HTC unveiled its new Vive Flow consumer headset Thursday morning, positioning it as a device for meditation, downtime and mental well-being. The headset is priced $499, and can be preordered starting Thursday; it will begin shipping in November.
The Vive Flow is powered by a Qualcomm XR 1 processor, which is less powerful than the chip used by Facebook's $300 Oculus Quest 2. It ships without physical controllers, instead allowing people to use their phone to navigate VR experiences. The headset does offer 6 degrees of freedom, making it possible to "lean into" VR experiences, but there's no support for hand tracking.
The Vive Flow may be less powerful than the Quest 2, but HTC did add a few features missing from other VR headsets: The Flow's lenses can be adjusted for people who ordinarily need to wear glasses (although the Quest 2 offers an insert to help people who need glasses), and the integration of Miracast makes it possible to mirror phone-based media apps like Netflix and YouTube to the headset.
The Flow is also extremely light and portable, weighing just 189 grams. However, the latter comes with a significant trade-off: The integrated battery only provides enough power for a few minutes of use, after which the Flow has to be connected to an external battery pack.
Initial reactions among journalists who had been pre-briefed by HTC were mixed, with UploadVR praising the Flow as "by far the lightest and most comfortable VR headset" to date, while The Verge discounted it as "an experiment."
Moor Insights Principal Analyst Anshel Sag also expressed some doubts. "It's a headset with a very clear purpose, but not a great value prop when you see that more-capable headsets are selling for considerably less to consumers," he told Protocol Thursday morning. "The $499 price makes it very hard to justify to most consumers."
Sag mused that the Flow could be a success if it were a lot cheaper. However, HTC may simply not have the resources necessary to sell hardware at cost in the same way as Facebook — something that is reflected in the company's go-to-market strategy for the Flow, he argued. "The fact that HTC is only selling it directly to consumers indicates that the company needs to capture every percent of margin it can get from each headset," Sag said.