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Out of a small, black drawstring bag emerges a pair of extraordinary black mirrorshade glasses. As I show them to my son, I reveal their true nature – VR goggles. Being a Quest 2 player, he is taken aback by the unexpectedness of it all.
The HTC Vive XR Elite feels like a groundbreaking leap towards the future of VR and AR. These bug-eyed, glossy goggles represent a way to create a more compact, self-contained mixed reality experience. However, this portable dream comes with its own set of challenges.
It’s not just the foldable goggles that make this kit special. There’s also a battery pack strap and VR controllers. Additionally, there is an optional adapter for those who wear glasses, allowing the XR Elite to fit comfortably over their eyes. It’s a versatile kit that resembles the Meta Quest Pro in many ways. But if you want to reduce its size and run it on a separate battery pack or laptop, that option is available too.
HTC’s innovative approach to VR hardware brings us a device that feels more like glasses than the Meta Quest Pro. It’s a clear sign of the evolutionary steps that await all VR/AR hardware in the future.
During my week-long test of the Vive XR Elite, I explored various apps and games in standalone mode, both in VR and mixed reality using the passthrough cameras. I made use of the controllers and even tried out the onboard hand tracking. Although the XR Elite can be connected to a PC as a VR headset, I primarily focused on its stand-alone capabilities. I wore it over my glasses and didn’t use the prescription-adjusting lenses included. Instead, I opted for HTC’s adapter to fit the hardware comfortably over my own glasses.
Similarly to the Quest Pro, the Vive XR Elite is a VR headset with a unique design. While it can achieve “mixed reality” by overlaying virtual objects and experiences onto real-world video captured by its cameras, there aren’t many apps yet that fully utilize this feature.
However, priced at $1,099, the XR Elite is already available ahead of Apple’s anticipated mixed-reality device and Meta’s Quest 3. It feels like a stepping stone towards a future product that isn’t quite here yet.
Design: The Essence of VR Deconstructed
When placed side by side with the Meta Quest Pro, the Vive XR Elite’s deconstructed design appears surprisingly compact. This is mainly due to the optional removal of certain components (such as the head strap battery pack) and the smaller size of the eyewear itself. The mirror-glossy front panel is narrower than that of the Quest Pro, and the lenses are more compact.
As a result, when worn without glasses, the XR Elite may feel slightly tight on the face. On the other hand, wearing it with glasses exposes a greater peripheral vision of the outside world. HTC refers to this as a “mixed reality mode” benefit. Over time, I grew accustomed to this sensation, finding it less distracting than I initially thought.
Unlike when I first tested the XR Elite a few months ago in Las Vegas, it now works with my glasses thanks to a new magnetically attached bracket that allows the headset to sit comfortably over them. However, this configuration requires the battery head strap for stability, as it lacks a nose piece. In glasses mode, the entire headset looks and feels like a slightly shrunken Quest Pro.
The LCD displays, boasting a resolution of 1,920×1,920 pixels per eye and an impressive 110-degree field of view, deliver stunning visual quality. When worn over my glasses, I did notice some distortion in the optics compared to the Quest Pro. However, non-glasses wearers who position the headset closer to their eyes might not encounter the same issue. It’s worth mentioning that the XR Elite features automatic prescription adjustment, accommodating a range of 0 to -6. Unfortunately, as someone with -8 plus vision, I found this function insufficient. Additionally, a separate slider allows users to adjust the distance between the lenses according to their inter pupillary distance.
For audio, the XR Elite relies on ambient spatial audio delivered through the side arms. This means you don’t need headphones to enjoy your VR experience. However, unlike the Quest Pro, the XR Elite lacks a headphone jack.
Swapping out parts to transition from glasses to full-headband battery pack mode can be a bit cumbersome. The plastic arms of the glasses detach and are replaced by the adjustable battery pack headband, which snaps into place. I did have concerns about the durability of the headband’s flexible plastic, as repeated detaching and reattaching may cause wear and tear over time.
