HTC Vive Flow hands-on: pre-orders, specs and more




CNN

Virtual reality is not only an immersive way to play video games, it can make you healthier as well. We have already seen how the Oculus Quest 2 has changed lives with its engaging exercise apps, and now HTC’s VR vets want to give you an easy way to escape a hectic day and take time for your mental well-being with the new $ 499 HTC Vive Flow.

These “immersive glasses” aim to reduce the friction of jumping into virtual reality, with a super compact design that you can slip on anywhere to jump into a quick meditation session or watch an episode of your favorite Netflix show.

HTC Vive Flow’s user-friendly design and wide selection of apps are compelling, but they come at a steep price and require you to have an Android phone. Wondering if they’ll be worth it? Here is what I think about it after an hour of handling.

HTC Vive Flow is available for pre-order now for $ 499, and will start shipping in November. Those who pre-order before the end of the month will receive a free carrying case, as well as a digital set of “7 pieces of content,” according to HTC.

HTC is also launching a new level of its Viveport subscription service specifically designed for Flow. This new $ 5.99 per month option will give you access to a bundle of apps focused on things like wellness, brain training, casual gaming, and productivity. This plan will join the existing plan Viveport Infinite subscription, which gives you hundreds of apps and games (including popular choices like Superhot and Moss) for $ 12.99 per month or $ 99 per year.

Mike Andronico / CNN

The HTC Vive Flow is one of the most compact VR headsets I’ve ever got my hands on, with a design that essentially looks like an oversized pair of sunglasses. I wouldn’t exactly walk around in public with one (not that you can really do that with these things), but I would feel less visible wearing them on a flight than with, say, a typical VR headset like the Oculus Quest. 2.

The black plastic design of the Vive Flow is accented by a dark gray mesh fabric face covering, which attaches magnetically and can be easily removed and replaced (additional gaskets will be available for purchase in both wide and narrow sizes). That way, if you pass the helmet on to someone else, you can each use your own coating to avoid spreading nasty germs to your face.

Mike Andronico / CNN

I’m not sure why the Flow has two reflective eye covers – they’re not real glasses you can see through – but they certainly help set it apart from other small VR headsets. Inside you’ll find dioptric dials to adjust the focus of the helmet so you can see clearly. These were easy to adjust and allowed me to correct what was initially somewhat blurry picture quality when I first put the headphones on. The Oculus Quest 2 only has one focus adjustment slider per comparison, so I appreciated the ability to adjust each eye individually on the Flow.

Unlike most VR goggles that wrap around your head via a headband, the Vive Flow is worn much like traditional goggles – with movable arms on either side that you can adjust to fit your noggin. I felt a bit of pressure on my temple when I first put on the Vive Flow, but thanks to the helmet’s 6.6-ounce airy frame, I was pretty comfortable for most of the time. my hour or so with the device.

Mike Andronico / CNN

The Vive Flow is positioned as an easy way to get started in a quick meditation session wherever you are. So the first app I tested was Tripp: a popular wellness platform that’s currently available on various VR devices. And as a beginner, I was quite impressed.

I started my meditation session in a virtual, colorful forest, and eventually started floating up in the sky and playing a little focus game that challenged me to collect coins in the air. . As someone who has dabbled in audio-only meditation apps like Calm, I really enjoyed the added visual element that Tripp offers, and the feeling of physically moving around in a virtual space was relaxing and captivating. Tripp starts at $ 4.99 per month and is already available on Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, but that seems to be particularly suited to the compact pickup and playback experience that the Vive Flow aims to deliver.

Netflix was next on my list and it works the same on the Vive Flow as it does on other VR headsets I’ve tested. I sat in a virtual black theater while turning on some Friday Night Lights and struggled to zoom in and out while adjusting the reading. Again, Netflix in VR is nothing new, but given the compact design of the Vive Flow, I can see that it’s a better option for watching movies on an airplane rather than using those small, grainy screens. on the seat in front of you.

I got a taste of how Vive Flow can be used for work while testing VIVE Sync, HTC’s virtual reality conferencing app. Once I joined a meeting, I sat in a virtual outdoor space, with options to do things like share files and present videos. Personally, I don’t often see myself using an app like this, and I should try it out with other people to see how it really holds up in everyday use. But it certainly looks like Vive Sync could provide an engaging change of pace from the nonstop Zoom calls we’ve all been on for the past 18 months or so.

To get a feel for how Flow works as an everyday gaming device, I tried Space Slurpies, which is essentially a more immersive and intricate version of the classic snake game we all played on our Nokia phones. I had a little more trouble with this one, as controlling a three-dimensional snake in virtual reality using a simple Android phone didn’t seem very intuitive (you will be able to pair a bluetooth controller when you play Android games via screen mirroring). Still, there were a few moments where I got into a good groove, and it was fun to watch the many colorful creatures swirling in and out of sight.

Mike Andronico / CNN

The HTC VIVE Flow delivered pretty solid performance for such a small headset – I’d put it somewhere between a mobile-powered headset like the Samsung Gear VR and the standalone Oculus Quest 2 depending on my limited grip time. Games and apps looked crisp and moved smoothly, but I would bring the visual quality closer to something like a previous generation console rather than a high-end PC.

Apps like Tripp and Space Slurpies looked pretty colorful and crisp on the helmet’s 3164 × 1778 screen, and I could see a decent amount at a time thanks to the wide 100-degree field of view. The headset’s 75Hz refresh rate (which dictates overall smoothness) allowed content to display fairly smoothly. To put those numbers into context, the Quest 2 features an approximately 89-degree field of view and a resolution of 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye, and can deliver a smoother 90Hz refresh rate for games and apps. You make a slight compromise on the overall smoothness of the flow, but you’ll have a wider field of view.

I was impressed with the Flow’s spatial audio speakers built into the inner sides of the headset, which allowed me to clearly hear what was happening on the screen, even in a busy outdoor space with people in talking. If you want more immersive sound, you can also pair your own Bluetooth headphones.

HTC

There’s just one big catch in all of this: you’ll need to pair the Vive Flow with an Android phone to use it. It’s not the first VR headset to have such a requirement, and the fact that your phone (and an external battery) does some of the heavy lifting is probably why the Flow can be so compact. You can even go to your device’s home screen directly from the headset to check email, browse the web, or launch entertainment apps without removing Flow.

But such a requirement limits the number of people who can use the Flow, and as an iPhone user I’m a little disappointed that I can’t use the new HTC headset with my current device. You will also need to provide your own portable battery to power the Flow, or buy one from HTC. All of this makes the Flow of $ 499 a particularly high investment compared to the $ 299. Oculus Quest 2, which is completely self-contained, offers room-scale virtual reality experiences, and even includes controllers for playing games.

The HTC Vive Flow is a neat concept. Even the most compact VR headsets you can buy right now are still quite bulky, and the idea of ​​being able to don a pair of lightweight glasses to quickly escape into a meditation app or virtual movie theater is compelling. But when that experiment costs $ 499 – and requires you to have an Android phone – the Flow starts to feel like a niche buy.

Still, we can’t wait to spend more time with HTC’s super-compact VR glasses, especially to see how they stack up against our favorite VR device in the Oculus Quest 2. In the meantime, those who want to shoot follies can pre-order HTC Vive Flow now.



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