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HTC Vive XR Elite: How far have we come?

HTC's latest is another big leap forward for VR fans, but why is it still not enough for everyone else?

Seamus Byrne
Seamus Byrne
5 min read
The VR headset and pair of controllers floating on a white background.
HTC Vive XR Elite: great tech for the VR initiated
"People often overestimate what will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in ten." - Bill Gates

In 2016 I really wanted an HTC Vive VR system, but it wasn't available in Australia. So when I headed over to Computex in Taiwan that year, I found a store that had the unit in stock and bought one to bring home with me.

Turns out the box fit just right in my suitcase. I may have abandoned a few clothes to make it fit – but worth it.

We installed the light boxes in our living room and have enjoyed room scale fun times pretty regularly ever since. We've had phases where we fade out of using it, but then someone gets the itch again and myself and my now teenage kids dives back in. It's been a zero regrets purchase as a 'living in the future' form of family entertainment.

We still use that original HTC Vive, but the technology has iterated many times since. When I've tested other units over the years I can see where the improvements have been but they've never quite been enough of a leap forward to make me want to pony up and replace our existing kit with a newer setup.

So here we are in 2024. For a few months, HTC loaned me an HTC Vive XR Elite to spend some time with. It's a stand alone VR/AR unit with its own app store, though it can also stream games from our existing Steam VR games library.

I was a little confused about how the parts worked together when I unboxed it, but then realised it can operate in two ways: as a very light pair of goggles while tethered to power at your desk, or as a full headset with a battery pack for free flowing use.

When you pop on the headset it needs you to set the usage area, which is a pretty easy process. I moved regularly between my office and living room. It was easy enough to redefine the space each time, though it would be cool if it had a memory system for areas it has been used in before.

If you want all the technicals, some people have done the deep dive on this better than I can. As I said earlier, I've used many headsets over the years and while the tech specs were always better than my OG Vive, the experience was never so much better I was sad to give it back. This time was different.

The Vive XR Elite felt like the step up in resolution and experience I hadn't had before. From the launch hub where you can see the room around you alongside the menus, it feels more integrated with life instead of a separate 'place' you disappear into.

You can also control navigation without using the physical controllers. It's far from perfect, but being able to point and pinch to activate options is a comfortable and fast way to just get on with the things you want to do.

Overall, the HTC Vive XR Elite is a more comfortable and more capable experience eight years on from where it all began. But have we come far enough?

Ever since that first Vive, we have talked about how close VR has been to 'prime time'. And every year that passes, we seemed to never quite get there.

It's not the only technology that lives in that "in five years we'll all be doing this" zone. But it's certainly one of the most consistent to have been regularly sitting in that window since I first got to play Dactyl Nightmare at the Powerhouse Museum back in '91 or '92.

What is consistent is the feeling that whenever I jump back into a VR headset I'm so pleased I have this experience in my life. I love that HTC has continued to support the category and has found some solid niche markets to serve across industrial and business sectors alongside still giving people like me a tool that lets me explore virtual worlds for fun, drama, and sheer fascination.

I always tell people that it is an amazing experience. But I still struggle to recommend it as a purchase to people who don't seem deeply interested in this sense of exploration. You still need to really want to do it, not just be curious about it.

What the HTC Vive XR Elite shows me is that VR devices are definitely getting easier to use, and the quality of experience has dramatically improved. But they remain far harder to use than a smartphone or a smart TV, and that really is too much for most people who don't want to fuss about with the technicalities of mapping their VR space – as easy as it has now become.

With Meta pushing harder for consumer VR success with the Quest range and Apple now offering its Apple Vision Pro, we see similar struggles continue for the effort to make this technology go 'mainstream' no matter which company is driving.

Perhaps the road ahead has its answer: wearing anything larger than a pair of glasses that requires more than 10 seconds of effort to operate is just too much for most people – regardless of how incredible the experiences are that lurk behind that headset.

Virtual Reality headsets are one of the most incredible pieces of technology ever achieved. The tracking, the optics, the engineering in putting a headset together. Utterly remarkable to the point where it belies the marvels within.

The XR Elite is a great example of something so well engineered we struggle to comprehend what it is and instead nitpick over the wished for future it hasn't quite achieved yet.

I can understand why many remain reluctant. VR is not as simple as watching TV or playing a game on a phone or PC. I can implore people to try it out when they have a chance because it really is incredible what's possible in VR today.

How far have we come? As a technical device, a very long way. We no longer need the lighthouses I have for tracking my old headset, with simple and elegant tracking that is very intuitive to use. We have high quality pass through cameras that keep you connected to the outside world. We have displays that are far better than they used to be – but in the ideal future will be sharper and brighter and wider.

At an experience level, VR maybe hasn't come very far at all? In that people like me love it, but others are yet to be convinced it's worth the effort (regardless of how simple the 'effort' has now become). We put on a headset, we navigate menus to launch applications, and after a period of time usually measured in minutes we feel like it's time to exit and get back to the real world.

Solving that second part is far from simple. And I doubt it sits on the "five years from now" timeline. But for now, for people like me, devices like the XR Elite are excellent and very much something I want to keep spending time in whether the 'mainstream' shift happens anytime soon or not.


Seamus Byrne Twitter

Founder and Head of Content at Byteside.

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