My favourite aspect of VR is seeing how every headset improved itself. Every new iteration would use less hardware to bring VR users closer to a futuristic gaming experience. But the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite feels like a headset of yesterday and holds back plenty for a high-end product. Its incredibly high $1400 price is clearly geared towards enthusiasts going into the 2020’s. But even for the most experienced VR user, it’s tricky to recommend the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite. Bigger flaws come from HTC sticking way too closely to its first form in 2016 and starts to hinder gameplay. The Elite takes a huge step up in pricing, but a steps back on what it should offer out of the box.
By not changing much, the Elite ironically keeps all of its problems. From an outdated tracking system to the oversized wands which feel less interactive in comparison to other controllers in the 2020’s. A number of complicated setup glitches and maintenance also make the headset a pain to keep in the long run. Much of its wasted potential comes from HTC’s decision to stay the same. Apart from its high-resolution display, the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite lacks inside-out tracking or proper controller haptics (something universally important in grabbing VR objects or finger-based actions). Its upgraded sensors can still lose hands and throw players off their original positions frequently inside. But this is just the tip of the fake iceberg for users once they jump into their first game.
HTC still deserves credit for pushing the VR medium forward with Oculus since 2016, offering users a premium alternative to access a growing list of experiences. Like the Rift, the HTC Vive would ride the same wave of troubles in its first release. From a clunky form factor to problematic sensors and the infamous PC barrier, HTC’s first attempt into VR was a great opportunity to highlight the technology’s problems. At the time, users were still able to enjoy a PCVR experience complete with SteamVR integration and room scale immersion. Years later, most companies would still take notes from HTC. But the company has since been outpaced by competitors. Inside-out tracking would eliminate sensors and give users little to no setup. Smaller controllers would add haptic sensors to track fingers and deepen immersion. Of course, VR’s biggest evolution came from cutting the wires completely through technologies like the Quest. Its PCVR experience would be reduced to a single USB-C cable to any gaming computer (and that’s a great thing). In 2021, VR should be at its most advanced, comfortable and accessible form to date.
But HTC Vive Cosmos Elite refuses to take these necessary steps. As a result, its own top-of-the-line headset suffers without the solutions which made VR better. This starts with the same four-year-old setup which feels as frustrating as ever. Plug-and-play still comes with a bonus unplug-and-retry step to really test your patience. Of course, all of it requires the Elite headset, Base Station 1, Base Station 2, Wand 1 and Wand 2 to be set up one-by-one. I followed the steps through HTC’s own Viveport app to calibrate each piece, only for the Wands to be unrecognized. My impression was wearing down from a handful of attempts at plugging the micro usb cable to my computer until it worked. This is only part of the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite‘s reliance on cables. I was surprised to find a large amount of included wires and other smaller accessories. But almost every piece was essential in tethering my Elite for the room scale experience. Thankfully, regular users would only need to endure this once and can jump into VR without a hitch.
Here’s where the Elite Cosmos falls a step behind other 2020 headsets. The Oculus Quest and Quest 2 are standalone headsets, but also use their wireless features to reduce the PCVR process to less than 30 seconds. It’s as good as plugging in a single Link cable. HTC’s headset doesn’t directly connect. For some awful reason, the Elite headset requires its own power brick which requires both a DisplayPort and free USB port. Adding to the mess includes sparing another USB port and additional power outlets for two Base stations. All this hardware amounts to the same six degrees of freedom (6DoF) which could have been built into the headset. This is clearly a unit which is made to stay and becomes a nightmare for enthusiasts, showfloor presenters and other staff looking to take the HTC Vive Elite Cosmos with them. Rooms will inevitably look like a Prometheus ship interior with a number of extra cables covering the floors and walls.