With the re-introduction of the company’s Cosmos VR headsets with four different variants, HTC’s Vive lineup has become a confusing mess with 11 different headset packages to choose from. Even when just considering the Cosmos lineup itself, the company’s approach to ‘modularity’ makes little practical sense.

Update (March 5th, 2020): We reached out to HTC with an opportunity to respond to the critiques outlined in this opinion piece. We’ve added their feedback to the end of the article below.

Since this article was original published, HTC also announced changes to their Vive Pro lineup which will take effect later this year; the article addresses the public-facing marketing as of the original publishing date.

Original Article (February 28th, 2020), Updated: While HTC started out as a strong player in the consumer VR space, the last few years have seen a steady decline of the company’s prominence. Following the launch of its newest PC VR headset, Vive Cosmos, late last year, usage of the headset on Steam has amounted to little more than a drop in the bucket, and done nothing to curtail the collective decline of HTC headsets used on the platform, which have fallen from 43% of monthly-connected headsets in January 2019 to 30% in January 2020.

Compared to competitors Valve and Oculus, HTC is the only one of the three which doesn’t control a major content distribution platform for VR; the need to derive most of its profit from hardware sales may well be the reason why the company has had trouble competing on price.

But beyond questionable pricing, HTC has had equal trouble maintaining clarity in its headset lineup, and its latest moves may have only made things worse. Right down to the structure of the company’s headset naming scheme (where ‘Vive’ could refer to the company’s entire VR division, all of its headsets, or a single headset), its headset lineup has become overwhelming.

Here’s the company’s 11 different headset packages that it is presently marketing for sale now or in the near future; this doesn’t include the two Vive Proton prototype headsets announced last week.

  • PC
    • Vive
    • Vive Pro Starter Kit
    • Vive Pro Full Kit
    • Vive Pro McLaren Limited Edition
    • Vive Pro Eye
    • Vive Cosmos Play
    • Vive Cosmos
    • Vive Cosmos Elite
    • Vive Cosmos XR
  • Standalone
    • Vive Focus
    • Vive Focus Plus

Let’s ignore the fact that HTC has been wishy-washy on whether the ‘Pro’ line is meant for enterprises or for consumers—let’s just pretend we’re a potential customer looking either to buy into VR for the first time, or upgrade from a first-gen headset, and let’s say we’re just looking at Cosmos, which is the company’s latest consumer-facing headset.

Cosmos Modularity Makes No Sense

Image courtesy HTC

With Cosmos, HTC says it’s all about modularity. With four variants of the headset, consumers can pick the one that’s right for them (oh wait, one of the variants of the company’s consumer headset line, Cosmos XR, is meant for developers… so just three). And, the company promises, swappable faceplates mean you can move between variants if your needs change in the future. Neat! Except it doesn’t actually make sense in practice, in most cases.

First, consider: each of these headsets has a $200 price difference between them:

  • Cosmos Play – $500
  • Cosmos – $700
  • Cosmos Elite – $900

(Note: HTC originally told us Cosmos Play would be priced at $500 but then walked that back and says they haven’t settled on a final price; it’s unclear if they will make it more or less expensive, but we’re working under the $500 assumption for now.)

Second, there’s three ‘upgrade’ options to consider:

  • Cosmos Play → Cosmos (this gets you two more cameras for better tracking)
  • Cosmos → Cosmos Elite (this gets you SteamVR Tracking)
  • Cosmos Elite → Cosmos (this gets you back to Cosmos inside-out tracking)

And third, the corresponding faceplates to swap between these each cost $200.

Photo by Road to VR

Seems to make sense, right? But the big problem here is that the separate faceplates are $200 alone and don’t include any of the other necessary hardware. So, for example, here’s what it will actually cost to upgrade to Cosmos Elite from either of the other Cosmos headsets.

Cosmos / Cosmos Play → Cosmos Elite (Modular Upgrade)

  • Faceplate: $200
  • 2x Vive wands: $260
  • 2x Base Stations: $268
  • Total: $728

Yes, that’s right. If you bought Cosmos and then decided that Cosmos Elite would have better suited your needs, your total cost of Cosmos ($700) plus the modular upgrade ($728) would be $1,428. This is far from the modular promise of ‘keeping your options open’ when the price difference between Cosmos and Cosmos Elite is $200 at the time of purchase, but $728 if you take the modular route.

