The Vive Cosmos signals a bright future for HTC, but at $699, will people buy it?
HTC’s latest VR headset, the Cosmos is officially available for purchase and at $699 the headset doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with some much-needed improvements.
The first thing to mention is that the Cosmos is not a stand-alone VR headset. You will need to tether the headset to a computer that must meet specific spec requirements. What you won’t need are external sensors, that’s because the Cosmos has an impressive inside out tracking system that uses 6 tracking cameras on the face of the headset.
Design was a priority for HTC when it came to the Cosmos. The Cosmos is much lighter and better balanced than the HTC Vive or the Vive Pro. Wearing the headset still feels like you’re wearing a VR headset, but you don’t feel that heaviness over the brow of your forehead. That’s because of the halo design and the counterweight in the back, which also houses the adjuster to tighten the Cosmos and keeps the headset comfortably balanced on your head.
However, I did find that the tethering cable would sometimes pull on the headset causing it to shift a little on my head, and the display would get blurry on me. As a result, I often found myself readjusting the headset during more intense games, such as SUPERHOT VR.
Daniel O’Brien, General Manager for the Americas Region for HTC sat down with VRScout during their NYC Launch event at VR World and talked passionately about design saying, “We looked at it from three different levels, hardware and technology, software, and experience.”
The Cosmos boasts all-new RGB LCD panels with three sub-pixels for every pixel. This gives the display a much richer and denser color experience compared to OLED which only has two sub-pixels. The headset also offers a wide tracking FOV (310 degrees) with a 90Hz refresh rate. Like all HTC headsets, the Cosmos features an Inter-Pupillary Distance knob located at the side so you can adjust the visuals distance of the lenses.
One of the bigger talking points about the Cosmos design is its flip-up visor, which makes it much easier to jump in and out of VR. Instead of having to remove your headset, you simply grab the front of the Cosmos and turn it upwards. That action pauses the game or VR experience you are in and when you’re ready to go back, you simply flip it back down and jump back into the action. It’s also deep enough to allow for people who wear glasses.
Talking about the flip-up design, O’Brien said, “I have countless photos of devs and other people wearing headsets on their forehead while they look at their computer screen,” adding, “so we wanted to have a flip-up display and design. Let’s make it easier to go from your real space to your virtual space.”
It’s a design that does work. However, if you do wear glasses, you may encounter some inconveniences. I found that every time I flipped down my display to jump back into VR, I had to lift the actual headset off of my head to flip the display back down because my glasses kept getting in the way of the closure. So I was pretty much doing the same motion of taking off and putting on a headset.
The biggest update, in my opinion, is the headset’s modular design. You’re able to remove the headband at the top, detach and replace the headphones, event remove the front faceplate.
“We wanted to build a VR headset that could grow with the consumer over time so you weren’t sitting on obsolete hardware. Making the headset modular was the solution,” said O’Brien.
Having an interchangeable faceplate means you’re able to customize your Cosmos even more. Though not currently available, you will eventually be able to swap out a variety of different faceplates that extend the capabilities of the headset. This could include everything from additional outside sensor tracking, to support for the Valve Knuckle controllers.
Unfortunately, new plates won’t be available until early 2020, and their specific functionalities are still under a shroud of HTC secrecy.
While Facebook appears to be heavily embracing untethered VR with its continued support of the Oculus Quest, HTC seems to be firmly committed to tethered PC VR experiences. Of course, that is until they release a modular faceplate capable of hand-tracking. Calling it now. The company has also confirmed Cosmos’ compatibility with HTC’s wireless VR adapter, currently available for Vive and Vive Pro.
That beings, said several other sources have reported issues with the headsets inside-out tracking, reporting inconsistencies with performance if the playspace is not extremely well-lit. While I’ve yet to experience these issues myself, I should note that my playspace featured relatively ideal conditions.
The Cosmos controllers also received a significant redesign. Unlike the Vive Pro’s hilt style controller, the Cosmos has a controller that resembles something closer to the Oculus Quest controllers. They also have this very Tron-like look to them with a really cool blue design that lights up. This is actually part of how the inside out tracking works. O’Brien explains to me, the tribal design is actually there to work with the 6 tracking cameras. When it lights up, it uses computer vision and AI to be able to track where your hands are, and that’s how are able to have tracking accuracy in the Cosmos.
The controllers actually felt very comfortable in my hands. The layout of the joystick, trigger, grip trigger, and three action buttons felt very natural. I wasn’t fumbling for buttons or trying to figure what button did what. My hands just naturally knew how to use the controllers. Several other reports have stated that the battery life of the controllers
Passthrough on the Cosmos is better than the Oculus Quest. First off, it’s in full color. You can also tap the Vive menu button and bring up the real-world on-demand, or just flip up the visor!
The HTC’s Vive Origin comes packed with the Cosmos and it’s been designed to easily enter and exit experiences with a simple click of the menu button. It’s also your VR home where you can engage in a variety of activities, such as taking a relaxing walk along a path and driving a remote control car.
What I thought was a bit funny was, during my demo, I was throwing things around inside of my home assuming that the next person after me would enter the demo with a fresh set up. Nope. Turns out your VR room is just like your real one in that objects will only return to their original locations if you pick them up and place them there. Yep, you actually need to clean up after yourself.
The HTC Cosmos is a step forward for VR, but I can’t help but wonder if it was even necessary. It’s definitely not perfect, but it does make several attempts to address a variety of ongoing issues. Time will tell if a modular design will work for HTC and if consumers will be willing to shell out $699 compared to other VR headsets, such as the $399 Oculus Quest.
Feature Image Credit: HTC