HTC Has just officially announced its brand new portable Vive Flow immersive glasses and we’ve already had an opportunity to try on the HTC Vive Flow, with mixed results.
HTC’s newest entry into the VR space might be causing something of a stir as it explodes into its own immersive niche, but we’ve had hands on with the Vive Flow and there’s plenty to say about this unique set of specs. For those that haven’t had a chance to check out the new announcement, the HTC Vive Flow, this new announcement from HTC isn’t anything like you’ve seen before. Sidestepping the traditional fixed headset, the Vive Flow packs up the VR experience and crams it into a mobile set of glasses that brings VR to wherever you are, while weighing less than half the total weight of the wireless Oculus Quest 2.
An All Rounder
First off, let’s be clear. The Vive Flow certainly isn’t designed to be a competitor to Facebook’s wireless headset. First off, the Vive isn’t wireless. Instead, this small form factor packs all the electronics and processing into a diminutive package and will take USB-C power from wherever it can, even a decent sized smartphone. Aside from the obvious difference in form, the Vive Flow is much more of a lifestyle system than gaming focused alternatives. Content that we tried out indued some sit down VR games, social spaces, and content consumption. Just like the current Vive ecosystem, you’ll be able to get a raft of these games and other experiences through a dedicated subscription model that, as you’ll see from the store, is as much about finding your headspace as it is about blasting away aliens.
Unlike the alternative, and whether you’re stuck on a train or sitting at home, these glasses are a dam sight less conspicuous than anything we’re seen before. They look a lot more like a set of AR glasses with a much more immersive experience. The aviator style shape and back lenses hide a ton of hardware underneath without feeling like they are too outlandish to be worn in front of other people. A pair of gaming headphones are just as likely to get you a sideways glance on the tube as the Vive Flow. Looking more fashionable than Googles Glass or the upcoming Mi AR hardware, the Vive Flow clamps onto the head and is generally very comfortable. Initial expectations are that that immersive glasses are going to be front heavy, but the combination of HTC’s custom leg hinge, which should let the Flow fit most faces, and a decision to offload the battery to any external source means that the Vive Flow comes in at just 189 grams and doesn’t really put any pressure on its owner’s ears or nose. This is also helped by a breathable magnetic face gasket, clearly inspired by the Flow’s bigger brethren, which allows some active cooling to keep things chilly behind the lenses.
With most VR platforms, what you see is what you get when it comes to lenses, but HTC has really taken the portability step further with the Flow. Each of the eyeholes comes fitted with built-in diopter dials, allowing users to easily make adjustments for crystal clear visuals up to and around a variance of 6.0. Essentially long and short sighted owners can, to an extent, eliminate the need for glasses simply by twisting each of the independent lenses to match your requirements. That said, anybody with anything more complex will still need glasses to see what’s going on. While that isn’t too much of an issue for bigger headsets, the Flow doesn’t always have a great deal of room to spare, making things a little cramped with my glasses on. More troubling was when the Flow repeatedly had trouble registering that I was in fact a person when the internal proximity sensor found my glasses instead of my face. These aren’t game breakers but things that you’ll need to be aware of if you, like me, had the indignity of eyepatches in your youth. No, no it’s not as cool as it sounds.
No Lights No Music
While the Vive Flow only contains a diminutive backup battery, good for a few minutes of action, the main power source for the Vive Flow will come from your laptop, flagship phone, battery pack, or even wall outlet. The USB-C power cable trails out the back right leg and is decidedly less intrusive than anything required to carry Display Port video. Offloading the battery, as we described, keeps the weight down but does mean that you’ll be best placed to pair this device with a beefy smartphone since you’re going to need one anyway. The Vive Flow connects to smartphones as more than just a potential power source. The Flow contents over wifi and Bluetooth, assuming you have 5Ghz wifi, and allows your phone to act as the device controller. There was some intimation that we might see hand tracking but I really wouldn’t count on it. Controller pairing, even when in a room with a dozen other devices was seamless across Android, and will likely be the same on iOS. Connectivity didn’t drop once during this time with no interference from other Flows in use either. Once activated, by touching either side of the paired phone screen, a combination of swiping and pointing the phone is used to navigate experiences. For simple gaming that can mean tapping or swiping the phone screen to slice through challenges or fire a cannon. For more nuanced puzzles, relying on a phone gyroscope rather than a dedicated handheld system can be tricky, and at times rather lacks nuance.
Where the Vive Flow really steals a lead on the competition is when it drops the gaming pretence and turns to media consumption. Lo Fi workspaces, like an interactive VR cafe, and media consumption can easily transform a busy front room or a museum hall into an entirely different world. The 3.2k resolution and 75Hz refresh rate gives a fantastically immersive e experience, as you’d expect from HTC, and the 100 degree field of view is more than enough when you’re not trying to dodge an incoming bomber coming out of left field. Watching movies from compatible high definition streaming services, assuming your Android phone is HDCP 2.2 compatible, is a dream. It’s not quite like having your own IMAX but it’s a close second and there’s no more worrying about disturbing the rest of the room or adding spoilers with a pair of Bluetooth earphones. If you do choose to go without earphones, then the Flow’s bundled speakers are a real surprise. At first glance, this looks like a pair of downward facing cans that might not do much more than create an ambiance. Instead, they have real presence and a surprisingly broad sound stage for something so small. While I found myself keeping them turned up they never failed to push through the background noise of other external conversations without much noise leakage.
Like much of the Vive Flow, the speakers are a compromise between weight and performance. This incredibly comfortable new headset has its sights firmly set on an area of the market that nobody has really conquered yet. While the Vive Flow will let you find your way through Farcry on Stadia or walk through Night City via Geforce Now, the Flow is not just about gaming. Instead, this immersive platform is designed to be all things on the go and it does it at a pretty attractive price. It isn’t going to stack up against dedicated hardwired headsets or heavily subsidised wireless devices. This is a mobile first offering and as such, unlike anything we’ve experienced before. While plenty of people are going to compare this to the Quest 2, that is an £800 headset subsidized by your data to bring it down in price, linked to Facebook, and it’s only been a week since that platform went sideways and took Oculus with it.
In the end, the Vive Flow is a fantastic visual and audio experience in a diminutive package. It’s a great way to take VR on the go, with a few caveats and I cannot wait to boot up a game streaming service using the biggest small screen I could hope to have in my pocket. For anybody interested in the HTC Vive Flow you can already get a pre order in and HTC plans to bring a new lower priced subscription plan to the Vive storefront soon. Check out more about the Vive Flow over on the official website now.