Ok, that’s a bummer, but let’s look at another example. You bought Cosmos Elite for $900 but decided you like the convenience of inside-out tracking and you want the same tracking coverage that comes with Cosmos. So all you’ve gotta do is drop $200 for the Cosmos faceplate and you’re good to go, right? Sadly, no, because Cosmos Elite doesn’t include Cosmos controllers, so you’ll have to add those too. Here’s your cost breakdown:

Cosmos Elite → Cosmos (Modular Upgrade)

  • Faceplate: $200
  • 2x Cosmos controllers $200
  • Total: $400

Once again, your total cost here for the Elite ($900) plus the modular upgrade ($400) is now $1,300.

There’s only one case where Cosmos modularity really makes any sense, and that’s when going from Cosmos Play to Cosmos. So if you pick up HTC’s entry-level Cosmos Play at $500, but later decide you want better tracking coverage, you can add the $200 Cosmos faceplate pretty much with no strings attached.

SEE ALSO
Viveport President Rikard Steiber Departs HTC

In this case you can actually move between these headsets without paying more than the difference between the headsets in the first place (since you already have the necessary controllers), though after the upgrade your headset still won’t have integrated audio (which comes included with Cosmos).

Technically you can also go from Cosmos Elite to Cosmos Play for $200 by adding Cosmos controllers without changing faceplates (because Elite has the same default cameras as Play), but we can’t imagine many people who would consider this option.

Not Sold Separately

Based on images courtesy HTC

This modularity would make a bit more sense if HTC would sell the Cosmos headsets separately. After all, that way people who bought into their VR hardware with the original Vive (which means they already have SteamVR Tracking base stations and controllers) would benefit from that investment by simply buying the Cosmos Elite headset by itself to use it with their existing hardware. Instead, HTC has left no clear path for loyal, existing VR customers to choose Cosmos.

By only selling the headsets bundled with controllers and other hardware, HTC has created a roundabout path where—if you already have SteamVR Tracking base stations and controllers—your best option is to buy Cosmos Play for $500 and then add the Cosmos Elite faceplate for $200, effectively getting you the Cosmos Elite headset for $700 (instead of $900), but still leaving you with two Cosmos controllers you don’t want but had to pay for anyway.

Instead, the most affordable option for those who already have SteamVR Tracking base stations and controllers, is not to buy a Cosmos headset at all… but to buy the Vive Pro HMD—the only PC headset the company sells separately—for $600. Why is the “Pro” option the most affordable in this case? Another great example of HTC creating confusing positioning of its headsets.

Continue on Page 2: But It’s Better Than Nothing, Right? »

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • JesuSaveSouls

    Vive put vr on the map along side oculus.The innovation tech early released was way ahead of oculus but affordable.Motion controlls and roomscale and today many still use their orig vives with satisfaction.

    • johngrimoldy

      I agree that HTC was truly a pioneer in consumer adoption of VR. It was my first rig. I still use the controllers and lighthouses with an Index. It can’t be overstated how important HTC has been to the endeavor. Their tracking is still the gold standard. Great product, but what an utterly effed up company. Product support is abysmal and they don’t seem to know how to attractively structure pricing.

      I absolutely abhor FaceBook and am deeply conflicted with their involvement in VR. Their deep pockets can help to push VR forward greatly, even if at a financial loss. The Quest is an amazing product, getting my endorsement for folks wanting to get into VR without sinking $2,500 (Index plus a marginally respectable rig to drive it). On the other hand, it’s FaceBook.

      • Mei Ling

        Their tracking is the gold standard? If you’re mentioning the original Vive then that isn’t their tracking technology.

        HTC have not and are not capable of creating reliable technology within the VR industry . They just buy parts, assemble and sell.

        • Immersive Computing

          Valve SteamVR tracking 1.0

          Still see alot of HTC out there in the world, majority of demo, events, festivals lots of Vive Pro, Vive Focus and now Vive Pro Eye.

          Former Vive owner, still enjoy using them now and then, wow it was magical in 2016…

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c8706e1b375051970d72018d8a52854e7f318a3663fd1280073c228e1758a23c.jpg

        • johngrimoldy

          Ummmm… doesn’t every manufacturer buy parts, assemble, and sell? That’s a shit load different than simply OEMing. Who else offers the same tracking? Anyone?

          • Mei Ling

            Well that’s the point; HTC doesn’t do anything else. The tracking offered isn’t a technology they invented themselves nor do they own it. The most HTC do themselves is product design.

