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Since Meta upped the ante with the $1,500 Meta Quest Pro, the higher-end version of its ultra-popular Meta Quest 2, more manufacturers are introducing high-end VR headsets. HTC is now entering the game with the HTC Vive XR Elite, a new stand-alone VR headset that looks like an enhanced version of the Vive Flow headset but adds support for those who need vision correction and a mixed reality mode that might justify its $1,099 price.

At CES 2023, I got to spend some time playing around with HTC’s upcoming headset and the impressive tech behind it.

The rundown

Product: HTC Vive XR Elite

Launch date: Available for reservation now on HTC’s website with shipments estimated for late February.

Price: $1,099

Why it’s worth your attention: HTC Vive XR Elite wonderfully mashes together stylish aesthetics with functionality that should suit a wider range of wearers. While software offerings are to be determined, the Vive XR Elite features a range of adjustments that let glasses wearers experience the headset with or without their eyewear — something that feels like a real advance, especially given that the headset has mixed reality as well as VR capabilities.

The lowdown

With a design that looks like an extension of the sunglasses-esque build of the Vive Flow that required a mobile phone to fully operate, the HTC Vive XR Elite packs in a lot while weighing only 625 grams. A bit heavier than the Quest Pro, the Elite’s features definitely stand up against Meta’s premium headset. The HTC Vive XR Elite features a Snapdragon XR 2 chipset and 12GB RAM alongside 120GB storage. Meanwhile, the VR headset also has a removable battery that includes hot swapping capabilities in order for users to continue usage. The Vive XR Elite’s battery life can last up to two hours and get about half battery charge through 30W fast charging in around 30 minutes.

The headset features an interpupillary distance (IPD) slider for customizing the headset to your eyes, bringing your content into sharper focus than you can get with just a diopter adjustment. Users who wear eyeglasses can take them off, thanks to adjustable lenses that work similar to a phoropter you might be familiar with from the optometrist’s office. There’s also a removable magnetic fabric face gasket for easy cleaning. Once it’s on your head, the Vive XR Elite has a wide 110 degree field of view, complete with 4K resolution and a smooth 90Hz refresh rate. HTC also says that the headset will have directional audio and improved bass over its previous headsets.

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HTC hopes developers will utilize the Vive XR Elite not only for VR content but mixed reality (MR) as well. This is possible through a full color RGB passthrough camera and hand tracking. The headset features four wide field-of-view cameras, six degrees-of-freedom spatial accuracy and a depth sensor too. Controller input is similar to the Vive Focus 3, featuring six degrees-of-freedom, three face buttons, an analog stick and trigger buttons. Expect other attachments around launch time, including a facial tracking module.

HTC has announced 100 new pieces of VR and MR content for the Vive XR Elite; while dates are to be determined, the company says they should be available “within the release window,” so likely sometime around the headset’s launch late in the first quarter of 2023. Besides games for stand-alone headset use like Hubris, Maestro: The Masterclass and Unplugged: Air Guitar, the Vive XR Elite will have PC VR compatibility either through USB-C or wirelessly through Wi-Fi 6E. Similar to the HTC Vive Flow, users can connect their headset to an Android phone to enjoy content from there.

HTC hopes its own metaverse, the ViveRSE, can blur the lines between gaming, entertainment and productivity on the Vive XR Elite. ViveRSE thus far is a two-floor social space where users can launch games, experience interactive paintings, hang out with friends in VR or utilize a virtual desktop-like setup.

The takeaway

While it’s cheaper than the Meta Quest Pro, the Vive XR Elite doesn’t feel like it. HTC’s Vive headsets have had striking design so far, and the XR Elite looks great, like a perfect union of the Vive Flow and Vive Focus 3. And more than looking good, the Vive XR Elite feels good on the head with pretty great weight distribution. As someone who wears eyeglasses, the ability to switch adjustable lens dials and see clear image quality without having them on felt like real technological progress.

Compared to the Meta Quest Pro, the passthrough capabilities on the Vive XR Elite also felt a bit more impressive. One of the best examples of the passthrough camera was a mixed reality reaction lights game that’s similar to FitXR’s HIIT training. Games like Hubris did an impressive job of showing that stand-alone VR can measure up to its PC-based counterparts.

Though a bit undercooked at the moment, the real potential lies in ViveRSE, which goes beyond a software hub and provides ways to work or hang out with friends. A lot of work has gone into making avatars as well. Besides working with Pixiv to give an anime style to avatars, virtual clothing is also being created ELLE Taiwan. Beyond that, it’ll be interesting to see how both measure up against each other once HTC’s latest VR headset releases next month.