Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

HTC Vive Cosmos Elite And External Tracker Review: Still Not Enough

Here’s what we think of the new-and-sort-of-improved HTC Vive Cosmos Elite and/or Cosmos External Tracking Faceplate.

Last year HTC released yet another entry in its line of VR headsets named the HTC Vive Cosmos. Now, the company revamped it with a new model that includes an external tracking option and debuted an add-on to the original to enable the same new feature.

I’ve written reviews of lots of VR headsets over the last four years, but I can definitely say I’ve never reviewed a situation quite like this. Never mind the fact that HTC already offers a confusing number of different VR headsets (such as the HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro, HTC Vive Pro Eye, HTC Vive Focus, HTC Vive Cosmos, and even more), the Cosmos is also the first modular VR headset I’ve seen, adding yet more variations. This should be a key feature of the Cosmos, but right now it just adds to the confusion.

Since we already had an external tracking faceplate sent to us for the original Cosmos, and already had the original Cosmos from our review last year, HTC just told us to review them together as the Vive Cosmos Elite because it’s essentially the same thing.

Read Or Watch Our Original Vive Cosmos Review!

So, after reading this review you might still have a lot of questions, such as: How is the comfort? How are the lenses? What are the specs? How is Vive Origin? What about Viveport? All of those questions and more I already answered in my original Vive Cosmos review. You should read that review as well to get the full picture here. The only thing that doesn’t apply is all of the commentary from that review on its inside-out tracking and new Cosmos controllers — the rest is identical.

Read the original Vive Cosmos review here for our full analysis.

What Is The Vive Cosmos Elite?

The Vive Cosmos Elite is, literally, identical to the HTC Vive Cosmos other than the fact that it uses external tracking via lighthouse base stations (like the original Vive headsets, the Index, and Pimax headsets) rather than the camera-based inside-out tracking that is built onto the front of the original Cosmos, Windows MR headsets, Oculus Rift S, and Oculus Quest. When you buy a Cosmos Elite, you’re buying a Cosmos, but they’ve switched the front faceplate to the external tracking instead of the inside out tracking on the original. And changed the color to black. That’s it.

The specifications are exactly the same as the Vive Cosmos otherwise. The Cosmos features a 1440 x 1700 pixel per eye display (compared to 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye in the original Vive and 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye in both the Vive Pro and Valve Index) which gives it a sharp image. However, the sweet spot of the lenses feels incredibly small in the Cosmos unit we received for review, meaning if you move your eyes very much inside the headset things can look blurry. The Index on the other hand has a large sweet spot and wide field of view.

The refresh rate is 90 Hz for the Cosmos with a claimed 110 degree field of view, meaning that on paper it’s got a solid foundation. Compared to the original HTC Vive especially, it’s a good upgrade.

For $899 you get the Vive Cosmos Elite headset, two base stations for opposite corners of your room to enable roomscale tracking, and two Vive wand controllers just like the original Vive controllers that released over four years ago. Or, HTC recently announced, you can get just the headset itself without base stations and controllers for $549 — an option created for those looking to upgrade from the original Vive or switch from the Vive Pro.

What Is The Vive Cosmos External Tracking Faceplate?

Simply put, the External Tracking Faceplate is an add-on you will be able purchase (for $199 startin April 30th, 2020) for an existing HTC Vive Cosmos that allows it to be tracked by SteamVR lighthouse base stations.  The idea is that you should have the flexibility of switching face plates to have either inside-out tracking, plus new Cosmos controllers, or external tracking with Vive wands or Index “knuckles” controllers. It’s the only VR headset on the market with that sort of adaptability.

It’s a bit of a bummer that the new Cosmos controllers don’t include some sort of add-on to enable external tracking as well. Instead, if you decide to use the external tracking face plate, your new Cosmos controllers are useless. You’d need to switch to Vive wands or Index controllers (we recommend Index controllers if possible.)

Comparing To The Original Vive Cosmos

Using a Cosmos with external tracking (aka a Cosmos Elite) is a vastly superior experience to the original Cosmos inside-out system.

Compared to the Oculus platform, where Insight tracking via Rift S and Quest is extremely comparable in quality to the Rift camera external tracking format, the Cosmos camera-based tracking was a disappointment. It performed poorly in low-light conditions and can lose track of controllers quickly if they’re out of view from your headset. Make no mistake: SteamVR powered by lighthouse base stations is, without a doubt, still the best VR tracking platform on the market from a pure quality and accuracy perspective. They’ve patched the inside-out system to be a bit better now, but it’s still not as good as SteamVR tracking.

But purchasing a VR headset is about much more than just the tracking quality. In virtually all other aspects such as the platform, the comfort, the lens quality, the controllers, and the price, the Cosmos + external tracking and/or Cosmos Elite are hard to justify.

Previously, I found it difficult to recommend a Vive Cosmos to anyone. At $699 it was just too hard of a sell given the way it stacked up against the significantly lower price of $399 for the Oculus Rift S. Coming in at $899, the Cosmos Elite is once again an extremely hard sell compared to the superior Valve Index full package that’s just $100 more at $999. There is a cheaper version of the Cosmos slated to release in the future, called the HTC Vive Cosmos Play, but there’s no word on when exactly.

However, as of the time of this writing, no Valve Index products are expected to arrive to new buyers sooner than 8 weeks from April 1st, 2020, at the earliest. That means June, 2020 as a best-case scenario if you bought something this week.

As a result, if you currently have an original HTC Vive, I could certainly see how the Vive Cosmos Elite headset by itself is an attractive prospect. It costs $50 more than just a Valve Index headset, but you get a slightly higher resolution display plus the potential to eventually purchase an inside-out tracking face plate and new Cosmos controllers if you decide to swap into an inside-out ecosystem instead of using base stations.

Note: Currently HTC does not offer an inside-out tracking add-on to purchase for the Cosmos Elite, they only have plans to offer an external tracking add-on starting April 30th to purchase for the original Cosmos. But, it stands to reason, the inside-out face plate may become available for purchase individually in the future to allow for the inverse upgrade path.

Vive Cosmos Elite/External Tracking Faceplate Review Final Verdict

I said all of this in my original HTC Vive Cosmos review and it all still applies today for the Cosmos Elite: “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…and comes with a great value in its Viveport Infinity subscription. But it’s just too little too late.”

The one major caveat here now is that, if you currently have a first generation HTC Vive and are looking to upgrade the headset and don’t mind using Vive wands (or have Index controllers / plan on getting Index controllers), and also don’t want to wait on an Index, then the Vive Cosmos Elite headset by itself for $549 isn’t a bad purchase. Especially considering the possibility of being able to switch to inside-out in the future if you’d prefer. Plus, wireless is already possible on Cosmos — it’s not yet on Index. All that said, if you’re in that specific original Vive owner group and don’t need wireless yet and have the patience to wait an extra month for shipment, we’d certainly recommend paying $50 less for the Index headset on its own.

Final Score:     3/5 Stars | Pretty Good

You can read more about our five-star scoring policy here.

The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is available for $899 as a full package including two Vive wand controllers and two lighthouse base stations for tracking, or as a headset only for $549. Check out the official website for more details.

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