          • Immersive Computing

            Product design and manufacturing, which Valve has recently discovered isn’t easy…

          • Blaexe

            Facebook and Valve develop actual tech themselves. HTC usually only buys the tech and sells it. E.g. Eye-Tracking, Wireless, Vive Focus Tracking… The Cosmos’ tracking is probably one of the few things they’ve done themselves and you can clearly see how this turned out.

            HTC just doesn’t have the funds for meaningful R&D.

          • kuhpunkt

            Valve. They developed that stuff.

      • mirak

        Facebook made all Oculus founders abandon VR.
        All VR pioneers were disgusted of working on VR because of Facebook.

    • Alextended

      It was Valve’s innovations and anyone still happy with their Vive without upgrading to Index controllers just doesn’t know better. Also it was never affordable, Rift was quickly reduced to half the Vive price with tracking practically equal for most people’s use cases and way, way better, forward thinking controllers (which is why even games made for Index work perfectly well on Oculus). There’s a reason Oculus grew to have a 50% market share on Vive’s initial native platform, Steam, and that’s because HTC failed to deliver past 2016.

      • mirak

        Oculus had no choice than cut the price, because they were getting killed by the Vive.

        So it worked but they where cornered into this price range for the next products and didn’t delivered premium products.

        That’s why the vr enthousiasts that founded the company all jumped ship.

        Oculus and Facebook managed to disgust the best engineers to work on vr.

        How is that helping VR ????

        • Alextended

          You don’t know what you’re talking about, they were neither killed and they were always budget conscious and continue to be so, if premium is what’s best go make Pimax a success or something. Most sales in gaming come from the mid range, whether we’re talking graphics cards, cpus, or other products. Also nothing stops them from offering the budget conscious solution and a premium product on top of that if they see value in the latter without losing the market the former opens, that’s what HTC has been doing a while now, can’t say it’s worked out for them.

      • mirak

        It depends of the games.
        I am not sure what the knuckles would bring to a shooter game like Pavlov.
        Maybe make grip and ungrip easier.

        • Alextended

          So you’re a fanboy stuck with the wands and don’t know any better so you make up all kinds of arguments like the other post. Try using decent controllers like Oculus Touch and Index first. Wands are obsolete and were badly designed from day one.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYrkXK3V2ik

  • Mettanine

    So on point. I’d love to upgrade my Vive to a better HMD (Headset only). But both the standalone Vive Pro and the Cosmos Elite are more expensive than the Valve Index HMD, which overall seems to have better value, too.
    The only thing going for the Cosmos at this point is its ability to use it with the Vive wireless kit. That’s quite another chunk of added cost, though.

    • Zantetsu

      I went from Vive Pro to Index. To be honest I am not 100% happy that I did. I do like the wider field of view of the Index and he much improved lenses. But the LCD panel is, in my opinion, significantly worse than the OLED of Vive Pro. Colors are less vibrant and blacks are, quite frankly, terrible. Dark scenes very clearly look like a grey haze covers everything and it makes the experience seem far less “real”, and thus less immersive.

      I personally will not buy another LCD panel headset, ever.

      • Blaexe

        You probably won’t upgrade quite a while then.

        • mirak

          That’s why I am thinking staying with the Vive OG and just getting index controllers.
          I can survive with it, as long as 8 don’t try a newer headset maybe xD

          • Zantetsu

            Ha ha well I hate to have to tell you this but I don’t love the Index controllers either. They feel very distinctly like you have something clamped to your hands (I imagined them feeling like ‘nothing is there until I decide to grip’, but it doesn’t feel like that at all) and the cluster of buttons/joysticks/trackpads are somewhat awkward to reach and use.

            I think it’s likely that I will like them better as I get used to them though, so I do recommend giving them a try.

          • Immersive Computing

            My thoughts exactly (hands being clamped), but it improved with 3D printed palm boosters and more time spent using the index controllers:

            https://immersivecomputing.org/2020/02/25/valve-index-controller-ergonomics/

          • Adderstone VR

            Thanks, I really enjoyed that write up. Very thorough and informative.
            I actually think Valve would be wise to take note of such a detailed personal investigation.

          • Immersive Computing

            Appreciate your comments. I’ve had conversation with Valve engineer already, and provided them feedback through the 3 articles.

