Hardware Spotlight: The HTC Vive Cosmos looks like another Missed Opportunity
At VR Game Rankings, our focus has always been on games and experiences. We don't really bother with the hardware too much. Having said that, the launch of the HTC Vive Cosmos has definitely raised eyebrows around our offices. Unfortunately, we don't have our own Vive Cosmos to run through tests, but the rest of the internet has been more than happy to oblige. The results are clear and disturbing. This product should have stayed in the oven a lot longer. It simply doesn't appear ready for prime time.
The list of problems for the new headset is much longer than I could have ever imagined, but even worse, it seems to have some critical flaws that would have sent most manufacturers back to the drawing board. The most egregious issue is the ridiculously short battery life. It's being jokingly referred to as "BatteryGate" among VR enthusiasts. Not only does each Vive Cosmos controller require two double AA batteries, but these batteries will only give you two to three hours of playtime. No, that isn't a misprint. Two to Three hours! It's almost laughable that a major corporation would think something like this is actually acceptable for a consumer oriented product. HTC could double the length of battery life to 4 to 6 hours, and while slightly less appalling, it would still be unacceptable. Adding insult to injury of course is the fact that you're not just reaching for a single AA battery. You're reaching for two of them. A total of 4 batteries every time both your controllers die.
A problem as huge at BatteryGate would be enough to kill most products dead, but wait, there's more!. Much, much more... The second biggest Cosmos complication is the fact that you need to use the system in an extremely well lit room. It's understandable that the Cosmos' inside/out tracking wouldn't work very well in a dark environment, as the system needs to recognize where the floor, ceiling and major walls are to know it's relative positioning. Ambient lighting requirements is one thing, but it's the amount of lighting that's making testers wonder if they actually received defective units. It seems as though you'd need the lighting of an extremely bright art gallery to ensure it's successful operation. Again, one wonders how something like this could've ever make it out of internal testing. You can't expect every consumer to have lighting that absolutely floods every inch of their environment with illumination. Nor, would you expect many consumers to want to play VR in such a bright space as light leakage is a real immersion breaker.
YouTuber Nathie tests the Vive Cosmos in an extremely bright environment
Mishaps as big as the battery and lighting problems would be enough to give most consumers pause, but we're just getting warmed up. Even if you're playing on the surface of the sun, with brand new batteries, you could still discover that the inside/out tracking isn't as solid or dependable as industry competitors. Testers are reporting that the tracking is losing their controllers in the heat of battle, as well as glitching out momentarily on a much too frequent basis. It may have been naive of us to expect that HTC would nail inside/out tracking in these early days of the technology, but we do it expect it to be adequate, and hopefully up to Windows Mixed-Reality standards. According to early reports, it seems to be below that relatively low bar. The good news of course, is that assuming it's not a fault of the cameras, this is something that may be improved by leaps and bounds via software updates. Still, it's not comforting that HTC would deem the tracking acceptable enough to ship.
Other nit-picks being talked about include a tiny sweet-spot, as well as a limited FOV due to the much ballyhooed flip-up feature. While the flip-up option is something that many VR enthusiasts are pleased about, it would have been nice for HTC to include a sliding mechanism that would still allow you to get the lenses closer to your eyes. Sony's PlayStation VR headset has a button you depress which allows you to slide the HMD closer to your eyes for a better FOV and reduced light-leakage. One upshot of having the lenses farther away means more room for glasses, but it's a trade-off many gamers are a bit bummed about. The tiny sweet spot being reported could be even more irritating in daily use. Especially when trying to show the headset to friends or family. VR veterans probably won't have too much trouble fiddling with the headset to get that perfect view, but handing it to someone unfamiliar, could result in struggles with blurry visuals that totally defeat the purpose.
So, with all of this overbearing negativity, there has to be a few bright spots right? Well, the biggest advantage the Cosmos is bringing to the table is increased resolution. The Cosmos features 2880 x 1700 combined resolution which takes it a tiny notch higher than the Rift S, Oculus Quest, Valve Index or any previously released Vive product. The increase in resolution is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but compared to the Valve Index, it's perceived resolution get's quite a bump due to the smaller FOV. The effective PPD or "Pixels Per Degree" is one of the highest we've seen outside of the HP Reverb. Reviewers are reporting that this resolution bump is a welcome feature and probably the system's chief highlight. Another bright spot is comfort. Many testers have mentioned that the Vive Cosmos is the most comfortable Vive headset they've ever tried. The Oculus Rift S and Valve Index are also seen as quite comfortable, and it appears that the Cosmos is on an equal footing in that regard.
Longtime HTC fans that stumble upon this article may think we have it in for HTC, and that we're taking great pleasure in reporting on this train-wreck of a product launch. The truth is, this is actually a very unfortunate turn of events that isn't helping the VR gaming industry. We'd love nothing more than for Facebook/Oculus to have much more serious competitors in the PC-VR space. Competition is absolutely mandatory in an industry like this, to keep all the players focused and on their toes. Luckily, we have a behemoth like Valve competing against Oculus in the high-end segment, but HTC could have put some pressure on at the lower end. Sadly, the pricing and positioning of the Cosmos is another sore spot. Cosmos seems to be positioned in a relative "No Man's Land", compared to Valve Index and Rift S. Rift S is the clubhouse leader on the low end at the $399 price point. The Valve Index is the clubhouse leader on the high end at $999 for the complete bundle. The Cosmos at $699 is too expensive to compete with the Rift S, while not a big enough savings over the Valve Index. The smart play seems to be save a whole bunch of money and buy a Rift S, or find another $300 in the sofa cushions and spring for the Index. It's a bad spot for HTC to find itself in.