As an original owner of an HTC VIVE on release, I do have a soft spot for the company that got me started in VR. Having skipped the HTC VIVE Pro, I was curious about the HTC VIVE Cosmos. Seeing it at CES a few years ago, it looked like it had a lot of potential. Released with inside-out tracking, the VIVE Cosmos was made to be upgradable, and that’s what HTC has done with the release of the HTC VIVE Cosmos Elite.
The HTC VIVE Cosmos Elite is the HTC VIVE Cosmos with the faceplate that allows for HTC Lighthouse tracking and VIVE wands as well as two base stations. If you own a VIVE Cosmos, you could theoretically upgrade to an Elite by picking up the faceplate, two VIVE wands, and two Lighthouses. But HTC decided to release a bundle for those who don’t own any VR equipment and want to jump in with arguably the best tracking setup and HTC’s latest HMD tech.
Let’s start with the Cosmos HMD itself. It features two LCD screens with 1440x1770 resolution per eye or 2880x1700 total. That tops the Valve Index which comes in at 2880x1600 and the VIVE Pro at 2160x1200. It doesn’t top the Valve Index in refresh rate as the Cosmos maxes out at 90Hz while the Index runs at 120Hz and experimentally at 144Hz. 90Hz is fine, but having experienced 120Hz and 144Hz, it can be a little hard to go back.
I don’t mind LCD screens and they do a better job at minimizing the screen door effect versus an OLED screen because of the pixel arrangement, but it’s hard to beat the blacks and colors of the OLED display. It’s why I really enjoy using the Samsung Odyssey and original VIVE at times. I’ve gotten used to the lesser black levels as my Index has been my main HMD for the past year, and I’m used to the same on the Cosmos Elite. The screens, though, are really, really good and I had no problems reading text in games like Elite Dangerous. Where it was a struggle on my original VIVE, the Cosmos Elite screens makes it nice and easy to read text in various colors. As mentioned, the screen door effect is very minimal and I had to concentrate a little to even see it. When in game, it really does disappear for me and I either don’t notice or hardly notice at all.
The Fresnel lenses have a very small sweet spot, though, and it does take more time adjusting to it compared to other headsets. And that’s a shame as when you get things clear, the Cosmos Elite looks really, really clear. Once you get dialed in, it’s a joy to see through. Because of the tendency for the headset to move, though, when doing fast movements, you can deviate from that sweet spot more readily than other headsets. Perhaps the Cosmos Elite will benefit from the GearVR modifications I’ve seen with other VIVE headsets, but as it stands, you’ll need a little more effort to keep the image clear. The god rays are what you would expect from the Fresnel lenses. I found them to be bearable and maybe the same, or a little better than, the Valve Index.
Field of view is the standard 110 degrees that’s found in most HMDs such as the two previous VIVE releases. Again, having been used to the wider FOV of the Index, which is around 130, you do miss the increased real estate to see everything.
I wished the Cosmos Elite allowed you to adjust the distance between the lenses and your face. The original VIVE did this and the VIVE Pro does as well letting you set how far or close away the lenses are from your face. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with what is there.
The face gasket has a nice soft covering on it and it does fit snuggly on my face. There’s some light bleed near my nose area that was pretty minimal once I fit the Cosmos in place. I didn’t like that it’s connected to the headset with clips, though. It just doesn’t feel sturdy enough for me and there is some give to help with the fit. So far the best implementation I’ve seen is the use of magnets by the Valve Index and I’d like to see more headsets go this way with the face gasket.
One of the cooler features of the Cosmos Elite is the flip-up design. For those without glasses, you can easily flip the Cosmos up to see your surroundings and then flip it back down to get back into the game. With my glasses on, it was a lot tougher to get it back into place, but having the ability to flip it out of the way is pretty handy. Upon flipping down, I had to hold my glasses to try and fit them inside the Cosmos Elite and I found it was just easier to loosen up the head strap and redo the placement of it on my face and bringing the halo strap down again, this negating the convenience of flipping the Cosmos Elite up and down. But, for those who don’t wear glasses, this is a very nice touch. When using the external tracking faceplate, this is currently the only way to catch a glimpse of your surroundings. When using the inside-out tracking faceplate, you can switch on the cameras to see. Hopefully, a software update can be issued to let you use the cameras for viewing while the HMD is down when using the external tracking faceplate.
Comfort-wise, it was OK. As I said, I was able to wear glasses with the Cosmos Elite. Coming in at 645 grams, the Cosmos Elite weighs less than the Valve Index at 809 grams but heavier than the Samsung Odyssey+ at 594g. Even though the Cosmos is lighter, I found the weight distribution of the Valve Index to be better with the Cosmos, feeling more front heavy when worn. I also found the Cosmos Elite to move more than the other two when spinning my head around even with everything tightened as much as possible. It didn’t hinder my playing and the Cosmos Elite was able to keep my view in the sweet spot most of the time when moving around, but I think I might have modify the padding on the Cosmos Elite to make it fit better like I did with the Samsung Odyssey+.
