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HTC Vive XR Elite: Is this the perfect mix of Flow and Pro?

HTC Vive XR Elite

Image: Chris Stead/Finder

Virtual reality leader HTC has announced a new headset that looks to provide a genuine all-in-one headset solution with mixed reality potential.

After much conjecture, the next headset in the HTC Vive virtual reality range has been revealed. It's not the HTC Vive Pro 3, but is instead the HTC Vive XR Elite. While still fitting into the premium consumer headset space, it goes beyond just VR. In what could be a clear indication of where HTC sees the sector heading in the future, this an expanded reality (XR) headset.

That's VR, AR and MR capabilities in a singular all-in-one device. A device much more portable and user-friendly than the full VR headsets.

Having reviewed the last three VR headsets from HTC in the Vive Pro 2, the Focus 3 and Vive Flow, I couldn't help but be intrigued by this bold new direction. In this article, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about the HTC Vive XR Elite.

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When is the HTC Vive XR Elite coming out in Australia?

The HTC Vive XR Elite is scheduled to begin shipping to consumers in the last week of February, 2023.

How to pre-order the HTC Vive XR Elite in Australia

Pre-orders for the HTC Vive XR Elite are open now on the official Vive website. If you pre-order before 15 February 2023, you'll get five free app experiences as a bonus.

How much is the HTC Vive XR Elite in Australia?

In Australia, the HTC Vive XR Elite will set you back $2,099. That's the same price as the HTC Vive Pro 2 kit (at the time of writing), and substantially more expensive than the HTC Vive Flow at $849. It is, however, cheaper than the $2,449 you'll need to come up with for the likeminded Meta Quest Pro.

What is XR?

XR stands of Extended Reality, which is a blanket term for the three kinds of realities we're seeing tech of this kind leverage. Virtual reality needs no introduction. Augmented reality is what we saw with Pokemon Go. Mixed reality is similar to augmented reality, except you can interact in real-time with the digital assets displayed within your world. In this way, digital assets and the physical world are effectively combined together.

Who is the HTC Vive XR Elite for?

HTC Vive XR Elite

Image: Chris Stead/Finder

The HTC Vive XR Elite takes many of the high-end features from the company's enterprise-focused Vive Focus 3 headset, and gives it a form factor inspired by the ultra-portable Vive Flow. It could be viewed as a better realised take on the Vive Flow's virtual reality headset meets smart glasses concept. A Flow 2, even.

But it's an expanded reality headset, too. As well as providing a VR experience, it also allows for augmented reality and mixed reality. This XR concept isn't new, but by leveraging the design learnings and features of the Focus 3, HTC gives XR the premium treatment.

The resulting price definitely puts the HTC Vive XR Elite beyond the reach of the curious and even hobbyist markets. The HTC Vive Elite is for enthusiasts.

HTC Vive XR vs Meta Quest Pro

In October 2022, Meta – formerly Oculus – released the Meta Quest Pro. A significant step-up from the ever-popular Meta Quest 2, the Meta Quest Pro is aimed at a similar market to the HTC Vive XR Elite. Indeed, it is the most apples for apples comparison in the market. Here is how they compare.

SpecsHTC XR EliteOculus Quest Pro
Resolution1920px x 1920px1800px x 1920px
Refresh Rate90Hz90Hz
IPD Range54 to 73mm55 to 75mm
Battery Life2-hours2-hours
PassThrough16MB ColourColour
Eye TrackingNoYes
Face TrackingNoYes
Tracking4 inside-out cameras5 inside-out cameras
ControllerFocus 3Touch Pro
In-Built SpeakersYesYes
Oculus Quest StoreNoYes
Play Games FromMobile, PC or StorageStorage

It's worth noting that the Meta Quest Pro is the bigger – and therefore less portable – of the two VR headsets. It also doesn't have the XR Elite's depth-of-field sensor, which is a key addition for mixed reality experiences, or a hotswappable battery. It does, however, offer eye and face tracking.

HTC Vive XR Elite specs compared

In the below table you can compare the HTC Vive XR Elite with the other recent additions to the HTC virtual reality headset range.

