We tried the €1,400 Vive XR Elite, HTC’s first mixed reality headset

HTC responds to the Meta Quest Pro with a new virtual reality headset with cameras capable of color vision to let you see through it when you wear it. At CES in Las Vegas, Numerama had the opportunity to try it out for roughly half an hour.

Something is bothering us with the HTC Vive XR Elite, which Numerama was able to preview at CES in Las Vegas. If the performance of the headset is quite accurate, especially in mixed reality, we made the mistake of going to the trial offered by HTC without asking about the price of the device. Given its design and features, the Vive XR Elite seemed to us to be a VR headset positioned around 500-600 euros, a kind of high-end alternative to Meta Quest 2. When we got back to the hotel to write this capture, we realized our mistake. The Vive XR Elite costs 1,399 euros, which is 400 less than that Meta Quest Pro. That’s a pretty high price for a portable VR headset.

Does this misunderstanding call our essay into question? Basically, no. What we think of the HTC Vive XR Elite’s quality is true regardless of its price. However, this price difference forces us to take a step back from the attractiveness of the device. At 1,400 euros, the HTC Vive XR Elite must meet very high demands. After 30 minutes spent with it, it is impossible to be truly convinced.

A headset compatible with the Quest 2, not the Quest Pro

Aesthetically, the Vive XR Elite looks a lot like Long live the Flow, HTC’s ultraportable virtual reality headset, which is controlled with a smartphone. However, the new helmet from the Taiwanese manufacturer is fully autonomous. Like the Meta helmets, it has its own operating system and has a bunch of apps. It comes with controllers that are very nice to use, but these were already available with previous HTC headsets.

The Vive XR is stuck in the back, but it can slide if it’s not too tight. // Source: Numerama

According to HTC, this new standalone headset takes a step forward in visual quality. 110-degree field of view, 4K resolution, 90 Hz refresh rate, Snapdragon XR2 chip (same as Quest 2)… The promise is enticing, but we have to admit that we are quite disappointed. The visual quality of the Vive XR Elite is higher than that of the Vive Flow, but lower than that of the Meta headset or the PlayStation VR2. The helmet certainly holds the head less and gives mixed sensations, usually rare in high-end helmets (especially in games where you have to climb or swim). What would seem acceptable to us at 500 euros is much less than 1400 euros. At such a price, we would have liked OLED or mini-LED, at a minimum, as well as added comfort.

One of the arguments presented by HTC to sell its new headset is the possibility of connecting the headset to a computer with a cable, to play resource-intensive games. Since the Vive XR Elite is smaller than other headsets (it fits into a box the size of a large box and weighs 625 grams), it can easily fit into a backpack. At this point, it’s hard to prove the Taiwanese wrong. It’s still necessary for gamers to want to invest as much money as possible in this headset, while the Quest Pro seems much more complete (controllers, eye and expression tracking, interface, exclusive functions, etc.). By the way, expression tracking will come, but with an optional accessory.

The case of the Vive XR Elite is very easy to carry.  // Source: Numerama
The case of the Vive XR Elite is very easy to carry. // Source: Numerama

HTC takes a shy step into mixed reality

Like Meta Quest Pro or Lynx-R1 (a French headset!), the Vive XR Elite belongs to the category of mixed reality headsets (a category in which expect a little Apple). Specifically, this means that we can see the real world while wearing it, thanks to cameras capable of replicating human vision on the helmet’s screens. By pressing a button twice, you switch from the 100% virtual view to the augmented view, in which you see the interface elements on top of reality.

Like the Meta, the HTC suffers from excessively noisy image reproduction. Mixed reality is blurry, which ruins the illusion a bit. However, perspectives are fully respected. You can easily move with a headset on your head, climb the stairs or answer a message on your smartphone without having to take off the headset. Thanks to mixed reality, VR headsets are no longer isolated. However, we did notice some bugs, such as objects being placed behind a physical wall.

However, the uses offered by HTC are, at first, extremely limited. Where the Meta has designed its entire interface around mixed reality (with the ability to display whatever you want, like a web browser or an app, in the middle of its real vision), HTC is happy with some apps like games . We were able to paint and play guitar in mixed reality, which is very little.

Gradually, HTC will expand its mixed reality, especially thinking about computer work with virtual screens. But at the moment the Taiwanese can’t do as well as Meta.

The Vive XR Elite headset still gives off a strange look.  // Source: Numerama
The Vive XR Elite headset still gives off a strange look. // Source: Numerama

Who is the Vive XR Elite for? It is difficult to say. At $600 or even $700, we could have recommended it to anyone thinking of getting into Meta’s Quest 2. At €1,400, it can’t be suggested to gamers who are HTC fans who want a portable VR headset. The mixed reality revolution will have to wait, hoping that future longer tests will change our minds.

Numerama is in Las Vegas for CES 2023

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