I do like that the Cosmos comes with an integrated audio solution. For the original VIVE, I picked up the Deluxe Audio Strap and it made wearing the VIVE a lot more comfortable, as well as giving me better headphones than the included earbuds. The Cosmos setup is similar to the VIVE with a DAS with each ear cup having a good amount of adjustability in positioning. I didn’t have issues of them popping off my ear, but I did read other people have this issue. For me, when I was turning my head quickly and moving around, both ear pieces stayed on my ears without any issues.
Sound quality-wise, I didn’t notice them being any better or worse than the headphones on the Deluxe Audio Strap. They did a more than adequate job with solid highs but soft lows. Thankfully, you can easily remove them and use your own set of headphones should you desire. For me, I liked the all-in-one solution and used the included headphones when playing with the Cosmos Elite.
There’s an included microphone so you can talk with friends and, quality-wise, I’d say it’s about the same as the original VIVE, meaning it’s adequate for communication purposes. I wouldn’t do long bits of talking on a stream with it. But for talking with friends in game, it works fine.
Having VIVE wands feels like a little step backwards. They still work great and are a battle-tested VR peripheral, but having used the Index controllers and even the Windows Mixed Reality ones, I’m in the camp of controllers of those designs. It’s too bad HTC couldn’t create Cosmos controllers that utilize Lighthouse tracking as I think those would’ve been a better option than VIVE wands. But alas, the older controllers are bundled with the setup. While I have a lot of experience with them, I tested the HTC VIVE Cosmos Elite paired up with Valve Index controllers and set aside the included VIVE wands.
Pairing the Valve Index Controllers with the Cosmos Elite was a breeze. I just did a pairing of the controllers once SteamVR loaded and I was off to the races. Yes, if you have another headset using the controllers they will be unpaired from them as the controllers don’t support dual pairing. But, it was pretty easy to get going with them, and they were a much improved experience over the VIVE wands. Everything worked flawlessly. Since the Cosmos Elite used the Lighthouses as the tracking system, it was the best tracking experience when it came to controllers and headset. Controller occlusion problems were eliminated and I could put the controllers really close to my face without losing tracking.
Another decision I think HTC should have rethought about was the inclusion of 1.0 Lighthouses. Version 2.0 Lighthouses have less moving parts and, supposedly, they are less expensive to make, along with a having a wider sweeping area. But HTC decided to include the older technology here in the bundle. Maybe it was done to help with the cost a little, but it just seems to be a little backwards here. There are VIVE wands that can use 2.0 Lighthouses, as well as the included faceplate, so why not put them in the Elite bundle? In the end, the bundling of the older Lighthouses isn’t as impactful as the pairing of the older VIVE wands with this setup, but 2.0 Lighthouses would’ve been a better choice in my opinion.
Now, some folks will say that outside-in tracking is outdated and you have to do more setup to start playing. But once you put the Lighthouses in its place, you’re done. After that, as long as you change play spaces, you’re golden. I don’t think I’ve moved my Lighthouses in my gaming area in well over a year-and-a-half. Yes, you have to plug them into a wall socket for power, but to me it’s a small price to pay for great tracking. There are certain games where I want to have the Lighthouse tracking, like shooting pool, and I do like that the controllers are accurately tracked without having to have a camera on my HMD see them—so I’ll gladly spend the extra time to set up Lighthouses for the Cosmos Elite. For those who already have this in place (if you own a VIVE like I do), you don’t have to do anything else. Plugging in the Cosmos Elite and installing some software, the HMD saw the Lighthouses right off the bat. Easy peasy.
Here, though, is the beauty of the faceplate solution that the Cosmos Elite has. Should you want to go back to inside-out tracking, just swap them out. Unfortunately, HTC doesn’t include the original Cosmos faceplate with the Elite bundle, but the possibility is there once they sell the original faceplate. You’ll need the controllers that don’t depend on base stations so you’re going to be spending even more money to give you the flexibility of going either outside-in or inside-out. We’re talking an extra $200 to get Cosmos controllers so it does get a little expensive once you factor in all the extra costs. For some people who own the Cosmos previously and have a Lighthouse setup, that cost will be just $200 to get the external tracking faceplate. I would think most people will need to spend a bit more to get the option to use either tracking system if they want to do so.
HTC was kind enough to send me the Cosmos inside-out tracking faceplate and controllers to test and it was super simple to switch between the two. The software detects which faceplate is installed and you’ll see the proper icons in the SteamVR status window. Now, I won’t get into the tracking deficiencies of the inside-out controllers as this review is focusing on the Cosmos Elite, but for those who already own the Cosmos and want to jump up to the outside-in tracking, it’s a pretty seamless process.
