What will it take to bring VR to the mainstream? Quite a bit, in our opinion, from shaving off some of that bulk and eliminating those awful wires to making the whole experience a lot smoother. While we’re probably a fair distance away from that, the new generation of VR headsets are starting to get there. The HTC Vive Flow, for instance, makes a compelling case with its combination of size, function, and affordability.
A VR headset aimed for casual users, it’s a lot more compact than any of HTC’s previous VR headsets, making it a lot less unwieldy to strap across your face. Even better, it requires no connection to a PC, allowing you to enjoy the whole experience using nothing but the headset and your Android phone, making it possible to use it anywhere you go.
The HTC Vive Flow is a compact VR headset sporting displays that show 1.6K resolution footage on each eye (3,200 x 1,600 pixels combined), with a 100-degree field of view and 75Hz refresh rate, so the visuals aren’t quite as detailed as some of the bigger, more expensive headsets out there. A pair of front-facing cameras handle motion tracking, with hand tracking also slated to come as future update. It comes with a pair of speakers on the headset’s arms, so you get matching spatial audio to go with whatever’s onscreen, along with noise-canceling and echo-canceling mics, so you can do your video meetings on a VR device.
There’s no onboard power source, either, instead requiring you to plug it in to a compatible power bank, so you’ll still have to deal with wires. With the glut of smaller power banks out there, though, this shouldn’t be an issue, since you can keep the battery in a pocket or clip it onto your clothing, allowing for virtually untethered use. It also support hot-swapping for the power source, so you can quickly plug in to a new battery without rebooting the hardware.
The HTC Vive Flow doesn’t come with a controller. Instead, it’s designed to pair with an Android smartphone, which will serve as a touchpad and controller for interacting with the VR experiences. Aside from using the phone for controls, the device can also mirror any Android apps, so you can use it to watch movies on your phone, albeit on a screen that feels so much bigger. Sadly, it doesn’t work with iPhones, although HTC hasn’t ruled out potential support in the future. Other features include a Qualcomm XR1 chip providing the necessary processing muscle, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of onboard (sadly, there’s no expansion card), a dual-hinge fit design, and an active cooling system, so it won’t heat up at your face.
According to the outfit, it will launch with 100 apps specifically for the headset, consisting primarily of titles in the well-being, productivity, brain training, video streaming, and light gaming category. So yeah, it won’t quite be able to handle more complex apps, such as games that require virtual hands (until hand tracking gets updated) or more sophisticated interactions, but for immersing yourself in 360-degree content and playing simpler games like Space Slurpies, it will do the trick.
The HTC Vive Flow ships in November. It’s available for preorder now, priced at $499.