A Strong Debut, But Still Not Enough

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A few weeks ago HTC finally revealed the release date and price for the HTC Vive Cosmos: October 3rd for $699. We tried it out briefly, but now after spending about a week with a review unit we’ve got our full and finalized review.

To be perfectly honest the Vive Cosmos is in a difficult spot. What should have been a headstart for HTC’s new flagship VR device, considering it was formally announced all the way back at CES in January, has quickly evaporated. Before it’s even launched the Cosmos is already facing an uphill battle.

Priced at $699 between the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S, both at $399, and the Valve Index at either $749 or $999 depending on if you have lighthouses already or not, the Vive Cosmos has a lot to prove; I’m just not sure there are many people left to care.

 

Vive Cosmos Video Review

 

Comfort, Flip Up, Design, and Audio

The Vive Cosmos is easily the most comfortable headset HTC has made thus far. As someone that wears glasses I’ve never liked the way the original Vive, Vive Pro, or Vive Pro Eye fit on my face. It feels cramped and uncomfortable pretty much at all times. Thankfully the new halo head strap design completely avoid that.

Functionally it works a lot like the Rift S or PSVR: you loosen the knob on the back, pull it around the top of your head, tighten it, and adjust the front part that hangs down to fit close to your eyes. The main difference is that the Vive Cosmos can also be flipped up making it easy to check your phone, computer, talk to someone, or just generally access reality easily. It’s a cool feature, but the trade-off seems to be that the visor itself doesn’t get as close to your face.

With Rift S and PSVR there is a button on the underside you press to slide the visor closer to your eyes to increase the FOV and eliminate most of the nose gap. Vive Cosmos doesn’t have that button. So I noticed a distracting amount of light leak coming from the bottom and it just never fit against my face all the way like I wanted it to unless I was pressing down with my hand. The padding and head strap design itself is very high-quality though.

I’m not a big fan of the vent-style face plate. It reminds me a bit of a grill or an air vent. It honestly just looks a bit silly. The mechanical IPD adjustment works like it does on past Vive headsets though, so if you’re outside the range offered for Rift S then this could be a more comfortable experience.

The included earphones hang down and hover against your ears just like the original Rift and the Vive Pro. Audio quality seems about the same as the Vive Pro without any perceivable differences, but I do appreciate the feel and durability of the headphones.

 

HTC Vive Cosmos Video

Technical Specs and Lenses

Technically speaking the Vive Cosmos is one of the best VR headsets on the market, but specs don’t tell the full story. The panels feature a dense 1440 x 1700 resolution per eye and a full RGB LCD substrip with its three subpixel design. The field of view is basically the same, around 110 degrees, which remains unchanged from the original Vive. Due to the halo strap design, it might fit a little bit closer to some faces which would result in a higher perceived FOV. For me, that was never the case.

My main issue with the Vive Cosmos is the design of the lenses. Presumably they’re improved from their previous headsets, but you could’ve fooled me. I wasn’t able to pick up on this much in my preview session for whatever reason, but now that I’ve spent more time with the headset at home I’ve realized the lenses have two major issues. First are very noticeable God rays during high contrast scenes (this causes a sort of light smearing effect that makes bright colors on dark backgrounds emit rays along the edges sort of like this), specifically black backgrounds and bright colors such as loading screens or nighttime in apps.

Then there’s the tiny sweet spot. Unless I get the Vive Cosmos positioned just right on your head, I often found the visuals a bit blurry. And even if it is sitting correctly with my pupil dialed in right along the center of the lens, if I move my eye around beyond that center spot things get blurry. It’s extremely noticeable after having spent time in other recently released headsets like the Oculus Rift S, Oculus Quest, and especially the Valve Index’s massive sweet spot, that all seem to sidestep this issue. In the Index you can move your eyes all around without losing clarity, which is a huge boon for immersion because, as you are aware, you don’t just move your head in real life. You move your eyes. A tiny sweet spot can ruin a lot of experiences.

That being said, the Vive Cosmos certainly feels like the most complete and well-rounded headset that HTC has put out thus far. When you are in that sweet spot it looks awfully sharp and the other changes make it an all-around much easier device to use.

 

htc vive cosmos controller close up side view

New Vive Cosmos Controllers

I both love and hate the new Vive Cosmos controllers. On the one hand I love the design. They’re comfortable and chunky in a way that feels good and reminds me of actual console gamepads, rather than the relatively cheaper feel of the Oculus Rift S and Quest controllers. They’ve got that same strong build quality that the original Vive wands sported, but in a new form factor.

