VR is one of those hobbies that isn’t for the faint of heart. Many companies are trying to make it The Mainstream Thing with the metaverse. But for now, it’s still fairly niche thanks to cost barriers, headsets and software making people feel motion sick, and a general lack of mainstream awareness of the possibilities presented by the technology.
The HTC Vive XR Elite sets out to combat the vast majority of those issues, while also providing a good Augmented Reality (AR) experience. But does it make now a good time to jump into VR? And is it worth $2,099?
HTC Vive XR Elite specifications
1920×1920 pixels per eye (3840×1920 pixels combined)
6 DoF Inside-out Tracking
Field of view
Up to 110 degrees
Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2
Storage & Memory
128 GB / 12 GB
1x USB 3.2 Gen-1 Type-C peripheral port 1x USB 3.2 Gen-1 Type-C power port Bluetooth 5.2 + BLE Wi-Fi 6 + 6E1
Getting it out of the box, it’s easy to see that versatility is the central theme of the HTC Vive XR Elite. You can have the battery pack attached, or wear it more as glasses plugged directly into your PC. You can play games downloaded directly to the headset, connected to a phone, or connected to a PC. You can work, you can play, and you can hang out in the metaverse which feels like neither work nor play, but a third secret thing.
The other thing that struck me when first taking it out of the box is how small it is compared to other headsets I’ve reviewed over the years. At 625 grams with the battery pack and 240 grams without, it’s clearly designed to be portable and easy to wear for long periods.
However, it’s weird that there is only a pretty short USB-C cable included in the box, given many people will want to stream VR from their PC without the battery pack attached. Why make such a thing about being able to use it without the heavy battery pack, and then turn around and charge an additional $139 for a cable of decent length? Just seems a bit miserly.
Comfort and versatility
HTC has clearly listened to the complaints about previous models and made the battery act more like a counterweight to take the pressure off wearers’ noses. I really appreciate the extra focus on making sure people can wear the headset in a way that’s best for them.
However, it didn’t really fit my head properly when in “glasses” mode. The front gasket didn’t quite fit my face, so I felt like I had to fight against it a bit to try and get the right angles. Also, the arms of the glasses needed to go more up my head like a crown, rather than like traditional glasses, which worked ok, but also meant I had to adjust it quite frequently. I wish it had been easier to adjust the arms to better suit different head shapes.
With the battery pack attached, I found it to be quite comfortable, with the pressure fairly evenly distributed to allow me to wear it longer than I’ve been able to wear other battery-powered headsets. That said, I have a pretty large head for a woman, and my wife (who has a much smaller head than me) found it very uncomfortable and difficult to get a proper fit. That’s something to keep in mind if your head is on the smaller side.
HTC Vive XR Elite performance
Half the reason why I didn’t review VR headsets for so long is that they used to make me very motion sick. What’s made me so excited about the HTC Vive XR Elite is that. For the most part, it didn’t make me motion sick (depending on the game) and I could play for more than an hour at a time before I quit mostly due to discomfort from the headset rather than anything else. That’s huge for me.
That said, the experience was not perfect. While the controller tracking was excellent, the much-touted hand-tracking (from the inside-out tracker built into the headset, so there are no separate cameras to set up) was hit-and-miss. Sometimes I only had one hand, sometimes no hands, and frequently this would lose me games of Maestro, which was deeply upsetting. I’m fine with losing games due to lack of skill, or a steep learning curve or whatever, but there is something uniquely frustrating about losing a game because a VR headset suddenly decides you don’t have hands.
Overall, the AR experience was really good. Depth perception was a little off, but not too bad. It’s just a shame that there aren’t very many AR experiences yet. They’re coming, of course, but it’s up to you whether you want to wait for them.
I did like it for extending my desktop, though. And people with motion sickness issues might have a better time in AR because they can see the room around them. AR is still more in the “gimmick” phase than VR was in 5+ years ago, but has huge potential.
But what if my eyesight sucks?
Another reason why I used not to enjoy VR as much as I wanted to is because I wear glasses, and shoving a pair of glasses into other glasses is not all that fun for all that long.
There are two ways you can deal with your glasses-needing on the XR Elite:
Just wear your glasses. There’s actually more than enough room to have your glasses in the gasket. Because I have chunky frames, mine didn’t quite work without forcing the goggle too far on my head, but for those with less chunky frames, it should work fine.
You can adjust the settings from 0 – 8 to get an approximation of your prescription as long as your eyesight isn’t too bad or weird. While I have an astigmatism and also have prisms in my lenses, I found it was OK enough for my eyes.
Also, you can dial in the pupil distance between your eyes, which is nice. All this makes a huge difference.
The controllers are good. They remind me of the ones you use with Meta headsets, or like slightly less-good versions of the controllers that come with the new PSVR2. They’re easy to use, though not as ergonomic as I’d like.
Would I buy the HTC Vive XR Elite?
At $2,099, it’s a little rich for my blood. However, if my VR budget stretched this far, this is the headset I would most strongly consider, even despite the fit issues I experienced. If it was my headset, I would probably have made some alterations to the gasket, which would have solved a lot of my comfort issues. I’m newly addicted to Beat Saber again, and also it makes a great headset for long flights. Sure, you might be stuck in economy, but actually you’re in a massive cinema watching your favourite movie in a way that doesn’t feel like your head’s in a vice.
What would hold me back is the feeling that this is a product in the middle of an evolution. This is certainly where XR headsets are going, and with some tweaks, it’ll be perfect. But it’s not perfect yet.
HTC Vive XR Elite
The HTC Vive XR Elite is what the future of XR looks like, although it's not quite here in the present, yet.
Value for money
Ease of use
Easy to set up for people who wear glasses
Can be heavy and clunky with the battery pack on for people with smaller heads
Not quite enough Mixed Reality apps yet (though, they are coming)