HTC reveals the $499 Vive Flow, a tiny VR headset with some big tradeoffs

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Today, HTC has revealed its latest consumer-focused headset, the $499 Vive Flow. It’s designed for portability with a compact design and a weight of 189 grams, though there are some big caveats I’ll get to later.

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I had the chance to demo the headset in person in San Francisco and my first impression of the device was how compact and well-designed the hardware was. HTC is adopting a number of hardware features designed around miniaturization that we haven’t seen in other headsets. The “pancake” optics are thinner than any other commercially available headset, the adjustable diopter lenses allow users to correct their vision in the headset and potentially avoid the need to use glasses with Flow . The headset has a similar lightweight design to the Magic Leap One compared to existing standalone headsets.

Other key details include the headset’s 1.6K per-eye resolution (they didn’t reveal the exact resolution) that clocks in at 75 frames-per-second, and HTC’s claimed 100-degree field-of-view, though your mileage may vary. could. The smaller lenses don’t have IPD adjustment, which means anyone using the outer or inner confines of an IPD adjustable headset will probably get a smaller field-of-view and less comfortable experience. The bug-eyed lenses on the front of the device hide the pass-through cameras, though I wasn’t able to see any of the content they displayed. Another interesting feature is a fan inside the headset that draws warm air out of your face and eyes, something HTC claims makes longer sessions more comfortable. Speaking of comfort, I was pleasantly surprised by the Flow’s dual-hinge arms (which have near-ear speakers built-in) and how well they managed to secure the headset in place compared to most headsets sport.

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image credit: HTC

During my demo, I was generally pleased with how well designed so many elements of the device were. All of this to say, it’s clear that HTC has really innovated in hardware design here, the same cannot be said for their final consumer release, the 2019 Vive Cosmos which was generally regarded by reviewers as an inferior Oculus Quest competitor. as was banned. But achieving the Flow’s form factor clearly requires some fairly controversial options, which are clearly going to leave a very thin line of potential buyers for this headset, which costs $200 more than the big one. , but the more full-featured Oculus Quest 2.

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For one, the $499 device doesn’t have an onboard battery—it has to be connected to a power source, whether it’s an external battery charger or your phone itself, in order to use the headset. The headset also has a previous-generation Qualcomm XR1 processor, which means most content designed to take full advantage of competing headsets like the Quest 2 won’t support the Vive Flow. majority of complicatingOf course, the Vive Flow doesn’t include a dedicated controller or onboard input, instead relying on an accompanying phone app that gives users basic ability to control content inside the headset.

Those tradeoffs aren’t easy to justify, and HTC has left them in a tough spot by placing so much emphasis on usability while prioritizing the form factor. It wasn’t a full review period, but after an hour of chatting with the team and playing with the device, I had a pretty good feel for what the Vive Flow was, which I didn’t quite understand who this device was. is designed to.

Without strong gaming support, HTC is touting the Flow as a wellness and mindfulness device, detailing the headset’s support for VR meditation apps including MyndVR and Tripp. HTC spokespersons went on to elaborate on how the size of the headset makes it ideal for quick meditation sessions, but noting that most of these meditation apps are still fairly early in their development and figuring out what customers need to do on their own. How to pay, I doubt the market for VR meditation is big enough for a dedicated $499 device. I find it all too easy to believe that this headset will have quite a significant overlap with Facebook’s discontinued Oculus Go, which was used by many primarily to stream video, something that users can use on their Android devices inside the app. You can also do it on the flow by connecting and mirroring the phone display. Using a normal mobile app like Netflix. It’s not the most futuristic use and doesn’t take advantage of the headset’s positional tracking at all, but it’s probably the clingy use case for a lightweight device that’s more comfortable to wear for several hours than heavier competing headsets.

image credit: HTC

It’s unfortunate that there’s been so much focus on headsets, as many VR enthusiasts are looking for a full-featured standalone headset alternative that isn’t made by Facebook. In general, HTC has been in a pretty bad VR market position since Facebook began aggressively slashing the prices of its headsets to bring more consumers into the fold. While Facebook may sell hardware at a loss for the glory of eventual market dominance, HTC doesn’t have the luxuries as such a small company. It’s also clear that Facebook’s billion-dollar investment has led to more well-rounded products with software that feels years before shipping on the HTC Flow.

HTC has been into the VR game for a long time, and it’s clear from their hardware design on the Vive Flow that they are poised to be seen as a major force of VR innovation. This $499 headset has some big tradeoffs, but with its bold design and shrunken size, it’s not forgettable, which can be said of most VR devices. The headset will be available for pre-order tomorrow, with shipping beginning next month.

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