HTC’s Modular Mixed Reality Rebirth

HTC is looking to differentiate itself in consumer VR with Vive XR Elite. We went hands-on with the new modular headset at CES 2023.

Starting at $1100, the Vive XR Elite marks HTC’s initial effort to reclaim some of the consumer standalone VR market after retreating to focus on enterprises. The price places it far beyond Quest 2 and Pico 4 but still below Quest Pro, with HTC saying that content which works with Vive Focus 3 should just run on Vive XR Elite.

Clearer Mixed Reality & Hot Swapping Batteries

Vive XR Elite demonstrated two standout features at CES 2023 — clearer mixed reality than Quest Pro and a swappable battery pack.

In one demo with Maestro, currently on Quest’s App Lab, Vive XR Elite left me with a very crisp memory. I was just getting settled into my virtual surroundings, taking in the orchestra in front of me, when I turned my body to the right to see the developer standing there in detailed passthrough mixed reality. Very similar demos were given by Meta for Quest Pro late last year with developers guiding gameplay in passthrough. I much preferred Vive XR Elite’s mixed reality passthrough view.

The Maestro demo on Vive XR Elite showed a mix of hand and controller tracking. One hand pointed to sections of the orchestra as the controller in my other hand turned into a chopstick for making Beat Saber-like swipes in the air. This sort of mixed input feature is expected for Quest headsets as well but, as of this writing, it hasn’t been launched. Vive XR Elite shipments “begin in early March 2023” it says on the order page for the headset in the United States. With Maestro on this latest Vive, my hand lost tracking and then reacquired such that I couldn’t point to the orchestra reliably in time with the song. The issue could have been something specific to my singular demo or may be something that could be improved in future software updates. In another demo, Kayak VR was shown running on a PC with a pair of Vive Wrist Trackers on the paddle. My demo with this lost tracking as well.

The headset’s overall weight I would describe, in the best possible way, as forgettable. In my limited demo time Vive XR Elite certainly seemed to be one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve tried, at least when it comes to the balance and amount of weight on my head. Comparing its optics and overall fitting directly to alternatives, though, is something we’ll have to assess once we have more time with the headset.

My favorite demo with Vive XR Elite was Arvore’s Yuki in mixed reality. You pilot Yuki through battles like Andy holding Buzz Lightyear, and we rated Yuki’s original game “great” in 2021 with this footage showing how you fly through levels in VR carrying the titular character. Owners of the original 2016 HTC Vive might remember a game called Xortex included with Valve’s The Lab free game sampler. The stationary mixed reality mode for Yuki that I tried in Vive XR Elite felt almost exactly like Xortex. The most substantive difference between the two is that in Yuki you’re avoiding incoming fire from waves of enemies seemingly popping out of the physical environment around you. It was an absolute delight and a true highlight of the potential of mixed reality passthrough on Vive XR Elite. Unexpectedly, the screen went black in the middle of my demo. It seemed the battery died and developers quickly replaced it, returning me to virtual reality for the end of my demo with Yuki.

A face and eye tracking accessory planned for release later is teased in the announcement trailer for Vive XR Elite embedded below, pointing to the modular mixed reality platform HTC is building with this new Vive XR branding.

Vive XR Elite: HTC’s Mixed Reality Takes Shape

If Quest Pro is Meta’s first generation mixed reality headset and a developer kit for the future, then Vive XR Elite is HTC’s answer. The upcoming headset’s modularity might just reshape the company’s entire VR product line.

Could a future Vive XR model exchange the included controllers for a business license and dedicated support? How much is the kit packaged with the face tracker or wrist trackers? When we reviewed Vive Flow we suggested it served a “niche within a niche”, but with Vive XR Elite’s depth sensor, as well as both hand tracking and controller support, it is possible the headset’s core features and optional modularity could serve a much broader audience? And can HTC keep improving its platform enough to keep pace with Meta’s constant software updates?

HTC shared a list of “launch window” content coming to Viveport for Vive XR Elite, including Hubris, Demeo, Unplugged, Ultrawings 2, The Last Clockwinder, Green Hell, Everslaught: Invasion, Yuki, Maestro, Angry Birds, Ironlights, PokerStars VR , and Crisis Brigade 2 Reloaded, alongside many others. Most of those are, or will be, available for Quest headsets alongside Meta-exclusive content, experimental early access work on App Lab, and a number of compelling fan-made VR ports and mods. Pico 4’s sales expectations are reportedly not meeting expectations against Quest 2 despite being much newer hardware. Can Vive XR Elite hope for a different story at a higher price than entry level standalones? Does Vive even need to do well with consumers if this latest device ends up being exactly what a lot of business customers want to see from HTC?

Many intriguing questions, then, for us to consider in the months ahead with Vive XR Elite as the VR market reshapes around embracing mixed reality in VR headsets. Be sure to check back with UploadVR as we bring you the latest.

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