HTC’s presence in the smartphone market has all but evaporated, but it’s still a presence in the VR world. Facebook’s Oculus is in the lead, but HTC is hoping its new Vive Flow could attract a new kind of VR enthusiast. The lightweight headset looks more like a pair of glasses, making it easier to put them on for watching Netflix or playing a simple game. However, you’ll need an external power source, and the Flow headset doesn’t come cheap at $ 500.
Don’t be fooled by the frontal images – the Flow isn’t as compact or practical as a pair of sunglasses. This device still goes by the name of “helmet” which is evident when viewed from the side. The device protrudes a lot, but there is no skull-encompassing strap or multi-faceted camera array protruding from the front. The glasses weigh only 189 g (6.6 ounces). That’s less than many smartphones.
HTC was reluctant to reveal the full specs yet, but said 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 as the 1832 × 1920 per eye of the Oculus Quest 2. However, these displays work up to 90Hz. Plus, the Flow runs on Android and you can pair it with your phone via Bluetooth and Miracast. Your phone can also be used as a pointer in VR.
You might be tempted to think that this sounds like the VR experience you’ve been waiting for, and for some people it probably is. However, there is one notable drawback: the Vive Flow does not have a built-in battery. Technically, there’s a very small cell inside, but it’s just there to make sure the device turns off properly when removing the USB-C cable. The result is that the batteries are heavy and not having them makes the Flow more comfortable to wear. Of course, you’ll have to deal with being tethered to a cable while you’re in VR, which can be a real hassle.
To HTC’s credit, he went out of his way to make the power cable requirement less of a pain. The hardware operates entirely within the 7.5W power envelope of the USB 3.0 specification. So almost any outlet should do the job – laptop ports, a phone charger, and even your phone itself should have enough power to keep the Flow running. It won’t have enough power to play high-end VR games, many of which require a lot of movement. If you’re just going to watch a video and the HTC mindfulness content grows, 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 feels functionally inferior to the Oculus Quest 2. You should really want that smaller form factor to drop the cash, but I’m sure some people will. HTC will also be offering Flow users an optional $ 5.99 monthly subscription to Viveport Infinity, the company’s all-you-can-eat VR content service. Don’t expect to play Half-Life: Alyx.