One area where the XR Elite deviates from its smaller size is its controllers. HTC includes a pair of Oculus-like USB-C rechargeable controllers, similar to those found with the business-focused Vive Focus 3. These controllers have standard triggers, buttons, and analog sticks, but they feel a bit bulky when used with the compact XR Elite design. By contrast, the Quest Pro features new, smaller controllers equipped with their own camera-based tracking. It would have been ideal if the XR Elite also received a controller upgrade to enhance portability and overall user experience. Although the XR Elite lacks onboard eye tracking like the Quest Pro, there are plans for an additional add-on in the future.
VR Experience: Solid Performance
Powered by a Snapdragon XR2 chip and bundled with a full set of motion VR controllers, the XR Elite performs admirably with standard VR apps and games. It can also connect to PCs via wired or wireless connections for a PC-based VR experience, similar to the Quest 2 and Quest Pro. The advantage here is that you can use the XR Elite in glasses mode with a PC, resulting in a significantly smaller tethered headset compared to most options available on the market.
Equipped with its own set of four cameras and a depth sensor, the XR Elite boasts built-in full motion tracking. Setting up a virtual space for VR is a straightforward process, involving the use of passthrough cameras to outline boundaries in your physical environment.
Hand tracking on the XR Elite has proven to be reliable thus far. Much like the Quest, the headset interprets hand movements, displaying virtual hands on-screen that can interact with objects, tap buttons, and navigate menus. While the controllers are still necessary for more precise control in many apps, the hand tracking functionality enhances immersion.
HTC’s Viveport platform offers a similar selection of games and apps as the Quest, albeit with some notable exclusions. Thus, it feels like a slightly smaller library in comparison. However, when connected to a PC, you can access HTC’s Viveport apps and Steam VR.
Mixed Reality: An Emerging Frontier
Finding apps that fully leverage the Vive XR Elite’s passthrough cameras for mixed reality experiences can be a challenge. Similar to the Meta Quest Pro, these headsets represent the first steps into the realm of semi-mainstream mixed reality VR. Naturally, existing VR apps might not feel compelled to support these new devices just yet.
In the initial offering, you can discover apps like Maestro, a music conducting game, Figmin XR, and various art apps. The results are comparable to what the Quest Pro delivers. Personally, I find the Quest Pro’s mixed reality slightly more appealing. For some reason, the XR Elite’s color passthrough camera video feels somewhat flat to me and occasionally distorted.
Looking ahead, the XR Elite could potentially be used for certain mixed-reality applications, not unlike Magic Leap or HoloLens, assuming the emergence of suitable apps. However, by that point, there may be newer and more advanced hardware options available, making it worth waiting for what the future holds.
Conclusion: A Glimpse into the VR Evolution
Throughout my week of testing, the Vive XR Elite proved to be too fiddly and occasionally glitchy to become a device I would readily embrace. The software system doesn’t feel as refined as Meta’s, and the headset’s design occasionally feels awkward. While I did grow to appreciate its smaller form and the way it fits over my face, the overall experience could be improved.
Although the XR Elite can pack down flatter than most VR headsets and is more portable than the Quest Pro, it still feels like an intermediate step in the evolution of VR. It’s a product that shows the growing pains of the VR industry, suggesting that future iterations will be better. At $1,099, it’s best to wait for the next release. Personally, I prefer the Quest Pro’s software, operating system, and app library, as they feel more refined and comprehensive compared to what Vive has to offer.
Nevertheless, the XR Elite is a clear indicator of where VR headsets are headed. It’s safe to assume that Apple will tread a similar path, albeit with a smoother and less awkward design. Expect smaller displays and modular designs to be the future trends to watch closely.
If you’re ready to experience the next generation of VR, visit NokiaMA Headset Design to learn more about the innovative XR Elite and the exciting possibilities it brings. The future of VR awaits!