Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A year later, the HTC Vive XR Elite is still a uniquely versatile VR headset

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Alan Truly plays a game with the HTC Vive XR Elite.

HTC Vive XR Elite

MSRP $1,099.00

Score Details

DT Recommended Product

“The Vive XR Elite is one of the most versatile mixed-reality headsets you can buy.”

Pros

  • A VR headset you wear like glasses
  • MR Gasket eliminates face pressure
  • Works well for PC VR
  • Large standalone app store

Cons

  • Display resolution is less than Quest 3
  • App store is smaller than Meta’s

The HTC Vive XR Elite is a uniquely versatile VR headset that converts into different forms, giving you the freedom to choose which features you want at any time. While it’s now a year old, the Vive XR Elite keeps getting better and is still worth considering.

Contents

  • Three ways to wear it
  • Virtual screens for my PC
  • Standalone fun
  • Is the Vive XR Elite right for you?

Related

  • The 6 best VR headsets for PC in 2024

  • The best VR apps for 2023

  • HTC Vive XR Elite vs. Meta Quest Pro: mixed-reality showdown

Meta stands out as the maker of the Quest 2, the world’s most popular VR headset, but HTC’s solution is good enough to earn a place on our list of the best VR headsets for your PC and the best VR headsets overall.

Let’s dig into the details and learn what makes the Vive XR Elite special.

Three ways to wear it

HTC’s Vive XR Elite comes fitted with a full facial interface and rear battery. Photo by Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

Comfort is critical for wearable products, and they must adjust to fit people of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, VR headsets don’t have a good track record when it comes to long-term comfort.

HTC took a bold approach to this problem, offering two ways to wear the Vive XR Elite at launch. A third option, my favorite, arrived later.

The standard method is a halo strap that tightens at the back, snugging a fabric cushion against my face. The rear battery balances the visor for an even distribution of the headset’s 1.4-pound weight.

In this configuration, the Vive XR Elite is a bit heavy compared to the 1.1-pound Quest 3 but lighter than the 1.6-pound Quest Pro. HTC made an already comfortable VR headset much better with an option to remove the rear battery.

HTC includes earpieces to convert the Vive XR Elite to this glasses mode. Photo by Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

The second way to wear the Vive XR Elite is by using earpieces instead of the halo strap and battery. In this mode, I wear it like a pair of glasses. It looks like ski goggles and weighs just 10 ounces (0.6 pound).

I use the cross strap that attaches to the back of each stem and rests across the top of my head to remove any ear pressure. It’s super light and comfortable in this configuration.

As impressive as that is, it gets better. I love the Quest Pro’s design since the visor floats in front of my eyes without pressing into my face. HTC borrowed the idea and released an optional mixed reality interface that replaces the magnetically attached cushion with a forehead pad.

My favorite Vive XR Elite configuration is the mixed reality interface in glasses mode. Photo by Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

I use the Vive XR Elite with the MR Gasket, so I can see out the sides and bottom. This lets me see my phone and keyboard without relying on the passthrough camera view. It works with the battery strap and in glasses mode.

Virtual screens for my PC

I use the Vive XR Elite at my PC by plugging in to the USB-C port. Photo by Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

Connecting to my PC is my favorite way to use HTC’s Vive XR Elite. Using the Vive Desk app, which is in beta testing, I can resize, tilt, and position three large virtual screens around me.

The Vive XR Elite’s passthrough mode is fairly crisp, making it easy to see my phone, PC keyboard, and mouse. It’s better than the Quest Pro’s but not as nice as the Quest 3 or Vision Pro. Objects look a little zoomed in compared to their actual size, but my mind quickly adapted to this new reality.

It took me a few minutes to fine tune the fit and focus. To maximize sharpness, the built-in diopter dials let me adjust for each eye, a nice touch considering how many people have at least a bit of myopia. After this initial setup, I can put the headset on, connect, and start working in about a minute.

The 1920-by-1920 pixel-per-eye display resolution is as good as most VR headsets released before 2024, but it’s not as sharp as a Quest 3 and far below the Vision Pro’s 4K resolution. To compensate, I scaled my virtual screens to the size of 32-inch monitors to make text easily readable.

It’s like a room-filling triple monitor setup without requiring a huge amount of space, along with desk and wall mounts. For movie fans, there’s an option for a single, giant 21:9 screen that fills your entire view.

If I wanted to connect to my Mac, I could use Immersed or Virtual Desktop. Both apps support Windows and macOS across the most popular standalone VR headsets.

Standalone fun

For standalone gaming, I use glasses mode with a external battery belt. Photo by Tracey Truly / Digital Trends

The Vive XR Elite also has a standalone mode. The library isn’t as large as Meta’s Quest store, but there are several good titles.

HTC bundles a few games and apps to get you started with the headset before visiting the store. Most notable are Hubris, an engaging sci-fi adventure game, and OpenBrush, a great VR painting app that’s available on many VR headsets.

To use the standalone mode, you need the halo strap that includes a battery pack. If you prefer to play in glasses mode, you can connect an external battery. I have a PrismXR Carina battery belt and that worked well.

The Vive XR Elite supports hand-tracking, has good mixed reality, and several ways to define a safe space to move within when fully immersed in a VR game. The experience is quite like the more popular Meta Quest headsets.

Is the Vive XR Elite right for you?

You can order the HTC Vive XR Elite for $1,099. It’s a well-made VR headset with a thoughtful design that competes well against options like the Meta Quest Pro.

In fact, with the $25 MR Gasket accessory, the Vive XR Elite even matches the Quest Pro’s floating visor design. That, combined with the XR Elite’s unique glasses mode, the Vive XR Elite is currently the lightest and most comfortable VR headset that can wirelessly connect to your Windows PC. If you’re at your PC already, you can minimize your gear further by plugging into a USB-C port. That lets you disconnect the battery and skip Wi-Fi if your USB connection is good enough.

It should be mentioned, of course, that the Quest 3 is still the headset most people should buy. It provides the VR experience most people want at a more affordable price. The Vive XR Elite is also not meant to compete directly with the Vision Pro, of course, especially at nearly a third of the price.

But if you want the option of playing both PC and standalone VR games, HTC’s Vive XR Elite can serve both purposes, making it a great alternative to the Quest Pro.

There’s one last caveat before you go out and buy it, though: The Vive XR Elite is almost a year old. That means a newer version could come out soon. In fact, Qualcomm has already mentioned HTC is working on a VR headset powered by the Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2. That processor is faster than the Meta Quest 3 and supports up to 4K-per-eye resolution. If you can wait until later this year, you’ll likely get a improved version of this headset with better performance and image quality.

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