HTC’s presence in the smartphone market has all but evaporated, but it’s still a presence in the world of VR. Facebook’s Oculus is way out in the lead, but HTC hopes its new Vive Flow might attract a new kind of VR enthusiast. The lightweight headset is styled more like a pair of glasses, making it easier to pop them on to watch Netflix or play a simple game. However, you’re going to need an external power source, and the Flow headset isn’t cheap at $500.
Don’t let the head-on images fool you — the Flow is not as compact or convenient as a pair of sunglasses. This device still earns the name “headset,” which is apparent when seen from the side. The device sticks out quite a lot, but there’s no skull-encompassing strap or multifaceted camera array poking out the front. The glasses weigh in at just 189g (6.6 ounces). That’s less than many smartphones.
HTC was reluctant to reveal full specs at this time, but it did say the headset will sport two “1.6K” displays with a 75Hz refresh rate. It’s unclear what that exact resolution will be, but it could be in the same neighborhood of the Oculus Quest 2’s 1832×1920 per eye. Those displays, however, operate at up to 90Hz. Also, the Flow runs on Android, and you can pair it with your phone via Bluetooth and Miracast. Your phone can also act as a pointer in VR.
You might be tempted to think this sounds like the VR experience you’ve been waiting for, and for some people, it probably is. However, there’s one notable drawback: the Vive Flow doesn’t have a built-in battery. Technically, there’s a very tiny cell inside, but that’s just there to ensure the device shuts down correctly when removing the USB-C cable. The upshot is that batteries are heavy, and not having one makes the Flow more comfortable to wear. Of course, you’ll need to deal with being tethered to a cable while you’re in VR, which can be a real hassle.
To HTC’s credit, it did everything possible to make the power cable requirement less painful. The hardware operates entirely within the 7.5W power envelope of the USB 3.0 spec. So, almost any plug should get the job done — laptop ports, a phone charger, and even your phone itself should have enough juice to keep the Flow running. It’s not going to have enough power to play high-end VR games, many of which require a lot of movement. If you’re just going to watch video and the mindfulness content HTC is pushing, the cable shouldn’t matter too much.
You can pre-order the Vive Flow right now for $499, which is a lot for something that appears functionally inferior to the Oculus Quest 2. You’d have to really want this smaller form factor to drop the cash, but I’m sure some people will. HTC will also offer Flow users an optional $5.99 monthly subscription to Viveport Infinity, the company’s all-you-can-look-at VR content service. Just don’t expect to play Half-Life: Alyx.
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