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HTC Vive XR Elite hands-on review: a tempting alternative to PSVR 2
The HTC Vive XR Elite is one of the most versatile mixed reality headsets on the market
If anyone can appreciate how far virtual reality has come, it’s HTC. The Taiwanese company was one of the early players in the VR space and first entered the market with the HTC Vive in 2016. Since then, it’s released a grand total of 10 VR headsets, albeit with varying levels of success.
That history and gradual evolution of VR technology was proudly displayed at HTC’s booth at MWC 23. From accessories and software to the various headsets themselves, a timeline showed every HTC product that’s been released to date, including its newest headset, the HTC Vive XR Elite.
At $1,099, the HTC Vive XR Elite may seem prohibitively expensive at first glance, especially compared to the PSVR 2 price (though remember you need a PS5 as it won’t work without it).
However, after playing several demos and experiencing HTC’s new mixed-reality headset myself, I came away suitably impressed. In fact, I strongly believe this could be the best VR headset on the market, even toppling Sony’s PSVR 2 simply because it has one huge advantage over other competing devices: it’s incredibly versatile.
If you’re still wondering ‘is PSVR 2 worth it?’, I’ve already shared my thoughts in detail on what I think of the new PS5 headset. And as I pointed out in that article, I still think there are too many barriers and drawbacks that will stop it from reaching the sort of success Sony is clearly hoping for.
Good Vives only
Thankfully, the HTC Vive XR Elite addresses several issues I have with Sony’s headset and VR in general. First of all, the headset can be played wireless as it works as a standalone device like the Meta Quest 2, or you can hook it up to a PC for a wired, and more expansive VR experience. This also gives you access to some of the best VR games, like Half-Life: Alyx.
I played Kayak VR, complete with a paddle that had motion trackers attached. Everything looked crisp and clear, and motion felt smooth as I paddled. I was told the headset was being powered by a modest Nvidia RTX 3060, and that even a gaming laptop would provide a good experience.
If wired or wireless modes weren’t enough, you can also stream high-end VR games to the headset via Wi-Fi 6, something which unfortunately I couldn’t test due to the overwhelming amount of wireless interference present at MWC. Still, it’s great to have the option if it works. (Is ‘PVSR 2 wireless?’. It’s a common question PS5 players are asking, and something which will only be possible in the future if Wi-Fi streaming can cut the mustard.)
Play your way
That’s three play modes, then, but it’s important to note that the HTC Vive XR Elite isn’t just a VR headset. You also have the option to enjoy augmented or mixed reality experiences, which is where I felt the headset particularly shined.
At first, I played a simple boxing game that saw me punching a series of buttons that lit up as I attempted to beat the high score. I could still see what was going on around me thanks to the Vive XR’s super clear and full-color passthrough mode, which is so good you can read text legibly and even check your phone.
But as fun as that demo was, it was the game Yuki that really sold me on AR. Yuki is a bullet-hell shooter that blends AR and VR with wonderful results. You only need one controller, and it cleverly takes on the form of your player character. It’s like Yuki is sitting on the top of your hand.
You simply move your hand (and sometimes your body) to dodge the bullets as enemies break through portals that appear around the room. Then, during boss fights, the game cleverly brings in some VR elements. It was an excellent showcase of what the technology can do.
In short, then, the HTC Vive XR Elite ticks every box for those who want a headset that can do it all: VR/AR, wired or wireless. You’re covered.
Clear as day
The next big plus point going for the XR Elite is the fact it uses ‘Pancake’ lenses and not ‘Fresnel’ lenses. Pancake lenses offer a far larger sweet spot and let your eyes wander around the scene more naturally before you notice any unsettling blur.
That’s a stark contrast to the Fresnel lenses used in the PSVR 2, which are far more restrictive in terms of your viewing angle and require you to turn your head, not just your eyes before things snap into focus. You can also adjust the inter-pupillary distance per eye, which is incredibly useful.
The drawback of Pancake lenses is that they’re more expensive and can’t match the same brightness levels that the cheaper Fresnel lenses can provide. The HTC Vive XR Elite also uses LCD panels and not OLED, so don’t expect pitch-perfect black levels.
However, despite the drop in vibrancy, brightness, and even resolution, I greatly appreciated the boost in image clarity and lack of distracting blur, especially after using the PSVR 2 for the past week.
I also found that despite playing the HTC Vive XR Elite in a hot convention center, I didn’t experience any motion sickness. That’s a strong contrast to the PlayStation VR2, which, if you were wondering ‘does PSVR 2 make you feel sick?’, the answer is yes, at least for me.
But wait, there’s more
Further strengthening the appeal of the HTC Vive XR Elite is that you get everything in the box: two controllers, a battery pack, and the option to wear the headset in either the comfortable glasses format or a more traditional headband format. It helps soften the blow of paying $1,099, and you do at least get five games for free.
When you break that cost down, with the specs that the HTC Vive XR Elite offers and the sheer flexibility that lets you enjoy everything VR and AR can bring (eye-tracking aside), there’s definitely an audience that HTC’s new headset will appeal to. And, after experiencing it firsthand, I count myself in that group.
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