Skip to main content

HTC Vive Cosmos review

A transforming VR headset that fit any space and any game

(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The HTC Vive Cosmos can evolve to match the needs of your virtual reality game collection. It’s nice that the Cosmos’ unique modular design allows you to invest less upfront and upgrade as you go, but it isn’t better than the Valve Index.

For

  • High resolution LCD screen
  • Free Viveport Infinity

Against

  • Has tracking issues
  • Controllers are bulky

TechRadar Verdict

The HTC Vive Cosmos can evolve to match the needs of your virtual reality game collection. It’s nice that the Cosmos’ unique modular design allows you to invest less upfront and upgrade as you go, but it isn’t better than the Valve Index.

Pros

  • + High resolution LCD screen
  • + Free Viveport Infinity

Cons

  • - Has tracking issues
  • - Controllers are bulky

When it was released late last year, the HTC Vive Cosmos was in a sorry state. Setting up the VR headset on your PC was tedious and haphazard, and it sometimes outright failed the basic setup process. But even worse, its state-of-the-art inside-out controller tracking that used six cameras on the front plate was… ineffective at best. 

In short, the Vive Cosmos wasn’t a headset we could wear for very long, let alone recommend to anyone. 

After months of software and firmware updates, the Vive Cosmos is a far better headset. It still can’t quite compete with the likes of the Valve Index, but it can competently stand up to the Oculus Rift S

That’s because, unlike the Oculus Rift S, the Cosmos is the only modular headset on the market: it can transform from a basic four camera inside-out tracking headset (Vive Cosmos Play), to a six-camera headset (Vive Cosmos), to a full outside-in headset with base stations (Vive Cosmos Elite), all by switching out the front faceplate. In fact, besides the tracking styles, the headset has the exact same design and specs, which is why we're reviewing them together.

The bad news? The faceplates cost extra – and buying them all will cost you more than if you had bought a single multi-purpose headset right off the bat. 

With that in mind, the worth of the Vive Cosmos all comes down to what you’re willing to spend up front – on the headset, faceplates and games – and how much more you’re willing to spend further down the road.

Price and release date  

The HTC Vive Cosmos is available now to buy in its base package that includes a six-camera tracking faceplate for AED 3,299. 

(Image credit: Future)

Design

Whichever version of the Vive Cosmos you buy – whether that’s the Vive Cosmos Play, Cosmos or Cosmos Elite – the display and the headband that holds the display are the same, so don’t feel like you’re missing out on extra pixels, higher field-of-view or a better refresh rate by buying a cheaper version. 

All of the Cosmos family sports a 3.4-inch 2880 x 1700 resolution LCD display that has a refresh rate of 90Hz, and offers a 1440 x 1700 image per eye. That resolution is higher than both the Valve Index (2880 x 1600) and higher than the Oculus Rift S (2560 x 1440), which means you really don’t notice the screen door effect at all. 

The downside to the design, however, is that the lenses can’t be moved forward and back like they can with the Valve Index – meaning that the 110-degree field of view doesn’t exactly fill your whole visual area. If you shift your eyes left or right, you’ll see black edges to the picture, which isn't great for immersion. However, there’s almost no light leakage around the nose, so it’s not all bad.

(Image credit: Future)

As for the design of the headband itself, HTC decided to use a traditional halo design with a top velcro strap, and a wheel at the back back that tightens and loosens the headset. The result is a very front-heavy headset that puts most of the pressure on your forehead, and can feel slightly unwieldy at times, even if it stays in place. 

All the HMDs in the Vive Cosmos family can be lifted up to see the world around you without having to take the whole headset off – which is great if you're someone who occasionally wants to use the computer in between VR games

Similarly, the headset’s two front-facing cameras feature a passthrough mode that can be accessed by pressing the Vive button twice in any game or app, but if you’re feeling sick or want to see what's happening around you in the real world without taking off the headset, it’s handy to just flip the visor up.

The last part of the design worth covering is the set of connectors that run from the included connector box to your PC – though remember that Vive Cosmos has to be tethered to your PC, unless you buy a Vive Wireless Adapter (not included). On your PC you’ll need an open USB 3.0 port, plus a display port for the headset. The connector box also needs its own power source, so make sure you have extra outlets or a power strip handy.

(Image credit: Future)

HTC Vive Cosmos Controllers 

Usually there’s not much to say about controllers, but the Vive Cosmos is a bit different in that this is the first time HTC has made use of the inside-out tracking kind.

Compared to the original all-black Vive Controllers, the Vive Cosmos Controller has a light up ring that encircles the face buttons and give the front of the controller a bit of heft. The aforementioned buttons include the standard ABXY buttons from an Xbox One gamepad, but also two concave control sticks, a grip button and both a bumper and a trigger. It’s probably the most complicated controller we’ve yet to see in VR – at least in terms of total buttons – and that can make it tricky to handle.

