It’s been 10 years since the original Oculus Rift was released, but virtual reality (VR) hasn’t really evolved in the way we expected (or wanted), at least on the consumer side. Even as someone who is passionate about space, it would be disingenuous to think otherwise. But by a strange coincidence, February 2023 will mark a seemingly unintentional tandem push by two of VR’s biggest supporters. The first is Sony with its PS5-powered PlayStation VR2. The second is HTC, the maker of Valve’s original Vive headset, with its new Vive XR Elite.
We know the two main fears for VR have always been a small selection of truly compelling games (which are largely out of headset makers’ control) and the lifestyle issues posed by inconvenient setup tasks and the headset’s form factor – every little one Problem feels like another big hurdle to not putting on a VR headset.
PlayStation got a lot of things right. The original PlayStation VR headset was lightweight, mostly plug-and-play (perhaps a few too many plugs), and simple. Consumer oriented, comfortable and easy to put on. Now, with PSVR2, many of those design principles have been taken a few steps further and several additional barriers removed – and we’ll be hearing more about PSVR2 in the coming weeks.
Oculus (now Meta) also got a lot right with its Quest line, recognizing that a standalone headset that can power its own games and apps was the way to go. Eliminate the need for an external console or powerful PC and adoption will be more widespread.
With the Vive XR Elite, HTC has attempted to take the best parts of all those lessons and incorporate them into its own powerful, standalone headset, but with a primary focus on a dramatic – and I mean dramatic – reduction in the device’s physical profile, without impairing visual clarity or the ability to run visually demanding software.
The goal seems to be to create the most convenient and straightforward VR experience possible. After an hour or so of messing around with a production model of the Vive XR Elite, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Something of a modular device, the Vive XR Elite is essentially an oversized pair of sunglasses or goggles in its smallest configuration. They are lightweight, easy to put on and comfortable. I can very well imagine setting it up at my desk, tethered to a PC for power and with access to my Steam VR library of seated VR games.
On paper, it’s no slouch. The XR Elite has a combined resolution of 3840 × 1920 (1920 × 1920 per eye), a 110-degree field of view, and a 90Hz refresh rate, putting it very close to the PSVR2 and Meta Quest Pro in terms of visual fidelity that even surpasses these devices in some respects. Really, it offers incredible performance, especially for something with such a compact profile.
The Vive XR Elite also benefits from being a standalone device. Swap out the goggle-like temples for a wraparound battery and the headset becomes a very comfortable option for games and applications that require standing or a greater range of motion.
Visual clarity and fidelity is still very good, of course, and the rudimentary games we got to test on the device itself performed just as you would want them to. We also attempted to wirelessly stream a demanding PC VR game, which had its inherent issues (image artifacts in busier, more complex scenes), but the overall quality of the time was still largely clear. Again, headset comfort and ease of use were the standout X-factor.
Inside-out tracking and hand gestures are also supported, but despite the headset’s slimmer profile, you’ll still look like a fool.
My main point of comparison here is the Meta Quest headsets, which have pushed the realm of VR possibility, but I don’t think it’s going to be a controversial opinion to say that the XR Elite has made some strides to make it a more comfortable and enjoyable experience .
The device is perfectly balanced and not as front-heavy as the Quest. There is no uncomfortable vertical strap running over your head and putting pressure on it for long periods of time. It features its own take on PlayStation VR’s excellent ratchet/quick release system, and the battery itself acts as a counterweight to an already lightweight headset. It feels like you could wear it forever.
There are other premium niceties too. As a wide eyeglass wearer, I was amazed that I didn’t need them at all. Each lens has its own diopter, which means I can focus each one individually to suit my specific level of blindness. This was a first for me – and since I have to pull out older, narrower glasses to use my own Oculus Quest at home, I was really excited about this feature.
Of course, this mix of comfort and performance comes at a price. The Vive XR Elite will retail for US$1,100 / AU$2,100 when it launches on February 25, 2023.
In comparison, the PS VR2 costs $550 / AU$880, but you have to factor in the cost of a $400 / AU$650 PS5 console. The XR Elite’s closest rival is the Meta Quest Pro, which retails for $1,500 / AU$2,500.
Hopefully sometime in the near future we’ll have the time and opportunity to dig deeper into the device to test it in real-world conditions. I look forward to revisiting Half-Life: Alyx (and its many mod campaigns) with the fidelity and convenience of the XR Elite. Stay tuned.