Small King: Don’t Underestimate the Power of the HTC Vive XR Elite VR Headset

Small King: Don’t Underestimate the Power of the HTC Vive XR Elite VR Headset

The HTC Vive XR Elite is the powerful VR headset that enthusiasts have been waiting for. Noticeably smaller than the Quest 2 with a gorgeous 4K display, along with a terrific approach to battery management and eye alignment, the XR Elite feels like the next step for VR gamers.

In my opinion, the XR Elite represents a return to normality with ‘VR’ as a concept. We’re no longer engaging with the “metaverse” that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted, but instead, it feels like the XR Elite (and, as far as I can tell, the Meta Quest Pro) refocus VR as a dedicated, specific market, similar to a racing wheel for a driving game. Higher-priced options come with more tricks, but overall, it’s a small niche with high-tech gadgets.

HTC Vive XR Elite VR headset

The XR Elite isn’t an entry-level headset. At the $2,099 price point, it’ll struggle to attract the same crowd as the sub-$700 Meta Quest 2, but it will make sense to VR lovers who have stuck with the platform for some time and are looking to upgrade their hardware.

I spent a couple of weeks with the HTC Vive XR Elite and here’s what I think about it.

It’s that simple

Were you to read my HTC Vive Pro 2 review, HTC’s last consumer-focused headset, you’d have one major takeaway – it’s far too complicated for its own good. Movement-tracking cameras in the corners of your room, a bulky headpiece, and a dozen cables running across your play area severely restrict your ability to have any fun.

The HTC Vive XR Elite completely abandons this concern. The headset is lightweight and wirelessly powered, with no cables or external trackers required (with USB-C charging for the two controllers and headset the only exception).

And bringing it all together – it’s as easy to use as the Quest 2. The setup process only took me about 30 minutes, from opening the box to jumping in a VR game. It’s fully compatible with PC VR, meaning whatever games you played on any other headset via Steam, you can play on this headset.

It also has a few similar features to the Quest 2. There’s a barrier feature that lets you set up a play area that, if you get too close to the side, you’ll be shown the virtual wall so you don’t bang into a physical object. Moreover, finger controls are on by default, meaning for simple button clicks, you don’t need a controller – the headset will simply track your hand and finger motions (if it detects the controllers nearby though, it’ll default to those).

But truly the crowning jewel of the XR Elite’s tricks is its pass-through feature. A button on the headset, if clicked twice, will show you what’s in front of you in the real world, like wearing glasses, except relying on cameras instead of lenses. The displayed world is as warped as you’d expect and it’s very similar to a car camera, but it saves you from needing to take the headset off, and it’s perfect for a quick check around your physical environment to make sure nothing is restricting your play.

Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The alternative to this on the Quest 2 is simply pulling the headset up over your eyes, but this potentially could mess with your adjustments for the headset. The XR Elite completely removes this problem.

This pass-through feature will eventually enable the XR Elite to pull off productivity-related activities, but for now, it’s mostly just for looking around the room quickly.

Additionally, for eye alignment, a physical slider underneath the headset lets the user space the lenses accordingly, either left or right. Inside the headset, upon removing the padding, you can adjust the individual lens focus. These two features resulted in the clearest VR I’ve ever experienced.

Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Way fewer restrictions

The form factor of the HTC Vive XR Elite is really special. Gone are the days when an overhead strap would mess with the hair on the top of your head.

A knob on the back of the headset adjusts the tightness of the side straps, although if done too tight, one of the straps will disengage. You’ll need to undo the headset and take it off to remedy this.

htc vive xr elite
The battery, headset, frame mods and controllers. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

With the battery situated on the back of the headset, pressing into the back of your head, the weight distribution of the unit feels just right. Better yet, if you’re low on battery, you can hot-swap a new battery in without losing the game you’re currently in.

Or, if you’re going to be playing in a less mobile form, you can remove the back of the headset entirely and swap it (without the headset turning off immediately) out for glasses-like arms that sit over your ears, provided it’s receiving a charge via its USB-C port.

htc vive xr elite
Racing glasses. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

This was perfect for the VR game I played at my desktop computer (F1 2022 with the Logitech G Pro racing wheel/pedals). This felt absolutely amazing and is definitely a highlight of the headset.

But let’s come back to the hair thing. People with longer hair, or using hair ties, would struggle with the over-head strap style of the Quest 2. Does the HTC Vive XR Elite get around this?

htc vive xr elite
Sabine, Theo and Joelle. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Not especially. Above are three of my friends with three different hairstyles – ponytail, curly hair and short hair. The omission of the strap removes the need to change your hairstyle when going into VR.

The only problem that we found with the headset, sharing it between four people, was that it has a habit of slipping down the back of your head (as you may expect without the overhead strap). Trying to replicate the issue on my own, it appeared to be caused by misalignment of the module on the back – which we were constantly adjusting as we switched the headset from person to person.

This issue is exacerbated by the padding between your eyes and the headset. The padding only connects to the headset via a single clip, which arches up as it slides down your head.

It’s a little annoying, and I worry about this headset potentially being damaged, either by forcing the clip to stay in or by the padding coming loose, but I would prefer there to be more clips than only one – just so that the padding sits more solidly on the headset.

As an aside, for people having similar experiences to my friends and I, HTC does offer an attachment that may improve the experience, including a (guess who’s back!) horizontal head strap.

And it does exactly what it needs to

I didn’t encounter any issues when playing games on this headset. During my time with it, I played Blade and Sorcery, Blade and Sorcery’s Outer Rim mod, Half-Life: Alyx, Beatsaber, Pavlov VR, F1 2022 and a couple of downloadable VR games that were included with my review unit.

While it’s a neat feature that the headset allows for internally-processed gaming, with some leveraging the earlier mentioned pass-through feature, it’s a bit like comparing a phone game to a console game: the more exciting experiences are typically exclusive to the more powerful system.

Most of my time was spent with the earlier mentioned PC VR games – they would be rendered and loaded on my computer, and streamed over my local network to my headset (which I was able to do with a mesh network).

Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

I didn’t notice any particular advantages that this headset might have over the sub-$700 Meta Quest 2, but it was certainly easier to jump into PC VR with this headset. If the XR Elite, for whatever reason, loses connection, it’ll wait for it to be re-established, while the Quest 2 would rather pull you away from PC VR entirely and bring you back to the internal operating system.

Moreover, there were several instances where I just put the headset on and started playing PC VR games, whereas with the Quest 2, you’d need to click through a few menus before this could happen.

Additionally, battery life was exactly what I needed. 2 or so hours of gameplay and charged via USBC. no complications and a decent chunk of time for a headset (and as mentioned, you can play with it plugged in, if you want).

So overall, if most of your time is going to be spent playing PC VR games (and, let’s be honest, it probably is), I think you’d like XR Elite over the Quest 2 as far as user experience goes.

Should you go Elite?

I recommend the HTC Vive XR Elite to VR enthusiasts looking to upgrade to a more powerful headset and don’t mind spending $2,099 on a piece of tech that they’ll regularly use.

There’s not a low-cost argument to be made here, but the product is substantial. If you want to claw yourself away from Meta’s UI, then this is the HTC option to go for.

Overall, this is the best HTC VR headset at a consumer level – and could very well be the best VR headset on the market right now.

Where to buy the HTC Vive XR Elite

EB Games ($2,099) | Scorptec ($2,099) | JW Computers ($2,099)

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