The analog stick feels great, buttons are nice and clicky, and both R1/L1 and R2/L2 are just spongey enough and very comfortable to use. The grip button is a big improvement as well. Obviously HTC took heavy inspiration from the Oculus Touch controllers, but it totally worked generally speaking.

That being said, I also hate them. They take two AA batteries each and only last about two or three hours on fresh batteries. That’s not even enough to get me through a single session most of the time. And to make matters worse, they’re way too heavy. I know I just praised the chunky feel, but once you add two batteries they each weigh about twice as much (around 8oz) as Oculus Touch controllers (around 4oz) and that extra weight adds up over time. I noticed I was just far less accurate in Beat Saber using the Vive Cosmos controllers because the weight really threw me off.

 

vive cosmos setup

Inside-Out Tracking And Passthrough

The Vive Cosmos jettisons the need for lighthouse base stations entirely, instead deploying an inside-out tracking system similar to Windows VR headsets and the latest Oculus Quest and Rift S. The main difference here is that the Cosmos actually has six total cameras embedded in the headset itself giving it what seemed to be a large and robust tracking volume. Most notably it’s got a camera pointed down at the bottom edge of the front face plate meaning it shouldn’t lose track of your controllers as often when they’re just hanging by your side.

The volume of the tracking seems higher than other headsets I’ve used, but the quality isn’t quite up to par with the Oculus Insight system on Rift S and Quest. Specifically it seems to take just a little bit longer for the cameras to relocate your controllers once they return to view. This isn’t a huge issue, but in games like Beat Saber when you often extend your arms very low or very wide, or if you’re reaching behind your back and over your shoulder to grab something, it can cause some hiccups every now and then.

As someone that doesn’t specifically care about having the best and most accurate tracking humanly possible, I appreciated the easier setup process and flexibility of having an inside-out headset versus the dedicated base station arrangement of previous Vive systems. The Cosmos still uses a breakout box to provide power, which is nice since you’ve just got a single wire extending from the headset and into a box that splits it off into a power cord, Display Port cord, and USB 3.0 cord.

The inside out tracking system has some quirks though that popped up sometimes, such as needing a lot of brightness to function correctly. During the daytime with my curtains open in my office it didn’t give me any problems, but in the evenings if I didn’t have my lights on full blast with my office door closed to contain the light then it sometimes struggled and dipped in and out, occasionally warning me it was too dark.

Considering that I’ve used my Rift S in near darkness in this same room several times and have used my Quest outside after sunset without issue it’s a bit annoying. Needing light is one thing, but not even working unless the room is entirely full of bright light is something else. Another reviewer I spoke with couldn’t even get his Cosmos to track properly at all during the evening.

The passthrough functionality works very well. When you first put on the headset you see a slightly blurry (but colorized) view of the real world and draw your boundary on the ground just like the guardian setup process for Rift S and Quest. Then at any time you can double-tap the right Vive logo button to see the real world again or if you poke your head through your boundary it’ll fade into view as well.

 

Vive Origin Platform

Alongside Vive Cosmos, HTC is also launching their own branded VR home hub called Vive Origin. It’s a lot like SteamVR Home and Oculus Home, except it’s tied to their Viveport store directly instead. I’m surprised it took them this long to release a branded home space.

The way it works is you load onto this little circular island with a tree in the middle and there are a handful of stations you can interact with in the space. One station summons a remote control RC car, another lets you browse a collection of sculptures and statues with info bubbles like a museum, and another shoots out an orb into the sky that erupts like a firework and slowly transforms the 360-image surrounding you as the background. It’s a great effect, but I was disappointed the images are entirely static and not animated at all. Looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by static water with waves frozen in time was a bit odd.

One side of the island has a waterfall and pond with some fish and lily pads in it and then on the other end there is a cozy apartment pod. It’s a nice space that feels homey and it even has a Vive Cosmos headset that you can put on your face, while in VR, for a quick passthrough preview, which is a nice touch.

And that’s about it. No customization that I saw, no multiplayer at all (yet, they said that would probably be coming later) and no way to launch apps directly from within Vive Origin itself. The only way to do that is to press one of the Vive menu buttons to pull up the “Vive Lens”, which is just a circular menu that pops into the air, where you can adjust settings and launch games from Viveport or SteamVR.

If this had launched with Vive in 2016 it’d have been fine, but I expected a bit more out of a “home” space 3 1/2 years into HTC’s VR efforts. As far as I can tell, Origin is Cosmos-only for now but is likely coming to other Vive headsets soon afterward. In my time with the Cosmos, I vastly preferred just launching Viveport itself and standing on the edge of that balcony to browse through games. At least it’s functional.

