HTC Vive: A Look At HTC's Virtual Reality Product Line

Comparing all HTC Vive models from the Vive Pre to Vive Cosmos

Vive is HTC's virtual reality (VR) product line that makes use of a head-mounted display (HMD), position-tracking base stations, and special controllers to provide a PC-based VR experience. HTC has released several versions of its light-weight Vive headset from the original Vive Pre to the newer Vive Cosmos series.

What Is HTC Vive?

Based on SteamVR, Vive was developed by HTC in cooperation with Valve. Valve created SteamVR and has also worked with LG to produce a competing VR headset. HTC Vive's main competitor, Oculus Rift, is not based on SteamVR.

Vive consists of three main components: a head-mounted display, controllers, and sensors (called lighthouses). In addition to these three components, the Vive also requires a VR-ready gaming PC. Without a PC that meets the minimum specifications for Vive, the VR doesn't work.

How Does HTC Vive Work?

When you connect the Vive HMD to a compatible computer and strap it to your head, it uses two displays and Fresnel lenses to present a slightly different image to each eye. The displays can be moved closer together (or further apart) to match the specific distance between the user's eyes. This creates a three-dimensional effect that can, when combined with head tracking, make it appear like you're in a virtual space.

In order to accomplish head tracking, the Vive uses little cubes called lighthouses. These lighthouses send out invisible beams of light that are detected by sensors on the HMD and controllers, which allows games to simulate hand movements inside the virtual space. This can be accomplished by simply placing the sensors on a desk in front of you, but if you put them further away, you can make use of a feature known as "roomscale."

Blue Vive Pro VR headset
HTC Corporation

What Is Roomscale VR?

HTC Vive was the first system to implement roomscale VR, but competitors like Oculus have caught up. By placing sensors in the corners of a room, you can physically move around inside a virtual world. When you walk in real life, you also move inside the game.

What Are Vive Controllers and Trackers?

Vive controllers are devices that you hold in your hands to interact with games and other VR experiences. The same sensors responsible for head tracking are also capable of tracking the controllers, which makes it possible to move your hands inside the virtual space. Some games even allow you to make fists, point your finger, and even pick things up with virtual hands.

Trackers are similar to controllers, but they're designed to be placed on objects or body parts other than your hands. For instance, if you strap trackers to your legs, Vive can track the position of your legs inside a game. If you put a tracker on a physical object, it can feel like you're really handling an object inside a game.

HTC Vive's Wireless VR

Vive uses a combination HDMI/USB cable that powers the unit, transmits data, and provides a picture to the screens inside the head unit. A wireless adapter was announced alongside the Vive Pro, but it doesn't require the Vive Pro to work. That means owners of the original HTC Vive can also go wireless with the same adapter.

HTC Vive Pre: The VR Prototype

HTC Vive Pre
HTC Corporation

Manufacturer: HTC
Resolution: 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per display)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Nominal field of view: 110 degrees
Weight: 555 grams
Platform: SteamVR
Camera: Yes, a single front-facing camera
Manufacturing status: No longer being made. The Vive Pre was available from August 2015 until April 2016.

The HTC Vive Pre was the first iteration of the Vive hardware, and it was released about eight months before the official launch of the consumer version. It was intended for use by developers to get a head start on creating games, so it is nearly identical to the HTC Vive in terms of specifications.

The resolution, refresh rate, field of view, and other important stats are all exactly the same when you compare the Vive to the Vive Pre. There are some cosmetic differences, but they don't affect the operation of the unit.

HTC Vive: The Original VR Headset

HTC Vive
HTC Corporation

Manufacturer: HTC
Resolution: 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per display)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Nominal field of view: 110 degrees
Weight: 470 grams (555 grams for launch units)
Platform: SteamVR
Camera: Yes, singe front-facing camera
Manufacturing status: No longer being made. The Vive was available from April 2016 until September 2019.

The Vive was HTC's first VR headset that was sold directly to the public. When it launched in 2016, the Vive headset weighed in at 555 grams, but refinements in the design resulted in a slightly lighter version by April 2017. Other minor changes were also made to the Vive over its lifespan, including redesigned head strap components, redesigned tracking units, and a redesigned three-in-one cable.

It can be difficult to tell which version of the original Vive you're looking at, because HTC did not change the name of the product or even announce the tweaks. However, if you have access to the box that a Vive came in, you can look for a version sticker on the back. If it says "Rev.D," then it's one of the lighter units. If the label on the head unit says it was manufactured on or after December 2016, then it is also probably the lighter version.

HTC Vive Pro Series: The First Upgrade

HTC Vive Pro
HTC Corporation

Manufacturer: HTC
Resolution: 2880x1600 (1440x1600 per display)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Nominal field of view: 110 degrees

Weight: 803 grams
Platform: SteamVR
Camera: Yes, dual front-facing cameras
Manufacturing status: The original Vive Pro model was discontinued and superseded by the Vive Pro Eye in 2020.

Although the original Vive did receive small tweaks over the course of its life, the basic hardware stayed the same. The Vive Pro was the first official update to HTC's VR product line. The most noticeable upgrade is the display, which saw a large increase in pixel density.

One of the biggest complaints about VR is the screen door effect, which is the result of placing a display so close to your eyes that you can make out the individual pixels. The screen door effect was still an issue with the original HTC Vive, but the Vive Pro's 2880x1600 display eliminates the effect altogether.

The Vive Pro is compatible with the original Vive base stations and controllers. It also features a redesigned head strap to reduce neck strain, better built-in headphones, and dual front-facing cameras to improve augmented reality experiences. An enhanced version called the Vive Pro Eye includes eye-tracking technology as well.

Vive Focus: The All-in-One VR Headset

Vive Focus Plus headset

 HTC

Manufacturer: HTC
Resolution: 2880x1600 (1440x1600 per display)
Refresh rate: 75 Hz
Nominal field of view: 110 degrees
Weight: 695 grams
Platform: SteamVR
Camera: Yes, dual front-facing cameras
Manufacturing status: The original Vive Focus model was discontinued and superseded by the Vive Focus Plus in 2020.

The Vive Focus is a standalone VR system that doesn't require a computer to use. It includes a built-in microphone and speakers, but it also has an audio jack in case you want to use an external audio source.

Thanks to dual front cameras and ultrasonic controllers, the newer Vive Focus Plus supports six degrees of freedom without requiring external sensors or lighthouses, allowing for deeper immersion. It also features a removable face cushion that is easy to clean.

HTC Vive Cosmos: The Top Shelf of VR

Vive Cosmos headset

HTC

Manufacturer: HTC
Resolution: 2880x1700 (1440x1700 per display)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Nominal field of view: 110 degrees
Weight: 998 grams
Platform: SteamVR
Camera: Yes, dual front-facing cameras
Manufacturing status: All models are still in production in 2020.

HTC's latest VR product is the Vive Cosmos series. In addition to enhanced tracking, a superior display, and built-in headphones, the Cosmos features a flip-up screen that lets you see the real world in front of you without removing the headset.

Vive Cosmos comes in several variations. For example, the Vive Cosmos Play costs less than the standard Cosmos, but it lacks front cameras and built-in headphones. The Vive Cosmos XR is a standalone model like the Vive Focus. The Vive Cosmos Elite supports SteamVR 2.0 and comes with two controllers and base stations.