The HTC Vive Cosmos VR headset has been around for some time. When we reviewed it back in October 2019 we discussed how the modular faceplate design meant we'd see some interesting upgrades in the future. Which is exactly where the Elite model comes in.

The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is a version of the standard Cosmos headset, which comes with an External Tracking Faceplate. But what exactly does that mean for existing Vive users thinking to upgrade, or newcomers looking to get into virtual reality?

We've been getting lost in virtual worlds for a couple of weeks to investigate.

Which Vive Cosmos Elite package should I buy?

There are a few purchase options here: you can either buy this faceplate as an optional upgrade to your existing Vive Cosmos; as a complete package that includes the headset, faceplate, tracking base stations and two standard Vive controllers; or the headset on its own.

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The third option is what HTC suggests owners of the original HTC Vive should do. If you've already got the base stations and the controllers, then you can replace your aging headset with the newer, shinier and more feature-rich Vive Cosmos Elite without needing all the extra bits and pieces. 

Essentially, the Elite takes the Vive Cosmos and makes it compatible with the original Vive base stations. This doesn't sound terribly exciting on paper, however, since our main gripe with the Vive Cosmos is issues with tracking, it might be the better option and certainly an interesting choice for Vive fans. 

Is the Vive Cosmos Elite the best VR headset?

  • Flip-up visor similar to WMR headsets
  • Dual 3.4-inch LCD diagonal screen
    • 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye
    • 2880 x 1700 pixels overall
    • 110-degree field of view
    • 90Hz refresh rate
  • Built-in stereo headphones
    • 3D spatial sound
    • Integrated mics
  • Manually adjustable IPD wheel

Spec-wise, the Vive Cosmos Elite is a nice upgrade from the original Vive and even a decent step up from the HTC Vive Pro as well.

For starters, the original HTC Vive sports visuals of 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye (2160 x 1200 overall), while the Vive Cosmos Elite manages 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye (2880 x 1700 pixels overall). That alone is quite a visual upgrade for VR fans. 

The other improvements come in the form of comfort and convenience. This headset has a design that's similar to the HTC Vive Pro but with a few accessibility and comfort enhancements. 

The result is a headset that sports a sturdy headband with an easy size adjustment wheel and an ultra-convenient flip-up visor - which means you don't need to take it off when you need to see the real world. 

As standard, the Vive Cosmos boasts a number of cameras that are designed to help with the inside-out tracking. These can also be used for a passthrough view to help you see the world around you too.

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Decent padding and good balancing also mean the Elite is easy to wear and comfortable to game with for quite some time before you need to take it off.

Flip-up integrated headphones also help keep things cool and remove the need for extra wires from a separate pair of headphones or a gaming headset. 

Does the Vive Cosmos Elite improve tracking?

  • Base station supported tracking
  • G-Sensor, gyroscope, IPD sensor, Hall sensor

We had complaints with the standard version related to the inside-out tracking just not performing as it should in certain circumstances. If the room is too bright or too dark or too plain and feature-free, the cameras would have trouble differentiating the controllers from the surroundings and the result was frustratingly inaccurate hand tracking. The Cosmos Elite eliminates this problem by using the External Tracking Faceplate, making the headset compatible with Vive Base Stations.

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That's great. But the downside of this is you need space to setup these trackers. The base stations need to be positioned in opposite corners of a room and above head height. Mounts are included, so you can install in the room, pop them on a tripod, or carefully balance them on a bookshelf. They plug into the mains (a plug for each) and need a good view of the headset/playspace to work properly. 

Then you need to plug the headset into your PC or gaming laptop using the Display Port connection and USB cable that plug into the link box - which also needs a power supply. You get the picture: you need a number of plug sockets available.

All of this will be familiar to current VR users, but it's worth noting that the Vive Cosmos doesn't support HDMI, so you need to ensure you have a Display Port output on your gaming machine. The full kit includes a Display Port to Mini Display Port adapter in the box, so that's an option too. 

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The Vive Cosmos Elite ditches the LED ringed controllers in favour of the classic wireless Vive controllers. That's no bad thing in our book as they offer better battery life, more accurate tracking, and a comfortable fit in the hand.

One downside we found was everything needed to be plugged in via Micro-USB to allow firmware updates. That's a massive fuss - but not one you'll have regularly. It is odd though, considering the convenience of the standard Vive Cosmos where the controllers could be updated over the air. 

HTC Vive Cosmos Elite: What are the spec requirements?

The recommended specs for the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite headset are:

  • PC/laptop running Windows 10 or greater
  • Graphics Card: Nvidia GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater
  • CPU: Intel i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 or greater
  • Memory: 8GB of RAM
  • Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2
  • USB Port: 1x USB 3.0 Port

If you're not too sure about whether your machine can handle these requirements, you can run a test here

Gaming goodness

  • Wireless adapter available as extra purchase

As you might have gathered, we're rather impressed with the Vive Cosmos Elite. The tracking improvements it offers over the standard version make it a joy when gaming. Improvements have been made to reduce screen door effects and other visual issues too. It's an ideal bit of kit to play something like Half-Life: Alyx.

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We replayed a number of our favourite HTC Vive games to see how it stood up and are happy to report that the Cosmos Elite did them all justice. Great sound and stunning visuals abound, but most importantly - and we keep coming back to it - the tracking worked seamlessly and didn't leave us wanting. 

Does the Vive Cosmos Elite make sense?

Despite all these positive things, we are still left bemused by the setup of the Vive Cosmos Elite.

The non-Elite Cosmos was originally appealing for the same reasons as the Oculus Rift S: an inside-out tracking design means far less fuss setting up faff; you can plug into a laptop and use it in any room without worrying about tracking base stations. But the tracking just wasn't 100 per cent on point.

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While the Comos Elite certainly fixes those tracking issues, it does so by almost taking a step backward - because it requires use of the base stations again.

Yes, the Cosmos Elite is technically superior to the Rift S - a slightly higher pixel count and higher refresh rate make it a better device - but we have a lot of good things to say about the Rift S, which is also substantially cheaper too. 

Verdict

The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite eliminates the tracking quibbles we had about the standard version of this headset. That makes for a cracking bit of VR kit, with great design features, impressive spec and comfort.

So far, so good. But to harness this greater tracking you'll need to setup base stations - which the non-Elite version doesn't need. Furthermore this headset isn't cheap - indeed, it'll set you back more cash than the original Vive did when that first launched. Which is a bit nuts. 

For owners of the original Vive headset, a standalone Elite headset is a sensible option you can integrate into your current setup for improved comfort, visuals and more. That in itself makes it well worth it. But if you were hoping to be free of base stations and wires then this model doesn't eliminate those foibles.

As virtual reality headsets go, the Elite earns its name for visual fidelity and comfort. It's great for in-depth VR sessions.

Also consider

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Oculus Rift S

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You could always save yourself some money and grab an Oculus Rift S instead. It's built with inside-out tracking, making it much more convenient to setup and use. It might not have the same specs in terms of visual fidelity, but then it is much cheaper.

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Oculus Quest

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The Oculus Quest has the advantage over other VR headsets in that it's standalone and doesn't require a gaming PC in order to run. It's also surprisingly capable considering that fact and cross-compatible with the Oculus Rift S games in many instances.