(Image credit: Future)

Not only are these controllers unwieldy because of their size, but they don’t do five-finger tracking the way the Valve Index can with its Knuckle Controller. The Cosmos comes close (four fingers if you include your thumb, pointer, index and ring finger) but the end result isn’t as comfortable nor as intuitive as the Valve Index.

To power the controllers you’ll need four (four!) AA batteries, with two for each controller, but the Cosmos seems to optimize the amount of battery life it gets from its power source, and seems to last a few weeks without needing new ones. 

(Image credit: Future)

HTC Vive Cosmos performance

When you talk about performance with the HTC Vive Cosmos, you now need to specify which faceplate you’re using – a quirk that no other headset has, for both better and worse. The beauty of having multiple faceplates is that you can swap them out when a game requires more precise tracking, or if you want to move your setup to another room without having to move the base stations with it.

To start, let’s talk about what the Cosmos experience is like with the six-camera inside-out tracking faceplate. This is the one you get with the headset if you buy the base package, and the one you’ll probably see most often in stores and online. With the six-camera tracking faceplate, the Vive Cosmos is a fine, base-tracking-free experience. It’s one you make work in almost any room that has enough light without having to hang tracking units on your wall. 

If you’d expect it to be less-than-flawless given the placement of the cameras, however, you’d be right – HTC is clearly using predictive algorithms to take its best guess at where your hands are should they leave the camera’s field of view, but those guesses aren’t always great. It’s inaccurate any time your hands go too far to your sides or behind your back, and there’s a rubber banding effect that happens when your controllers re-enter the field of view, making it hard to play games where constant tracking is crucial. When you're playing sports games like VR Baseball, you don’t really want the controller to suddenly disappear then reappear after the ball has already slid past home plate.

(Image credit: Valve/Steam)

Where the less precise tracking does work, however, is with games that require your hands to be in front of you at almost all times. Space Pirate Trainer, one of the original hits of HTC Vive, plays absolutely fine on the Cosmos with inside-out tracking, as does Beat Saber. That’s because, while your hand might occasionally drift outside the camera’s field-of-view in these games, they don’t require pixel-perfect tracking for you to be successful.

So how do the games look? Well, they’re pretty sharp on the 3K screen. There’s limited screen door effect – though it’s there if you look for it – and at 90Hz, it’s fairly comfortable to play for long periods at a time. That said, how the games perform in terms of latency, ultimately, will depend on which graphics card you’re using. 

In terms of recommended specs, HTC suggests using an Nvidia GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater GPU, Intel i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 or greater CPU and at least 8GB of memory. It’s possible to get it working with less – we’ve had it running without issue on a GTX 980 – but you should try to stay within the recommended specs if possible.

(Image credit: Future)

Viveport subscription

Most of the testing we did for this review was done through Steam and Steam VR, one of the biggest platforms for VR games and games in general that you'll use with both HTC's headsets and the Valve Index. That said, the Vive Cosmos also comes with a free six-month subscription to Viveport Infinity, HTC’s curated app store that allows you to download an unlimited number of games and apps per month. 

Viveport Infinity is both the name of the service and storefront which you'll pick out games and apps to download for a monthly fee of AED 52 per month.

While it has over 900 games and apps to choose from, including some big names, unfortunately Viveport doesn’t have every major release on there.

Instead, games on Viveport Infinity range from some of the first big-budget VR games like Creed: Rise to Glory as well as a few newer hits like Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted and Fruit Ninja VR from Halfbrick Studios and other indie developers. The collection is pretty broad, and the unlimited buffet of games makes paying for Infinity once the trial runs out pretty tempting. 

If you’re not into games as much, Viveport also has educational apps, creative apps and productivity apps, too – so it feels like there's something for everyone. It’s a rich, expanding ecosystem and, for dedicated VR enthusiasts, it offers a lot of content.

Final verdict

The benefit of the Cosmos is its ability to start as an entry-level headset – one that you can pick up without destroying your bank account – and evolve over time to a headset that rivals the best on the market. Pair that with HTC’s Viveport subscription service and you can expect an ever-changing library of fun new titles to try on a headset that truly looks great despite some field-of-view limitations.

That’s more or less the story of the Cosmos at this time and at this price point – it’s a decent portal into virtual reality, but one that comes with a few caveats. Its hand-tracking ability isn’t perfect and its setup process can be hit-or-miss. Some games work without a hitch, while others can break down without pixel-perfect tracking. While other inside-out tracking headsets – like the completely untethered Oculus Quest – face similar problems and have a worse resolution, they’re cheaper, less bulky and can be taken with you anywhere.

If you love the idea of Viveport and don't mind some tracking issues, the Cosmos will work for you. Otherwise there are better headsets for more money out there, and one or two available for a bit less.

Nick Rego

A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys reviewing PC components, 3D Printers, projectors, and anything shiny and expensive. He can also be found baking up a storm in the kitchen, which we are more than happy to encourage.