            Here are the other 2 in case you missed them on the website.

            First is headset:

            https://immersivecomputing.org/2020/02/23/experiments-with-valves-index-headset-ergonomics/

            Third is ear:

            https://immersivecomputing.org/2020/02/25/valve-index-ear-ergonomics/:

      • Alextended

        That was your own poor decision making, it’s not like the specs weren’t there to see, Index HMD is a good solid product, not some niche upgrade path like Pimax’ highest res models or XTAL or Vive Pro/Eye. You should have just upgraded to the Index controllers and left it at that until way better resolution/screens can be provided for a good price and stuff.

      • mirak

        It’s the same issue than with LCD TVs, but in worse.

    • J.C.

      I borrowed a friend’s Vive wireless kit. At only 6 unobstructed feet from the transmitter, games dropped frames constantly. Budget Cuts was impossible to play.

      I’m going to go wired for now.

      • mirak

        I didn’t had that issues, maybe your CPU is to weak, or have a WiFi router in the way, however my issue was that it was getting too hot so I returned it.

        I went to the same store to see if they had stocks again and they said they had a client returned product, which obviously was mine, so no one bought one, in like one year and a half.
        But with such a price how is it a surprise ?

        How this shops even bother waste space in their stock with that.

      • mepy

        You clearly set it up wrong at some point of failure. I never have frame drops with the Vive wireless.

  • Super GenieTale

    HTC without Valve, it’s like a headless chicken

  • Alextended

    They should have, firstly, focused on fixing the tracking of Cosmos to redeem themselves and their product range, and secondly, upgraded their wand controllers to match the new control layout of that (which makes it compatible with the standards Rift and Index have set, even without individual finger tracking). Instead, they have products that are far lesser than Rift S, yet cost far more, or with the lighthouse tracking variants are lesser than Index (and also the Rift S in terms of controllers), and cost the same or more, HMD/screen specs be damned. They were always overpriced but this time they messed up big time, it’s like they bank on other products being sold out to sell their lesser overpriced stuff.

  • Lulu Vi Britannia

    Their strategy is unclear because there is no strategy whatsoever. HTC has been on decline for years, and they keep sinking. They’re milking VR as much as they can to survive as long as possible. They’re not trying to push VR forward, for the simple reason that they can’t, themselves, move forward.

    Frankly, HTC is a parasite to the VR market. While I do like the original Vive and the Vive Pro, those already did have big flaws, namely: the controllers, the weight repartition (and value), and the add-on policy.
    It was already a parasite, milking the people who’re into technology (or at least who want to think they’re into it, lol).

    I’ve said it times and times again, Oculus VR is the only good company in VR. Sadly, it’s Facebook, and that argument alone is enough for people to bash Oculus. I myself hesitated because of that. But in terms of technology, Oculus is just far better than their opponents. They’re not perfect (the Rift-S is cheap and their updates can be quite capricious), but their headsets are great and the company has a clear strategy, they don’t release a headset every month just for the sake of it.

    • Pulstar44

      I totally agree, but Valve is definitely a driving force with the Index. Really the field is wide open for another company to create a new headset and controllers that use steam VR tracking. I’m surprised that Pimax is the only one to do so thus far. But they are unreliable. If I had the resources I would do it myself. I think we are witnessing the death of HTC though. It’s a shame really, we could use more competition in the VR space.

      • mirak

        Valve is the driving force of something you can’t even buy.
        Or that as a lot of faults.

        • kuhpunkt

          Because Oculus is so good at having their shit in stock at the moment…

          • mirak

            Two wrong doesn’t make a right.

          • kuhpunkt

            But it’s still hypocricy.

      • Lulu Vi Britannia

        I agree Valve is a driving force, but not in terms of hardware.
        The Index has LCD screens, that alone makes it a terrible headset. And it’s just one issue among many, but the only other one I’ll mention is its price. Whatever the product, 1000$ is NEVER justified for a consumer product.

        That said, Valve built SteamVR, the major software platform for VR, and that’s what matters. Too bad they’ve haven’t released their own games… That’s what people want, and I’m afraid Alyx won’t be enough.

        • Immersive Computing

          Index headset is not $1000, it’s $499?

          Here in the UK the headset at £459 is actually good value still cheaper than Vive Pro headset at £599.

          The headset has some flaws (lens glare and brightness/contrast) but it also gives a strong sense of presence I’ve not found in Vive or Oculus product.