SpecsHTC XR EliteHTC FlowHTC Vive Pro 2HTC Vive Focus 3
ChipsetXR2XR1PC poweredXR2
RAM12GB4GBPC powered8GB
Resolution1920px x 1920px1600px x 1600px2448px x 2448px2448px x 2448px
Refresh Rate90Hz75Hz120Hz (90Hz in wireles mode)90Hz
Storage128GB64GBPC powered128GB
IPD Range54 to 73mmna57 to 70mm57 to 72mm
Battery Life2-hours5-minutesCabled2-hours
PassThrough16MB ColourBlack and WhiteGrayscaleGrayscale
Eye TrackingNoNoNoYes (with accessory)
Face TrackingNoNoYes (with accessory)Yes (with accessory)
WirelessWiFi6eWiFi6Yes (with accessory)WiFi6
Tracking4 inside-out cameras2 inside-out camerasBase Stations 2.04 inside-out cameras
ControllerFocus 3PhoneWand 2.0Focus 3
In-Built SpeakersYesYesYesYes
Oculus Quest StoreNoNoNoNo
Play Games FromMobile, PC or StorageMobile (Android only)PCPC or Storage

What we like

HTC has assembled quite a diverse catalogue of VR headsets, and that experience pays off in a light, comfortable and sleek design. For the hardcore willing to shell out on a second battery, the fact you can swap them in and out of the headband is a great feature.

Originally seen in the HTC Vive Focus 3, this can enable you to have one battery charging while you drain the other, allowing for continuous play. But again, this is only of use if you buy a secondary battery.

We like that, unlike the HTC Vive Flow, you're not stuck to just Viveport experiences. As a PC-VR headset, gamers will have access to a wealth of excellent content through Steam as well. There will be no shortage of things to do.

The diopter dial has been retained from the Flow. This interesting design choice provides the ability to adjust the lenses through a range of six focus points.

The idea here is that you don't need to wear glasses while using the device, but instead can tweak the lenses to match your prescription. Unless you fall outside the six stops, of course. Outside of these few unfortunate individuals, this addition allows for a more compact design and improved portability.

The flexibility of the XR Elite can't be ignored either. There's wireless mode, using content stored on the device. The full suite of PC-VR experiences.

And both VR and AR mobile apps, too. So there's set to be a lot of content on offer.

What we don't like

The price is hard to digest. You'll need to shell out over $2,000, and that's before any upgrades you may require to get your PC past the minimum specs.

That sees it priced at the same point as the full HTC Vive Pro 2 kit. Granted, the Vive Pro 2 takes up a lot more space in your lounge-room and is decidedly more unwieldy. It also has worse controllers. But it does provide a significant bump in resolution, refresh rate and field-of-view. For those in it for VR, that's a hard pill to swallow.

The lack of eye-tracking also feels like a big oversight. Not only is eye-tracking a useful tool for developers when conceiving their experiences, it's required tech for foveated rendering. This feature, which we'll see in the PlayStation VR2 headset, greatly reduces the power demand on the machine that's running VR. And I suspect, would also help with battery drain in wireless mode.

I'm annoyed that HTC pitches the XR Elite as a 4K resolution experience, too. It isn't true. It's 2K per eye. While the math would suggest that 2 x 2K is 4K, that's not really what you're getting here. The image is shown twice. So, you're getting the same image in 2K, two times. And only one eye gets to see one image.

The bottom line of this misleading terminology is that you should definitely not go into this headset expecting 4K resolution.

Finally, the lack of finger-tracking via the controller is still a disappointment. I say still, as this is the same controller used with the HTC Vive Focus 3, not a new iteration. But the fact that the Valve Index's "knuckles" controllers remain the gold standard four years after its release, is disappointing.

HTC Vive XR Elite battery life

You can expect to get 2-hours of time out of the battery in the strap of the HTC Vive XR Elite. When it's dead you can swap it out for a spare battery if you've purchased one previously. Alternatively, the 30W fast-charger included will pump the battery back to half-life in 30-minutes or so. During this time, you can continue to play the HTC Vive XR Elite by plugging it into a PC as its source of power.

Is the HTC Vive XR Elite any good?

When I reviewed the HTC Vive Flow, it always felt like the beta ahead of a fuller release. And when I reviewed the HTC Vive Focus 3, I couldn't help wondering why its best features weren't in the consumer Pro 2 headset released around the same time. The HTC Vive XR Elite feels like it's attempting to solve both those criticisms.

But the argument could become less about whether it can achieve its goals, and whether or not it does so at an acceptable price point. For anyone but the hardcore enthusiast, $2,099 – which seems to suffer from a sizeable Australia Tax bump – is a big ask for a device that doesn't supersede the Vive Pro 2.
Is it good? Yes. Is it that good? Hmmm…

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