 

viveport logo game images

Viveport and SteamVR

I’ve been pretty critical of Viveport in the past. When it launched it was super buggy and just not a pleasant experience at all. But after spending a lot of time using it the past week with Viveport I’ve definitely came around. The library is nowhere near as robust as Steam or Oculus Home, but it’s still got a great selection of games and apps and the Viveport Infinity Subscription packs insane value. If you pre-ordered the Cosmos you get a full year for free. If you buy a Cosmos after launch then it still includes six months free and then you can continue for just $12.99 per month after that.

Some of the best games offered in the Infinity subscription, meaning they are entirely free to download and play while you’re a subscriber, include Arizona Sunshine, Sairento, I Expect You To Die, Apex Construct, A Fisherman’s Tale, Witching Tower, BoxVR, Final Assault, Form, The Brookhaven Experiment, and tons of others.

All that being said, you don’t need a Cosmos or even an HTC headset at all to use Infinity. It works fine with the Valve Index, Windows headsets and Oculus headsets and sometimes include special promotions for those as well.

But if you don’t want to use Viveport then you don’t have to. SteamVR works just fine and you can easily access SteamVR Home if you want or even just launch SteamVR games directly from the Vive Lens menu without even needing to open the SteamVR overlay at all. It’s very slick and intuitive.

 

vive cosmos phone attachment add on ces mockup

Add-On Potential

HTC pitched modding as the major differentiating feature for Vive Cosmos. The front face plate can be taken off and replaced with alternate versions that will enable different features. The snap-on / snap-off design works well.

In early 2020, HTC says they’ll launch a faceplate that enables external SteamVR Tracking base station connectivity so if you have those base stations already from a previous Vive, this attachment should let you use it in that environment natively. That means HTC is promising future support for Vive wands, Index Knuckles controllers, Vive trackers, and everything else soon. That’s still several months away without a release date or price.

The ability to power your Vive Cosmos with a phone instead of a PC, a feature that was hinted back at CES in January when the Cosmos was unveiled, is mysteriously absent. When I asked HTC about the feature, they just said it’s on the roadmap and isn’t being discussed right now.

That’s a major disappointment. The prospect of a headset that can reliably swap between phone-powered VR when needed and high-fidelity PC-powered VR is extremely interesting and was one of the key marketing pillars for Cosmos that got a lot of people excited. Now, the Oculus Quest is getting the inverse of that feature with Oculus Link turning it into a Rift S just one month from now. And yes, it will work with SteamVR.

As far as I’m concerned, the lack of discussion on that feature deals a significant blow to the versatility of the Cosmos overall.

HTC just revealed that the Vive wireless adapter they released previously would be compatible later this month, but you’ll have to buy an extra $50 attachment kit with a larger battery for it to work, in addition to the $200 for the Vive Wireless Adapter itself. That’s $850 total to get a wireless Vive Cosmos.

vive cosmos and controllers hands on preview image headset

HTC Vive Cosmos Review: Final Verdict

If the Vive Cosmos had released a year ago, or even six months ago, this would be a very different review. Technically speaking the Cosmos is far from a bad device. The resolution is very near the top of the market, it features a comfortable halo strap design, includes six inside-out tracking cameras, finally gets controllers with analog sticks, and comes with a great value in its Viveport Infinity subscription. But it’s just too little too late.

When HTC announced the Cosmos in January back at CES, they hinted at a portable mode that would be powered by a smartphone, making it a standalone device. Since then, Oculus has released their own standalone device in the Oculus Quest that will be gaining the ability to plug into a PC and basically become a Rift S in one month. Both the Quest and Rift S are almost half the price of what HTC wants to charge for a Cosmos. And neither the external tracking mod nor eventual smartphone attachment have release dates at all.

To be perfectly clear: I don’t dislike the Cosmos overall and I’ll probably use it occasionally for SteamVR games since I don’t personally own an Index, but it’s just not enough at this stage to carve out a place in a crowded market that’s still struggling to attract new consumers. At the $699 price point, without any of its marketed add-on features included, I don’t think I can recommend buying a Cosmos when you could instead get a Rift S or Quest at nearly half the price or just save up a bit more for a Valve Index instead.


For more VR hardware reviews, check out our reviews of the Vive Pro, Vive Wireless Adapter, Valve Index, Oculus Rift S, Oculus Quest, and PSVR. You can find out more about the Vive Cosmos, as well as purchasing options, over on the official website.



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