Motion and I don’t really mix, no matter the circumstances, and it only seems to get worse with age. I won’t willingly be a passenger in a car if I can help it, and the last time I was on a boat the nausea was so bad I passed out. Needless to say, I don’t typically test the best VR headsets for Tom's Guide.
My VR endurance will completely depend on the experience in question, and how much actual movement is involved. But typically I can’t handle much more than 30 minutes without some sort of break. But, as I discovered at MWC 2023, that isn’t necessarily the case with pass-through AR.
I got to take the HTC Vive XR Elite for a brief spin while I was out in Barcelona, and was pleasantly surprised at my reaction to pass-through AR. I probably could have carried on playing AR games all day if I’d had the time.
Unfortunately, MWC is a busy time, and I couldn’t hang around playing video games all day — much as I’d like to. Plus, I had to give the XR Elite’s virtual reality mode a try and see exactly what was going on with that.
Sadly, I left the Vive demo with two conclusions. The first is that the virtual reality aspect of the headset still affected me to some extent. Though the most I got in my demo session was a headache, rather than full blown motion sickness. The second is that my kayaking skills are next to useless.
In hindsight, it's a miracle I didn't get any serious motion sickness, and it’s a good thing I’m not a big fan of boats. Because all I managed to do was send my virtual kayak crashing into icebergs and spinning around in circles.
Fortunately, it had a better ending than Titanic, and I didn’t have to try and fight my way onto a broken door to stay afloat. That’s one benefit to doing stuff virtually — the most dangerous thing about that is accidentally knocking over one of your plants with an ill-judged blind swing.
I’m a bigger fan of the pass-through AR content, since it gives you a pretty good view of the world around you. The fact it doesn’t make me feel ill is just an added benefit. However, you have to remember that you’re looking at a digitized version of the world, which adds a little bit of distortion to the environment.
It’s almost as though you’re looking at the world zoomed in by around 10%. I managed to acclimate to this right away, but it did produce an odd feeling when you finally take your headset off and everything is back to normal.
The HTC Vive XR Elite is a pretty nice headset too. It’s light, comfortable, and the goggle design is significantly more streamlined than a lot of the older, bulkier headsets a lot of people will be familiar with. Even compared to modern headsets, its design seems to have more in common with the Meta Quest Pro than the likes of the PSVR 2.
Like the Meta Quest Pro, the HTC Vive XR Elite can function as a standalone headset, powered by the battery pack on the back of the headband, or through a PC connection. The PC connection can be hardwired, or setup wirelessly via Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E.
The controllers are nothing particularly special, but that seems to be more about the Vive XR Elite having a lot of the right features. That includes a 4K display, 128B of storage, 12B of RAM, 90Hz refresh rate, 110-degree field of view and a face mask that does a great job of blocking out external light.
The speakers are admittedly kind of weird, but I’ve found that to be true of other standalone headsets with integrated headphones. You can hear the audio coming out of the speakers, to the point where it dominates what you hear, but some stuff from the outside world still sneaks though — particularly if someone is trying to talk to you.
Given how lackluster my VR experiences have been in the past, the Vive XR Elite has given me some hope that there may be hope as developers start offering more mixed reality experiences. Sure it may limit the time I spend shooting down TIE fighters in a galaxy far, far away, but maybe someone will give me the chance to blast them out of my living room.
Lucasfilm, if you're reading this, you better get on that right away. No need to thank me.
The HTC Vive XR Elite is able to pre-order now for $1,099, with shipments currently expected to begin in early March.