Back in 2016, Valve partnered with HTC to create the Vive, a SteamVR headset to compete with the now-Facebook-owned Oculus Rift. A year later, they released the Vive Pro, an updated headset with better specs. Today, Valve is announcing its own headset, the Valve Index, that aims to push the boundaries even further than its previous offerings with HTC.
In stark contrast to the newly-released Oculus Quest, which makes a few sacrifices to bring affordable VR to the masses, Valve’s new Index headset aims to be a cutting-edge, high-specced improvement over current VR offerings—with a price tag to match. The headset alone will cost $500 when it launches in June, with a headset, controller, and base station bundle costing $999—not for the faint of heart, but potentially worth the price if Valve’s claims about performance hold up.
Valve also claims this new display has a pixel persistence of .330ms, as opposed to the Vive’s 1.85ms. This can seriously decrease motion blur (and, depending on your tolerance, motion sickness). Speaking of which, the Index also has a refresh rate of 120Hz—and experimental support for 144Hz—rather than the 90Hz refresh rate of current PC-based headsets. This will also help produce smoother motion and cut down on nausea.
the Index also has a refresh rate of 120Hz—and experimental support for 144Hz—rather than the 90Hz refresh rate of current PC-based headsets.
The final “banner feature” of the Index is a larger field of view. Valve says that, thanks to its custom dual-element lens, the Index will provide a field of view that’s 20 degrees larger than a typical user’s Vive experience. That isn’t going to match super-wide headsets like the Pimax, but any improvement over the Vive and Rift is welcome in our eyes (pardon the pun).
The Index has been beefed up in other smaller ways, too, including off-ear speakers (for better sound quality and increased comfort compared to on-hear headphones), plus reduced weight and extra padding in all the right places so you can play comfortably for longer periods of time. The Index is also moddable, allowing developers to extend its capabilities with add-on modules.
Finger-Tracking Controllers, New Base Stations, and SteamVR
If you’ve been paying close attention to the VR space, you may have already heard about Valve’s so-called “Knuckles” controllers, and it seems they’re finally going to be available for purchase with the Index. These new controllers contain 87 different sensors, including a pressure-sensitive grip to detect squeezes (rather than awkward squeeze buttons), and individual finger tracking, rather than the slightly clunky finger tracking of the Rift. Plus, you still get all of the buttons, joysticks, and touchpads you’re used to from previous hardware. The controllers cost $279 for a pair, or you can buy them bundled with the headset for $749.
$1000 may seem like a lot to for the whole kit, but since all the hardware is SteamVR compatible, it can interface with other SteamVR hardware. That means if you already have an HTC Vive set up, you can buy the Index headset and use it with your Vive controllers and base stations, or mix and match however you like. You won’t get the benefits of the hardware you choose to skip, obviously, but as any savvy PC builder will tell you, sometimes upgrading piecemeal makes more financial sense than buying a whole new system every couple of years.
The Index is also “moddable” according to Valve, as there’s a cutout in the front of the HMD that allows the insertion of a USB stick. When I asked Valve for more details on this, their PR rep sent me the following statement, “We are a company of modders and makers. We made sure there was room to experiment and play. The Front Expansion Slot (Lovingly referred to as the Frunk) includes a USB 3 Type-A port specifically made for tinkerers and makers. Specs and details will be provided soon.”
SteamVR compatibility also means that the Index will work with all SteamVR games, so you have a pretty big library of compatible titles out of the gate—no waiting for your favorites to become available. You can just upgrade your existing VR setup (or buy it all new), hook it up, and start playing with higher-fidelity gear. In its launch presentation Valve included footage of No Man’s Sky VR, and games titled Boneworks, Aperture Hand Labs, Vacation Simulator, and it also mentioned a “Flagship VR Game later this year,” fueling speculation that it will be something from the Half-Life universe. It’s not quite Half-Life 3 confirmed, but at this point, we’ll cling to anything.
Pre-orders for Valve’s Index VR kit start May 1st via the Valve website, and the hardware is targeted to ship by July 1st.
Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for 10 years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.
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