        • Zantetsu

          Again I agree with much of what you say but to say “no consumer product should ever cost $1000” is silly.

          Did you know that the original home computers cost something like $5,000 in today’s dollars? And for what would be considered today as completely laughable specs. Even at the time they were just barely useful. But new technology and complex to design/manufacture technology costs money to produce. So you have to pay if you want them.

        • Pulstar44

          Some people don’t mind LCD screens. And no headset is perfect. They all have their pros and cons. But after using all of them I can easily say I like the index the best. I do wish it had OLED panels but the pros outweigh the cons. This is subjective of course. It’s always good to have choices.

    • mirak

      Yeah great strategy, that’s why all their best employees jumped ship.

      • Lulu Vi Britannia

        Right, like it had anything to do with the topic…
        There are 150 reasons for employees to leave or be laid off. Only one of those reasons would be significant for the company strategy: laying off due to financial reasons.

        And guess what? That’s exactly what keeps happening to HTC. They had to lay off so many people these past few years, regularly:
        https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/02/technology/htc-layoffs/index.html
        https://pandaily.com/htc-confirmed-to-conduct-new-round-of-layoffs/

        That’s not what happened to Oculus VR. They either moved up, left for personal reasons, or were laid off for political reasons. Never due to financial issues.

        • mirak

          They left because Oculus killed the more highend product to focus on sub 500$ products

    • Zantetsu

      I owned a Vive and Vive Pro and I agree with pretty much everything you said. Boy did I feel terrible shelling out so much money for the Vive Pro but at the time I really just wanted the best experience and bent over for it. When I discovered that HTC had done literally *nothing* to improve their terrible lenses I felt especially taken advantage of.

  • James Cobalt

    They pulled a Pimax!

  • CHRIS

    just give me the vive cosmos with tracking face plate and wireless for 600

  • Jonathan Winters III

    W.T.F.??? Reminds me of Pimax – terrible marketing and product line “strategies”.
    I think HTC won’t be around much longer in the consumer space.

    • Bumpy

      Agreed. Unless HTC has some deep pockets somewhere, they won’t last long.

      I find it very interesting no one has put all the best VR features in one headset yet.

      That said, I’m so happy with my WMR Reverb and won’t buy anything less in resolution sharpness.

    • Yen Gálvez

      The differece is… Pimax has a very good product, and direct connection with their customers in the forums. And HTC is a big company.

  • Gerald Terveen

    “Why show your customers what you’re working on in the future when you’ve just announced a product you hope they will buy today?”

    When you see most customers of the current generation going for the product of the competition it might be a strategic move to delay a lot of purchase decisions to a point where you have a more attractive product.

    • benz145

      Fair point.

  • Sebastian Ang

    Great article, Ben. Couldn’t agree more.

  • PJ

    If any is looking to get into VR and they look into HTC’s offerings will instantly turned away. Awful strategy for the VR industry as whole, not just HTC

  • Yes, you have various points. Personally I like the idea of modular faceplates and the configurations offered by Cosmos. But I agree that the overall strategy is confusing. IMHO they should stick with two product lines: e.g. Focus and Cosmos, and ditch all the rest. and propose the before-buy configurator as you said before.

  • sebrk

    HTC must be run by super secret agents from competing companies. I honestly don’t know how they stay afloat anymore. They managed to completely mess up their mobile business and now they do a repeat on VR. How is it even possible to do this much wrong?

  • asdf

    “I’m unclear why showing where we think the industry can get to is viewed as a negative here.”

    because your view on where the industry is at is often wrong.

  • ale bro

    Nobody wants a proton because it has the same 100 degree FOV as first gen headsets

  • Liam Mulligan

    This is fractured effort. Put the energy into making one killer product for a clearly defined customer base but relevant and competitive with other devices in the market. This looks like several prototypes fishing for multiple undefined customers. I loved my original vive, but since i cant say i still see the same passion for engineering in these things. Sorry but listen to your customers you might learn a thing or two about what people will actually pay for. Swing and a miss.

  • mfx

    They should have only the Cosmos (working properly), The Cosmos Eye with eye tracking, and the rest marked as obsolete. Period. For 600 and 800 USD.

  • Tony_Neville

    I’m pretty sure now that the HTC Vive is my first and final HTC headset. The package included lighthouses, wands, and headset for $800(USD), in 2016, and provided the best VR experience then available.