The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, an upgraded version of HTC’s modular Vive Cosmos headset, uses a detachable faceplate to enable compatibility with HTC’s legacy external sensors. Bringing back lighthouse sensors mitigates many of the detection issues we found with the original HTC Vive Cosmos, but it brings back the tricky and demanding setup requirements of the company’s previous VR headsets. In a post Oculus Quest 2 world, those difficulties are more frustrating than they were just a few years ago. Those issues, combined with an extreme price, make it hard to see the good in the Vive Cosmos Elite, even when it’s right in front of your face.
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Vive Cosmos Elite – Design & Features
Since the Cosmos Elite is a modified version of the Vive Cosmos, it only deviates from the original’s design so much. With the Elite faceplate, which makes it detectable by HTC’s Vive and SteamVR sensors, is a plain midnight blue panel, slightly more subdued look than the fractal design on the standard Cosmos plate. (Though there is a similar pattern etched on the front). The plate also covers two of the headset’s six cameras, bringing the total down to four.
The rest of the Cosmos Elite’s hardware is, by definition, identical to the original Cosmos. You situate the headset on your head using a hard plastic headband that can loosen or tighten to accommodate your head size. There’s also a top strap to help mitigate wobble. The headband is very good at helping you find a balance between comfort and stability, though I found the headset still shifted on my head from time to time. At 1.43 lbs, most of which are in the visor in front of your face, you can feel the weight of the headset as you look around.
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That may have had something to do with the fact that it’s on a hinge. The Cosmos visor can be flipped up to let you temporarily get out of VR without removing the headset. It’s very useful, but I found it created some problems… Like the fact that the headset wiggled on my head sometimes.
Attached to the headband, the Cosmos Elite has a pair of built-in headphones, which are loud enough to provide audio without directly clamping on your ears. I found they were difficult to position, nor did they deliver the best sound, so they’re best used when you prefer not to wear headphones.
Since the upgrade specifically improves the tracking, the Vive Cosmos Elite’s display and processing specs are the same as the standard Cosmos. That’s an impressive 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye on its dual 3.4” LCD screens, which allows for a maximum 110-degree field of view. In terms of pure graphical fidelity, it’s among the best you can get on a consumer-grade headset right now, though the benefits aren’t exactly jaw-dropping. Relative to other headsets, including past Vives, I found that many game visuals showed smoother edges, which led to more clearly discernible details in some cases.
That said, I wouldn’t describe it as the best visual experience you can get on a headset. The Cosmos Elite can output at up to 90Hz, hitting the current high bar for VR framerate, but falls well short of the Valve Index, which can run at up to 144Hz. Though 90Hz is more than fine for most VR games, the divide seems quite large when the prices between the two – $899 for Cosmos Elite versus $999 for the Index – are so similar. Of course, it will only make a difference for players who currently have a top-flight PC to power games at the highest possible spec.
Perhaps the most damning thing about the Cosmos Elite, in my mind, is its reliance on older Vive components. There are no new base stations for the Cosmos Elite – I was sent a pair of first-generation Vive base stations with the headset – and the external tracking requires you to use the original Vive wand controllers, rather than the ones that come with the Cosmos. Making the headset compatible with legacy peripherals is great for veteran Vive users, but the lack of upgraded sensors and controllers are a tough look for what is supposed to be an upgrade over HTC’s new inside-out tracking. At the very least, a truly “elite” Cosmos upgrade should have upgraded sensors with improved tracking and/or an ability to accommodate smaller room-scale spaces.
Vive Cosmos Elite – Setup
As with basically every VR headset that requires external tracking, setting up the Vive Cosmos Elite can be challenging, especially if you can’t commit to redesigning a whole room to accommodate its requirements. Like the standard Cosmos, a step-by-step installation walkthrough will guide you through the process of connecting the hardware, putting the pieces in place, and setting up your room-scale play space. The process seems straightforward at a glance, but isn’t always as clear as it could be.
Plus, you may need to improvise a bit. For many of us, the ideal positioning for the Vive’s sensors and the setup you can reasonably achieve in your home may differ quite a bit. With a two-sensor setup, as I used for this review, you want to place your sensors on either side of a room, up high – higher than your head, if not near the ceiling – tilted down so they can detect each other and the floor below. Both spots also need to be relatively near outlets, as the base stations require independent power. Unless your VR room just happens to have matching floor-to-ceiling bookcases and outlets on every wall, it may be difficult to create these conditions.
Luckily, the Cosmos Elite does seem to work in some less than ideal conditions. I was able to use the headset effectively with the headsets at uneven heights, above and below my eyeline, without pointing them directly at the floor. For stable performance, though, you will want to avoid discrepancies like these. The more liberties you take with the setup, the more likely it is that a slight realignment could throw your detection off.
The good news is that recalibrating the gear, especially the room-scale boundaries, is very easy. If you decide to move some furniture to expand or constrict your play space, you only need an extra minute to adjust your detection.
Vive Cosmos Elite – Gaming
With its specs and given its price point, the Vive Cosmos Elite should offer a noticeably better VR experience than its competitors. But it doesn’t, really. At least, not to a degree that would justify spending $900 to buy or upgrade to it.
In flashy AAA games like Creed: Rise to Glory, there’s a clear improvement in fidelity over previous-gen PC-based headsets and self-contained models like the Oculus Quest, but the gulf between the machines didn’t translate to a more immersive experience. As with the standard Cosmos, though, it’s relatively easy for the headset to shift slightly on your head, so things start to look blurry, even with the clamping headband and top-strap holding it in place.
Again, the place where the Cosmos Elite excels, at least over the inside-out tracked Cosmos, is in tracking. So long as the base stations are well-placed and you’re staying within the playfield, the tracking can keep up with quick, relatively nuanced movements; even when I started flailing my arms during a hard level in Beat Saber.
That said, the tracking gets finicky when you approach the borders of what your sensors can detect. When testing with asymmetric base stations, it was clear that the sensors could momentarily lose track of the controllers. When that happened, it usually meant pausing and standing with the controllers in a readable spot for about a minute. For home VR veterans, this is nothing new, but it is an important reminder that, while low- and mid-range VR headsets have found ways to make VR easier to use, externally tracked PC-powered headsets still require a tinkerer’s patience.
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Vive Cosmos Elite – Purchasing Guide
The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is available now for $899 through major retailers like Amazon, Newegg, and directly from the HTC Vive store . If you already have the sensors and controllers, you can also purchase the Vive Cosmos Elite headset by itself for $549.
If you already have a Vive Cosmos headset, you can purchase the components you need to upgrade a la carte. The Vive Cosmos Elite faceplate costs $199.00. HTC Vive Base Station or HTC SteamVR Base Station 2.0 for $134.99 or $199.99 per sensor, respectively. Lastly, first-gen Vive controllers cost $129.99 per wand. According to the HTC Vive website, the standard Cosmos controllers are not compatible with the Cosmos Elite, so you will need all three of these to upgrade.
Getting everything you need costs between $728.96 and $858.96, nearly equal to the cost of buying the Elite brand new. With that in mind, I would only recommend upgrading if you’ve already bought the vanilla Cosmos headset and already have the majority of the older Vive gear from a previous headset.