The $499 HTC Vive Flow is VR for people who don’t like VR

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HTC wants to find a caller VR marketplace — but what is it?

After years of focusing connected business-oriented virtual reality, HTC is launching a $499 entertainment-focused headset called the Vive Flow successful November, with preorders starting globally today.

The caller Vive Flow looks radically antithetic from astir HTC Vive devices. It’s a standalone portion of hardware modeled aft a brace of sunglasses, and astatine archetypal glimpse it could walk for an augmented world headset, not conscionable a VR one. But down those somewhat bug-eyed reflector shades, you’ll find a lighter mentation of earlier Vive headsets — minus immoderate large features.

HTC Vive Flow The Vive Flow features absorption dials connected the wrong of the headset.

The Vive Flow, which was leaked heavily earlier HTC’s uncover today, is simply a compromise betwixt capableness and approachability. The instrumentality has a 1.6K-per-eye show (HTC didn’t supply the nonstop resolution) with a 100-degree tract of presumption astatine a 75Hz refresh rate. That’s a small much constricted than the 120 degrees and 90Hz complaint that you’ll find connected the much costly Vive Focus 3 and astir the aforesaid refresh complaint but a little tract of presumption than the archetypal Quest. It’s besides somewhat comparable to the Oculus Quest’s refresh complaint earlier a caller upgrade and a small much cramped than its 110-degree tract of view.

Two front-facing cameras grip inside-out question tracking, and HTC plans to enactment manus tracking arsenic well, though the diagnostic wasn’t disposable during a pre-launch demo and didn’t springiness an nonstop timeline for its rollout. It’s utilizing the last-generation Qualcomm XR1 chipset (as opposed to the Quest 2’s XR2), and it’s got a respectable 64GB of retention abstraction but — dissimilar the Focus 3 — nary slot for an enlargement card.

Lightweight hardware is simply a large selling constituent for HTC. “We wanted to get to thing lighter, much wearable, easier to question with,” says Dan O’Brien, HTC’s caput of VR. The Flow weighs 189 grams, compared to astir 500 grams for the Oculus Quest 2, and has a hinged plan that folds up to acceptable successful a $49 carrying case.

HTC Vive Flow

Unlike earlier Vive headsets, the Vive Flow won’t travel with a controller. Instead, you link the headset wirelessly to an Android smartphone and usage the telephone arsenic a operation distant / touchpad. Similar to the mobile Google Daydream oregon Samsung Gear VR remotes, it’s fundamentally a virtual laser pointer with buttons for selecting items and calling up the homescreen.

Leaked photos showed the Flow plugged into a achromatic box, which immoderate radical speculated mightiness beryllium an outer computing device. It’s really a $79 artillery battalion that should fto you usage the headset for 4 to 5 hours. The Flow technically has its ain battery, but HTC says it lone lasts a fewer minutes — it’s designed to fto you swap powerfulness sources without turning disconnected the headset. So you’ll request either the HTC battery, which is sold separately from the headset, oregon (according to HTC) immoderate 10,000mAh powerfulness slope and a USB-C cable.

HTC Vive Flow headset

In summation to controlling the device, the telephone transportation lets you reflector Android apps, calling up a virtual transcript of your phone’s homescreen and letting you motorboat apps similar streaming video services successful a floating window. The headset doesn’t brace with iPhones, and portion HTC hasn’t ruled retired aboriginal support, it indicated determination were superior barriers to making iOS play good with the Flow.

HTC wants radical to usage the Vive Flow for visually immersive but mostly stationary experiences. So you tin ticker a 360-degree video oregon beryllium successful a virtual environment, but you can’t usage apps that necessitate full-fledged virtual hands. (This rules retired astir well-known VR games.) The camera tracking gives you a much earthy acquisition than a headset that tin lone observe the space of your head, but the app catalog and the somewhat loose-fitting glasses-style plan mean you astir apt won’t beryllium walking around.

HTC says the Flow volition motorboat with 100 apps and enactment 150 by the extremity of the year. In summation to uses similar streaming video, its merchandise announcement promotes the Tripp meditation app and the VR therapeutic work MyndVR, which is tailored for older adults. You tin besides prosecute with VR societal spaces similar Vive Sync and ticker streaming video, thing that’s proven popular connected AR glasses. The Flow volition enactment a constricted subset of the apps connected HTC’s Viveport store, and users tin subscribe to a discounted, Flow-focused $5.99-per-month mentation of Viveport’s app subscription service.

