Saturday, April 13, 2024
VR&AR

HTC Vive XR Elite initial review: Next-gen XR experience


HTC, best known for laying out the landscape for modern Android phones in the early 2010s, now focuses most of its energy into VR headsets. Having been one of the big players in premium VR with the original HTC Vive, that family of devices has expanded over the years.


The HTC Vive XR Elite steps into new territory, evolving HTC’s previous mobile solution, removing the wires and creating a versatile lightweight headset. We got our hands on it at CES 2023 to see if HTC’s latest headset is going to start a new chapter in the VR story.

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HTC Vive XR Elite VR headset: Everything you need to know photo 2

HTC Vive XR Elite

First impressions

The next-gen headset from HTC offers a versatile design, able to be standalone or connected, with a hot-swappable battery. It’s nice and light, while the front RGB camera offer a great passthrough experience to support its XR skills. It’s expensive, however, so much will depend on the pipeline of content for this headset.

Pros

  • Lightweight design
  • Hot-swappable battery
  • Standalone or tethered
  • Great controllers

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The HTC Vive XR Elite takes the Vive Flow as its base design and adapts it into a standalone solution. The previous Vive Flow required a wired connection to a mobile device and was worn like a pair of glasses. The Vive XR Elite looks similar with a compact goggle-style form, but rather than arms like a pair of glasses, now connects to a rear battery pack with a pad for the back of your head.

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On the rear of the Vive XR Elite is a dial to adjust the tension, while there’s a strap that will go over your head, sort of level with your ears. Given the light weight of the Vive XR Elite, it’s surprisingly stable and we found it comfortable to wear.

Integral to this is the pad at the front, the baffle that blocks light around your eyes, while providing a comfortable touchpoint against your face. This baffle can actually be removed, so it’s easy to change, remove for cleaning or for any other reason you want to out of there.

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However, the Vive XR Eilte is actually a modular design, allowing you to slip the battery off and swap the arms to be more like the Vive Flow – although we didn’t get to test this aspect of the device. The battery is hot swappable too, meaning there’s plenty of versatility.

The HTC Vive XR Elite uses the same controllers as the Vive Focus 3, allowing plenty of support for a full range of motions and controls, while also being tracked by the headset.


The tech specs

Inside the Vive XR Elite are adjusters so you can make changes to suit your vision and focus the lenses for the display. That should mean that glasses wearers don’t have to worry about special lenses, although you’d be wise to check the Vive XR Elite’s capabilities to see is the dioptre adjustment will meet your requirements.

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There are two displays, with 1920 x 1920 pixels per eye, offering a refresh rate of 90Hz to try and keep things smooth and up to 110 degrees in the field of view.

The headset is powered by the Snapdragon XR2, the same Qualcomm platform as the Meta Quest 2 and the Pico 4. It can be used standalone or tethered to a PC to access more content. We only tested it as a standalone device, experiencing content running locally from its own storage.

There is 128GB of storage and 12GB RAM, although we didn’t get to navigate the device enough in our initial hands-on time to experience how well the interface or day-to-day use really hands together.

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The internal sensors provide 6 DoF (degree of freedom), with external cameras to provide full-colour passthrough vision so you can see the real world around you and to power those mixed reality or extended reality experiences – hence the XR in the name.

The headset also supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for connectivity, while there are speakers built into it – although we didn’t have the chance to test the sound to any great extent.

HTC Vive XR Elite performance and battery life

In our short time with the Vive XR Elite at CES 2023 we experienced a number of different use cases to cover a spectrum of features it offers. Firstly, the battery life is cited as 2 hours, which we didn’t have a chance to test, but it’s hot swappable, so you could prolong your sessions, or more likely, not have to worry about always fully charging before you start.

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The first experience we encountered was to explore mixed reality. This uses the RGB cameras on the front of the headset to show you the real world in glorious colour. This isn’t as common as you might think with many headsets only offering black and white passthrough as a basic function. However, with XR or MR in mind, there’s much greater fidelity in what you’ll see when in this mode.

While the demo was great – we painted on a virtual easel in a pretty standard XR demo, flipping into creating 3D aspects until we’d totally abandoned the painting task we were supposed to be doing and just crafted a virtual hellscape instead – it was something else that demonstrated how good the passthough experience is.

The HTC representative offered to take some photos of us wearing the headset and it was possible to pick up the camera, change all the settings and check those on the display on the rear, as well as give instructions, without removing the headset. The detail was that good.

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Suitably impressed by the XR experience, HTC wanted to showcase Viverse, particularly some of the shared spaces that might replace your office one day. There’s still a slightly jilted feeling to this sort of experience, where real things are created in a virtual world. Sure, the view out of the window looked great but it’s still a slightly bizarre concept to us.

However, we opened plenty of files to view live data, as if across three huge displays, and again the clarity was really good – there was no problem reading the information which suggests that in a virtual working environment there would be no problem when it came to this sort of content.

The final experience we got into was playing Hubris, a VR title that’s available on Steam, PSVR and Oculus/Meta Quest. This was a better showcase of the sort of interactive gaming environment and the controls supported. Hubris is graphically impressive, but the freedom of movement around the environment is great, including swimming and climbing taking advantage of those controllers.

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First impressions

HTC Vive XR Elite leaves us impressed with the lightweight hardware offering and the scope of the controls. This appears to be a flexible headset with versatile use cases. As with all such devices, much will depend on the content that you get access to and your requirements beyond just gaming.

It’s certainly great to be wearing a headset that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to consume your entre head and the passthrough experience from those RGB cameras on the front is really impressive. But the asking price for this headset at $1099 / £1299 / €1399 is eye-watering. The HTC Vive XR Elite is really going to have to deliver on the content pipeline to have consumer appeal at that price.



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