator. Using a controller to wave my stick-wielding right hand worked well, but when I needed to point my left finger at loose musicians, it sometimes took a few moments for that hand to appear in my sight. I realized I was letting my left arm fall out of view of the headset’s four tracking cameras, and it’s not very quick to reacquire the hands once they come back into frame. Latency is also achievable but not noticeably faster than on other gaming-focused headsets. There’s still a hint of lag on movements, even those level with the cameras.
Typically this isn’t a patch on the Index controller assisted hand and finger tracking, which is an issue when Valve’s full VR kit (including base stations and a copy of Alyx) costs £919/$999. Normally that sounds like silly money for even the best PC VR headset on the market, but the Vive Elite XR is even more damaging to your financial well-being. As a PC gaming device in particular, I’m not yet convinced that this premium will be worth paying.
As a VR headset more generally, on the other hand, there’s a certain appeal to the Vive XR Elite’s versatility. Its ability to smoothly run locally installed games as well as connect to a PC gives it a wider range of compatible hardware than the Index, and if you really want every drop of value out of it, you can even transform it into a pair of glasses to keep you entertained on long flights and bus rides. A luxury ? Yes. Useless? Maybe not.
For more on VR, and with far fewer photos of me looking like Deep Rock Galactic’s Driller, check out RPS pal Rick Lane’s monthly Reality Bytes column.