The Vive Flow seems fundamentally pitched arsenic a VR headset for radical who find existent VR headsets overcomplicated oregon intimidating. O’Brien describes the instrumentality arsenic thing that’s casual to enactment successful a container portion traveling without worrying astir other pieces similar controllers. “We wanted to marque thing that was ace casual and flexible,” helium says. Instead of straight competing with gaming-oriented headsets, HTC is trying to carve retired a caller class of its own.

HTC’s absorption connected older users (“the immense Boomer population,” arsenic a MyndVR typical enactment it) is portion of this strategy. So is the propulsion for a glasses-like plan alternatively of the straps you’ll find connected astir headsets. “There’s the idiosyncratic that truly conscionable wants this happening to beryllium un-intimidating and casual to popular connected and off,” O’Brien says — and that’s who the Flow is made for. The effect has a batch successful communal with the now-discontinued Oculus Go, but with a svelter look and upgrades similar the inside-out camera tracking.

My little acquisition with the Vive Flow was a mixed bag. The Flow is, successful fact, remarkably airy — presumably successful portion due to the fact that HTC offloaded its battery. But without a strap strategy to support the headset successful place, the surface kept slipping down my look and blurring the apical fractional of my VR experience. HTC plans to connection alternate swappable look gaskets for antithetic fits, and 1 of them worked amended than the original. But I inactive had to beryllium cautious portion turning my head, and the feeling of cautiously balancing the headset wasn’t precisely relaxing.

The Flow was exponentially much bearable than earlier “glasses-style” VR headsets I’ve tried. It’s conscionable inactive a batch much unsteady-feeling than the Focus 3, Quest, oregon practically immoderate different large headset, and there’s nary alternate strap enactment for radical who privation a much unafraid fit. There’s a diopter accommodation dial truthful you tin alteration the absorption connected each oculus individually, but similar the Quest 2, you inconveniently can’t alteration the absorption portion you’re really looking astatine an representation — you person to instrumentality the headset off, twist the wheels a notch, and past enactment it backmost connected again.

The smartphone-based controller, the Vive Flow’s biggest departure from modular VR design, is theoretically tenable but practically awkward. I utilized an HTC-provided Android instrumentality that worked good arsenic a VR laser pointer. But acknowledgment to the long-running inclination of ever-bigger phones, I could hardly acceptable my manus astir HTC’s telephone to pat virtual buttons connected the screen. It’s besides a unusual prime for immoderate headset aimed astatine older users, who are dramatically little likely to ain smartphones.

HTC Vive Flow headset A soft, swappable gasket sits betwixt your look and the lenses.

Hand tracking could partially lick the enactment issue. But motion interfaces stay frustratingly hit-or-miss and typically necessitate holding your fingers up to execute good motions, which besides seems similar a atrocious enactment if your hands person constricted mobility, and I didn’t get to effort HTC’s mentation successful my demo. O’Brien says HTC is inactive toying with options for different power systems — its program is to merchandise the headset and past tweak its plan based connected however radical usage it.

More generally, it’s not wide HTC’s accent connected portability is the cardinal to winning implicit VR doubters. Companies person been pitching “VR you tin propulsion successful your bag” for years now, and extracurricular of radical whose jobs impact headsets, I haven’t seen a azygous quality being mention that arsenic a selling constituent — portion I’ve heard adjacent skeptics praise bulkier headsets for being comfortable. HTC besides says radical volition consciousness little awkward wearing this glasses-like plan successful nationalist settings similar airplanes. As idiosyncratic who really has worn a VR headset connected an airplane, I’m not definite that’s capable to erase its cardinal weirdness.

There isn’t truly a wide assemblage for the Flow successful the US market. It’s acold much costly and little feature-rich than the Facebook-subsidized Oculus Quest 2 but without specialized features that mightiness marque it appealing for businesses oregon different organizations. (Film festivals and schools could usage a no-frills VR headset for 360-degree video, for instance... but the Flow isn’t it.) HTC has designed societal apps similar Sync that could person comparatively wide appeal. But extracurricular its meditation and video options, my Flow demo didn’t connection a large consciousness of its day-to-day value. I recovered mostly tiny games that I mightiness play occasionally, not tools I’d walk $499 to access.

But HTC has built a beardown basal of VR concern hardware, and for now, it seems contented to merchandise the Flow arsenic an experiment. At the precise least, you won’t find different large headset similar it — adjacent if it does marque you sort of look similar a bug.

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