HTC Vive XR Elite: Another mixed reality headset that arrives before Apple

VR suddenly became become more expensive. It seems like the worst possible timing, but HTC’s latest high-end headset has just been announced CESThe Vive XR Elite, however, follows a similar playbook to the recent Meta Quest Proand maybe Apple expected device Also. It raises a question: Are we really ready for the rise of $1,000-plus virtual reality hardware? The standalone Vive XR Elite is sleek and looks more compact than the Quest Pro, and it tries to test the high-end waters.

Available for pre-order this Thursday, the $1,099 headset will arrive at the end of February—noticeably soon for a CES product. This means that it will be available alongside Sony’s connected PlayStation 5 PSVR2. Although the XR Elite is less expensive than the Quest Pro, it costs about the same as buying the PS5 and PSVR 2 together. It is far from an impulse buy. But the hardware, which shrinks the form of virtual reality to a pair of glasses that look almost like glasses and includes mixed reality capabilities that could allow augmented reality applications, looks to solve how we use it. Metaverse For more than just games, simulators and fitness in our lives.

Read more: The wonders of CES 2023: 3D laptops, wireless TV and shape-shifting screens

No other company has really risen to this challenge. But this Vive headset looks, more than ever, like a stepping stone to future augmented reality glasses.

A pair of HTC Vive XR Elite glasses, seen from above

The XR Elite’s battery strap detaches, and goggle-like arms can be added instead to reduce the size even further.

HTC

Dan O’Brien, HTC’s general manager for the Vive, told me in a conversation at CES in Las Vegas. He acknowledged that HTC tried to make an AR device in 2015 but held back due to complications. O’Brien sees 5G technology and cloud computing as a major next step. “You need a 5G network, a really powerful network to scale augmented reality — you need a cloud infrastructure to deliver these kinds of wearables.”

The XR Elite is essentially a standalone VR headset, and it looks like a great piece of tech: It has a familiar Qualcomm build. Snapdragon XR2 Chip is very similar Meta Quest 2and current business-focused Quest Pro and Vive Focus 3. But it adds a 110-degree field of view with high-resolution, 2K resolution LCDs for each eye that can run at 90Hz. There is also a boosted 12GB of RAM along with 128GB of storage. It can connect to computers to run SteamVR or HTC’s VivePort software, or connect to Android phones. But its potential as a bridge to augmented reality experiences seems like its most impressive feature.

These are just specs, though. The XR Elite is a VR headset with a similar width to previous models, but with expanded capabilities. Its small size is the most surprising part: At 340 grams, it’s less than half the weight of the Quest Pro. The swappable, on-the-go rear battery provides approximately 2 hours of life. It gets even smaller by undoing the rear battery strap and adding goggle arms that can turn the headset into a modified pair of VR goggles, which can only be connected to an external USB-C charger or battery for power. It is small enough to fit in the tube of a compact carrying case.

The VR headset fits in a tube-like carrying case

The XR Elite packs into its own carrying case, which feels more portable than any other VR headset I’ve seen.

HTC

But that small size comes with a twist: Instead of being mounted over glasses, the XR Elite uses adjustment dials, or diopters, that can quickly change your lens prescription without ever having to wear glasses—for some people, at least. Diopters only accommodate up to -6 prescription, but my own is over -8 for myopia. It’s a challenge HTC took on with its smaller phone-connected Vive Flow virtual reality glasses, which also went for a glasses-free approach.

The XR Elite has a dedicated depth sensor on the front, along with color transit cameras that can eventually render mixed reality experiences, similar to the Quest Pro. The Quest Pro doesn’t have the Elite’s extra depth sensor, but it accommodates that with its built-in cameras.

Vive XR Elite VR headset front.  Black visor and camera in the center.

Front camera (part of the matrix for motion tracking) and also a depth sensor for measuring distances and AR layers.

HTC

The XR Elite can adapt, too. Although the device doesn’t have its own eye tracking tools on board, additional eye and face tracking functionality is coming later in the year. The controllers on the headset are the same standard controllers HTC has in the Vive Focus 3, which follow the same game controller-like rules as the Meta Quest 2 and others. But HTC already has its own line of wearable body trackers and VR wristbands, and more accessories could follow.

O’Brien acknowledges that the big market appeal for virtual reality and augmented reality is not quite there yet. “I think developers will use cloud computing,” he said, “and they’ll be able to get their content into the metaverse much faster, and much more efficiently.” “If you think about the streaming business, these streamers, these TikTokkers, all these kids who are creating really fun and compelling experiences that keep bringing you back? Immersive content creators to share, then create more.” [of an] Economie.”

O’Brien sees cloud computing, driven by eye-tracking’s ability to compress graphics data via a technology called elastic rendering, as a way to eventually shrink the processors on future headsets, make them smaller and fit more people.

VR headset seen from the side and looking into the lenses.  Discs with numbers surround each lens.

The headset does not work with glasses: instead, it has diopter dials for adjusting prescriptions inside.

HTC

My concern is the limited prescription options at the moment. “As we get access to lighter eyeglasses, it’s likely that more people will bring their prescriptions to them in the future,” says O’Brien. “Right now, what we can do is just try to address the majority of the market as best we can with these kinds of settings changes, because we have to make the headphones lighter. We have to make them more comfortable. And if you’re going to get those big eye comfort zones inside these headphones, and they’re still going to be really big.”

O’Brien believes that the included VR controllers may become optional one day, possibly left out of the box and purchased separately, but not yet. Hand tracing is not reliable enough. “Hand tracing has to make huge progress over the next two or three years for it to really become more of a natural input tool.” But O’Brien suggests it’s a way to get affordable headphones of the future. If the user can wear the glasses and interact with the content [with their hands]This will be a much cheaper product.

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