HTC’s new PC VR headset feels good, until you see the price.
When you are expecting people to shell out a ton of money, your marketing should include a lot of reassurance. That at least is becoming the case for virtual reality.
Following on from last month’s look at Sony’s latest VR2 headset and the earlier visit with the Meta Quest Pro, here is the HTC Vive XR Elite. It, too, has been launched alongside an online teardown, with a strong focus on wearability and repairability.
First, let’s talk price. A UK consumer will pay £1,299.99 for the XR Elite, including VAT. Excluding VAT, that works out at £1,083.33. By contrast, a US consumer will pay $1,099.99 before tax. At the current exchange rate of about £1=$1.23, that is a sterling equivalent of £894.30 – roughly a £200 mark-up for Brits.
The higher prices UK customers are often charged for consumer electronics is a long-standing bugbear, but this feels like a particularly steep and strange example. If VR is a market that companies like HTC, Meta, Sony and – we are led to believe – Apple want to seed, it feels rather self-defeating. Over to you, HTC.
It is a pity because HTC has, like Sony, put a great deal of design effort into making the XR Elite a more ergonomically attractive and repairable headset.
Basic specifications offer two per-eye LCDs with 2k resolution for a 4k effect at a 90Hz refresh rate. The main processor is the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, also found in the Meta Quest Pro headset. CR Elite offers a 110-degree field of view and an easily adjustable IPD (inter-pupillary distance) of 54-73mm.
What is perhaps most striking, though, are the steps HTC has taken to reduce weight and make usage more comfortable.
The headset has the viewing section necessarily at the front and the battery pack at the back in a configuration that is well balanced (614g with both attached and 260g for the viewing section only). This places less strain on the user’s neck than earlier front-loaded designs, and the effect is reported to be more like wearing a crown.
When the user chooses to remove the battery, it is replaced with two ear holders, and the effect then is not that far off a pair of sunglasses – though perhaps a better comparison for now would be skiing goggles. Claimed life for the battery is two hours; in sunglasses mode, the XR Elite can be powered via a USB-C cable connected to a PC or portable battery.
To prevent discomfort for those who usually wear glasses, there are adjustable in-built dioptres up to a -6 prescription, enough for most but not all potential users. Materials are lightweight but sturdy, and HTC has also opted for a pancake lens array to, again, control weight. In the sunglasses format, the XR Elite can be carried around in a case about the size of a smaller water bottle.
That covers most of the key ergonomic points. Next, repairability – because that matters if you are going to spend big on this kind of headset, and considering the kind of use it is most likely to get while gaming.
In its teardown of the XR Elite, specialists at iFixit confirmed the veracity of HTC’s own teardown video, though some sections were fiddly.
“What really struck me was that they used screws not only to make this headset more robust and reliable, but also it’s so easy to repair [compared] to using something like glue,” writes iFixit’s Sam Goldheart. “It still blows my mind that companies are vocal about repair. While the video features heavy disclaimers and a dubious warranty warning, I love to see thoughtful designers in the wild. But do their intentions really hold up?
“Turns out, yeah, they do. On the micro scale, almost every repair can be achieved with a single Torx driver and a prying tool. The only other driver you’ll need is an ultra-common Phillips 00, and that’s only for the deepest dive. The clips are well thought out, using forgiving flexible plastics. And there’s virtually no glue. On a macro level, the removable battery pack alone is enough to make a fixer weep tears of joy.”
Indeed, the battery pack is easily replaceable by a professional and incorporates more lightweight heat shields, as does the viewing section. In that front piece, HTC has also found space for an extra USB port that will connect to future peripherals.
Gaming reviewers have had some criticisms. Most notably, they were still concerned about the so-called ‘screen-door’ effect. This is where, because the viewer is so close to the screens, the eye picks up spaces between pixels and it feels as though the user is viewing the action through a mesh. This remains a common drawback.
They would also have liked longer battery life, although they accept the trade-offs obviously made to reduce weight.
The problem remains that the XR Elite literally feels like a product that could break down some of the resistance to VR, were it not for the price. Nevertheless, like so many of the latest entries, it does represent progress. We’ll get there eventually.
Key components: HTC Vive XR Elite headset
1 DRAM on processor, Samsung/Qualcomm
2 Flash memory, Samsung
3 Connectivity SoC, Nordic Semiconductor
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