VIRTUAL Reality (VR) is a fascinating technology that’s been thiiiiiis close to mainstream for a year or two now – and while this latest unit doesn’t move it any closer to wider adoption, it’s still further proof of the viability of the concept – and a welcome escape from reality, too.
The HTC Vive Cosmos is a VR headset from HTC – best known for their mobile phones – and designed for PC; it is essentially an updated and improved version of the HTC Vive unit.
The basic technology behind VR is fairly well known now – headset with stereoscopic screens, cables, connection to computing device – so we’re starting to move (albeit slowly) from the tech demo/proof of concept phase into the serious consumer hardware phase of the technology.
The Vive Cosmos is definitely closer to the latter and requires a fairly powerful computer to run – I have an i7 processor with 16GB of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card, and it was able to do it without any issues.
There are some nice touches to the unit, including the fact the visor flips up (not entirely unlike the visor on a knight’s helmet), the colour scheme (I rather like the blue of the visor element) and the general comfort.
From a technical standpoint, the Cosmos features a 2880 x 1700 pixel resolution (1440 x 1700 pixels for each eye-screen) and gets is location sensing via several small cameras built into it, rather than needing laser beacons to be set up around the room.
Overall all though, the Vive Cosmos didn’t seem as user friendly as the Sony PlayStation VR, unfortunately – requiring more cables and set-up, and it took a couple of goes getting everything working properly, with software updates.
As well as Steam VR compatibility, the unit also provides access to the Viveport app store, which has a range of VR experiences and games available.
The unit can be used sitting in front of a PC, or you can clear a space and create a virtual “fence” around your play area so you don’t accidentally knock the shelves over every time you get into a really active title.
I did most of my testing of the Vive Cosmos with two VR games – No Man’s Sky and Arizona Sunshine – using Steam VR.
While the graphics in the unit were good and I didn’t have any fogging issues, I did find myself getting simulation sickness from using the unit for more than maybe an hour at a time – even in a sitting configuration. The unit has a 90hz refresh rate, which is fairly standard for VR units (the PSVR runs between 60-120Hz, the Oculus Quest is 72Hz) and this is the only VR unit I’ve used where I’ve had the simulation sickness issues, so I’m not sure what the issue might have been.
The unit also does not cope well in a low light environment (such as my office at night, even with the lights on), which causes some issues since night time is when I do most of my gaming – ie, after the kids have gone to bed. This caused some wonky orientation issues, particularly with the hand controllers.
There are also a lot of cables involved – one from your PC’s Display Port, another from your PC’s USB port, and another from the power point. These connect to a Link Box (about the size of a packet of playing cards), with another cable running from there to the HTC Vive Cosmos itself.
This is unfortunate, because otherwise the Vive Cosmos was a decent VR headset; I could adjust it for comfort, the sound was good, and the graphics quality was good as well. The sound was good but unremarkable – the inbuilt speakers did the job
From a gameplay perspective, No Man’s Sky worked very well in VR – it was quite an immersive experience. The game is already pretty relaxed and chilled out as it is, so VR is a good fit for the game and the Vive Cosmos handles it well, providing a pretty good experience once I reacquainted myself with the controls.
Arizona Sunshine also ran well and was a good chance to test out the “using your virtual hands to control things” aspect, and when the unit was well set up they worked well, allowing for good control of the in-game guns and items such as doors, magazines and so on.
The RRP of around AUD$1299 is also a significant point against the Vive Cosmos, unfortunately. It’s simply a lot of money for what it is, and makes it hard to recommend as a result – especially given the limited library of quality long-form VR games out there with which to enjoy what it does.
In my opinion, the PlayStation VR headset still remains the most accessible of the commercial VR headsets, but the HTC Vive Cosmos still has plenty to offer if you want a PC-based VR experience and have the money available for it.