I pull out a pair of unusual black mirrored glasses from a small black drawstring bag. I show them to my son. I tell him they are VR. AND Task 2 player, looks surprised.
The HTC Vive XR Elite feels like some impossible future step towards the next generation of VR and AR. These shiny bug-eyed glasses seem like a way to create a smaller, self-contained mixed reality. But this little portable dream has a few complications.
Video: Vive XR Elite: Is this the start of VR glasses?
It’s not just the folding glasses, you see. There is also a battery strap. And VR controllers. And an optional adapter to make these little glasses actually fit your glasses if you wear glasses. The XR Elite is a kit and is very similar to that Meta Quest Pro. However, if you want to shrink it down to a smaller size and use a separate battery or laptop, you can do that.
HTC’s aggressive next step in virtual reality hardware feels more like glasses than Meta’s Quest Pro. It’s a sign of evolutionary steps to come for all VR/AR hardware.
I tested the Vive XR Elite over the course of a week, using the device with a variety of apps and games in standalone mode, both in VR and in mixed reality modes using pass-through cameras. I used the controllers but also the onboard hand tracking. The XR Elite also works as a connected PC VR headset, but for the purposes of my time with the device, I focused more on what it can do on its own. I wore it over my own glasses, didn’t put in contact lenses, and didn’t use the included prescription lenses. I used HTC’s own adapter to attach the hardware to the glasses to see how it would look.
- Compact design
- Works with a PC or standalone
- Bright, high-resolution displays
- It can run mixed reality applications
- Adjustable dioptric lenses
I do not like
- The modular design is clunky
- The adjustable prescription didn’t work with my vision
- There aren’t many mixed reality apps out there
The Vive XR Elite, like the Quest Pro, is a VR headset in a different form. And while it can do “mixed reality” — which is actually a mixture of video captured from the real world by its cameras, with VR objects and experiences overlaid on top — there aren’t many apps that can do that yet. very mixed reality features.
But this $1,099 VR headset is available ahead of Apple’s expectations mixed reality device and Meta’s Task 3, also acts as a springboard to some future product that isn’t quite here. Yet.
Design: Deconstructed VR
Next to the Meta Quest Pro, the deconstructed design of the Vive XR Elite looks surprisingly small. This is mainly because many of the components here are optionally removable (the head strap battery can be left on and you can plug the XR Elite directly into a laptop for power or use your own battery). But also the design of the glasses is really smaller. The mirror-gloss front panel isn’t as wide as the Quest Pro, and the lenses are more compact.
This also means that the XR Elite can either feel too tight on the face without glasses, or end up revealing even more of the outer surrounding peripheral vision when worn with them. HTC calls it a “mixed reality mode” benefit, and like the Quest Pro, it feels like putting on literal VR goggles, where you’re looking at another world through the lenses while still seeing bits of everything else around you in the periphery. . It may sound distracting, but over time my eyes got used to it.
The XR Elite didn’t work at all with my glasses when I demoed the hardware in Las Vegas a few months ago, but the new magnetically attached mount allows the headset to sit over my glasses and rest on the padded support on my forehead. This spacer needs a strap attached to the battery head to stay on my face and not fall off (in goggle mode it wouldn’t stay on my face in this configuration and the nosepiece was missing). And in this mode, the entire headset looks and feels like a slightly shrunken Quest Pro.
The LCD displays, which have a resolution of 1920 x 1920 pixels per eye and an effective field of view of 110 degrees, look great for the most part. When wearing the headset over my glasses, I found the optics to be more distorted than the Quest Pro. But users without glasses who wear the headset closer to their eyes may not feel the same way. It’s fascinating that this headset can automatically adjust its prescription from 0 to -6. That still means I have bad luck with my eyes which are -8 plus. A separate slider also moves the lenses closer or further apart to adjust the interpupillary distance.
Sound comes through the sidearms, surround sound like the Meta Quest Pro, meaning no headphones are needed. Unlike the Quest Pro, the XR Elite does not have a headphone jack.
Swapping parts to transform from glasses to full headbridge mode is a bit clunky. The two plastic arms of the glasses snap apart and the adjustable battery headband fits into the holes in their place. I was concerned that the flexible plastic of the headband might wear or break over time as I kept disconnecting and reconnecting it.
One part of the XR Elite that isn’t small, though, is the controls. HTC includes a pair of the same Oculus-like USB-C rechargeable plastic controllers that came with the business-focused Vive Focus 3. There are the standard triggers, buttons, and analog sticks, but those controls feel too big for the XR Elite’s compact design. . The Quest Pro, by comparison, has new and smaller controllers that also have their own camera tracking. It would be nice if the XR Elite got an improved controller to match, especially to make the whole experience more portable.
The XR Elite doesn’t include eye tracking like the Quest Pro, but a future add-on will offer it if you want to pay extra. I don’t mind it not being on board.
VR experience: Pretty solid
With a Snapdragon XR2 chip and a full pair of motion VR controllers, the XR Elite runs standard VR apps and games just fine. It also connects wired or wirelessly to computers and runs VR, similar to the Quest 2 and Quest Pro. The advantage is that you can just use the headset in glasses mode with a PC and get a much smaller tethered headset than most competitors offer.
The XR Elite has built-in full motion tracking using its own four-camera array and depth sensor. Setting up a room for VR works the same as Quest 2, drawing room boundaries using pass-through cameras.
The XR Elite’s hand tracking has worked pretty well so far. Similar to Quest, hand movement is interpreted to display your virtual hands on the screen, which can grip objects, tap virtual buttons, or scroll through menus. Most of the time you’ll still come back to the controllers for more precise and detailed control (many apps require a controller).
HTC’s Viveport platform has many of the same games and apps as the Quest, but lacks a number of games and exclusives, making it feel quite a subset. However, once connected to your computer, you can tap into the HTC Viveport or Steam VR apps.
Mixed Reality: Not much yet
You can look for some apps on the Vive XR Elite that use pass-through cameras for mixed reality, but they’re hard to find. Like the Meta Quest Pro, these are the first semi-mainstream mixed reality VR headsets in the wild, and existing VR apps may not yet find the impetus to support these new devices.
Maestro (a music conducting game), Figmin XR and art apps are part of the initial offering and the results are similar to what the Quest Pro brought. I actually like the Quest Pro’s mixed reality a bit better – for some reason, the XR Elite’s color pass-through camera video feels flatter and sometimes distorted.
Perhaps you could use this headset a bit like Magic Leap or HoloLens for some mixed reality uses, depending on whether those applications emerge. But until then, there may be new hardware you should wait for.
Conclusion: A form I’ve grown on, but too many random quips
The Vive XR Elite felt too clunky and occasionally glitchy to get used to after a week of use. Even the system software didn’t look as polished as Meta. But the smaller form factor and the way it sat on my face became something I appreciated more when using it.
Wish they were actually as useful as everyday glasses though. Like many early AR glasses like the nReal Light, the design is still too awkward to be comfortable. And the odd detachable headband feels too flimsy. I go back to the more robust Quest 2 and at least appreciate its clean design in comparison.
However, the XR Elite can pack down to be more flat than most VR headsets and is much more portable than the Quest Pro. But this feels like an odd middle step for VR, a product of “growing pains” that suggests future developments will be better. And at $1,099, that means you should absolutely wait for this bike. I prefer the Quest Pro’s software and operating system more, which feels more polished, and the Quest’s app library also eclipses what the Vive has.
But this is clearly where the headphones are headed. Expect Apple to follow a similar path, for sure; maybe less awkward. However, the trend to watch will be smaller displays and modular designs.