My use case for having both, though, is probably a more edge case, as the area with my Lighthouses is away from where my flight and driving sim setup with seat, wheel, and HOTAS are. I can easily go from a room scale experience and top-notch tracking with the external tracking faceplate to my sit-down sim setup where I don’t need Lighthouse tracking by switching to the inside-out tracking faceplate. This shows the flexibility of the expandable nature with the Cosmos ecosystem and it’s one I do appreciate. I’m hoping we see more and more expansion options with the Cosmos and, for me, this is one of the selling points of this HMD.
I will say that I didn’t like the clips that hold the faceplates in place. They just don’t seem as solid as I would like it to be and I was always a little afraid I’d snap one off when I was taking the faceplate off. Putting them on seemed to be less of an issue. I just know that if one of the clips breaks, you’re going to have a loose faceplate to deal with. Valve uses magnets for the frunk and maybe they would’ve been better although the connection could be loose as I’ve seen frunks fly off the front in some people’s play throughs. But as I said, the clips have me worried a little about the durability of the faceplates being changed out.
Connecting to the PC consisted of plugging the proprietary cable into the converter where it splits into three connectors. While the previous VIVEs and Cosmos setups included a link box, the Cosmos Elite bundle packs in the converter cable which lets you plug the Cosmos Elite into your computer via a DisplayPort and USB. The Cosmos Elite needs an external power supply as well, so that’s the third of three connections the converter cable outputs to. You get a pretty long 5-meter cable that should give you plenty of cable to run it to where your play space is.
Does it work with the wireless accessory? You bet. I actually bought one for the original VIVE and, like the VIVE Pro, you’ll need an additional adapter if you already own one. HTC also sells a wireless kit with the adapter included for $350. Attaching the wireless adapter isn’t too hard, but I suggest following the videos on HTC's website as it makes it a lot easier to see how to do it rather than to try and follow the words and pictures in the instruction booklet. Being wireless is really a game changer and it was one thing I really missed when moving over to the Valve Index. So I’m really happy the Cosmos is capable of using the HTC Wireless Adapter without any problems. I was able to move around and not have to worry about being tangled up with the cord. Being tethered to your computer is OK, but once you go wireless it’s hard to go back. This is definitely a feature that I miss with other HMDs and the Cosmos Elite combined with the Wireless Adapter is a truly great VR experience. The Wireless Adapter works with either faceplate attached so you’re not limited to the tracking option if you want to use it.
My test setup consisted of:
32GB DDR4 memory
GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
And performance-wise, I didn’t notice any hiccups or problems wired and minor hiccups here and there every once in a while wirelessly. I did play through some long periods wirelessly without any issues so I can’t really pin down what could have caused some of it. In any case, I would say I spent the majority of the time without seeing any performance issues thanks to the Intel CPU and the incredible NVIDIA GPU provided by the very nice folks at NVIDIA.
Currently, the Cosmos Elite comes with six months of VIVEport Infinity and a free copy of Half-Life: Alyx. Which, if you’re going to attach a free game, there’s not much better you can do than Half-Life: Alyx.
Cost-wise, it comes close to other HMDs with similar or better features and that’s a tough sell. $899 nets you the entire setup, which is $100 less than an entire Valve Index—which has a better FOV, better screens in terms of refresh rates, better comfort, and better controllers along with 2.0 Lighthouses. Granted, they are on backorder as of this article’s release, but if both were readily available, it would be hard to recommend the Cosmos Elite over that.
It’s a lot better value than the VIVE Pro and I know HTC is positioning that HMD as a business product anyways. But out of those two, the Cosmos Elite is definitely the one to buy. I don’t have any experience with the Oculus line of products so I can’t comment on whether it would be better to purchase any of those HMDs over the Cosmos Elite.
Would I buy the Cosmos Elite over a Windows Mixed Reality headset like the Samsung Odyssey+? Well that all depends on your budget. I think the screen is definitely better than the Samsung Odyssey+ and the controller tracking is a lot better, thanks to the Lighthouses. That $500 price gap between the two is pretty big, though, and I don’t know if the performance gap warrants the price gap.
The HTC VIVE Cosmos Elite is a conundrum of a VR package. You get best-in-class tracking, but with older peripherals. You get a great screen but with a smaller sweet spot than others. The comfortability of the HMD is OK but not as comfortable as others. What it does have that others don’t is faceplate expansion options that can change the functionality of the HMD to suit your needs, but at a price. Wireless option is one feature that only a select few HMDs have access to, with the Cosmos Elite being one of them. At its price point, it’s certainly a solid option right now considering the landscape, with availability making it the one to purchase when spending a lot to have the best VR experience. That will be something that changes, though, once the Valve Index, for example, becomes more available. I will be keeping an eye out to see what HTC does to keep improving on the Cosmos and hope they have a lot more coming down the pipe in making the Cosmos line even better.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.
I'm married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.