The Valve Index is the second-generation headset and the first of Valve. It is a virtual reality headset used for gaming and videos. This article reviews the Valve Index and explains everything you need to know about the VR headset.
Valve has a long and storied history with virtual reality, but the company didn’t actually release a VR system of its own until 2019. That’s when the Valve Index was born.
Until this point, the company had instead helped companies like Oculus (before it was acquired) and HTC to build their systems. But clearly, that was no longer enough. It needed to be in the game.
Features of Valve Index
Valve Index Design
It’s easy to write off the Valve Index as another nondescript VR headset in the same vein as any Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset – but the devil’s all in the detail here.
The front has a glossy plastic faceplate above two cameras facing front. The cameras are used for passthrough videos and AR. On the inside are the stone-gray pads lined fittingly inside.
To keep it that way, there are two dials you’ll need to use – one on the left side that changes the physical distance from the lens to your eyes, and the one on the back that makes the headband tighter or looser. While the second is definitely important, it’s something we’ve seen before. It’s the first dial that’s actually groundbreaking, as that’s what allows the Index to achieve its industry-leading field of view spec.
How does it do that? The science of this is pretty self-explanatory, but basically the closer a screen is to your face, the wider the field of view. The problem here is that, for folks who wear glasses, you won’t be able to get the lenses right up to your eyes – and that means you’ll see a similar field of view to what you’d get with the other headsets out there.
In terms of hard numbers, the Valve Index uses a dual LCD display with a 1440 x 1600 resolution per eye. Unlike Oculus, which has actually dropped the refresh rate of its displays for the Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index has a 120Hz display, with the option to bump this up to 144Hz.
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Finger tracking is one of the distinguishing features of Valve’s Index, but there aren’t many impressive implementations yet. The best use so far is the Aperture Hand Labs tech demo, which has you waving to, high-fiving, and playing rock-paper-scissors with a collection of quirky Portal-style robots.
The brief experience has all the charm of other Portal games, but the finger tracking felt more like a proof of concept than groundbreaking gameplay innovation.
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Setup and SteamVR
The biggest fault we found with the headset is that SteamVR can be capricious… and, occasionally, a malicious, dastardly platform.
As anyone who’s used an HTC Vive or Vive Pro can tell you, SteamVR doesn’t always like running properly the first time, telling you that something is disconnected, or that your firmware is out of date despite just being updated, or simply telling you the hardware can’t be found. And that’s frustrating when you just want to jump in and play this week’s latest release.
During testing, it happened a few times. This imprinted a sense of fore-bearing as this happened in their earlier versions. Other users have made this complaint also, the lengthy and tiring process of setting up only to find faults later on.
In Valve’s defense, the setup process has gotten a bit smoother over the years. The headset does appear to work right out of the box without much hassle, and setting up the 2.0 base station appears to be a bit faster than before. But there’s still the problem that if anything in the room changes – the base stations get moved because you’re cleaning the shelf, for example – you’ll need to recalibrate and go through the whole setup process again.
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Valve Index Aperture Hand Labs
The Index is also frustrating in a lot of ways that have become ever more glaring after using the inside-out tracking of the Oculus Rift S. The Index is a room-scale VR experience, which means it requires two base station sensors positioned around your play area.
This is nothing new, of course—the HTC Vive and Vive Pro, as well as the last-gen Oculus Touch controllers, all use base stations to track your headset and controllers in 3D space. What’s changed is the competition. The new Rift S, as well as the just-announced Vive Cosmos, use inside-out tracking—that is, sensors on the headset instead of placed around your room.
Valve Index VR Review
After growing accustomed to that more streamlined experience, setting up sensors around the room for the Index was frustrating.
That is, however, the price you have to pay for a more responsive experience than any of the inside-out options. There’s a reason the more recent Vive Cosmos Elite goes back to prioritizing the base stations again.
Valve Index Performance
Amazingly, while all these features would seem to require extra horsepower under the hood of your PC, they actually worked fine with our much older Nvidia GTX 980 GPU. That’s a boon for folks who don’t have the money to upgrade their GPU after buying a $1,000 VR headset, and it could allow for more people to get into VR.
Unfortunately, not all titles will do something extra with the new Valve Index Controllers. In fact, during our testing, we found a number of games that actually didn’t work, period.
According to Valve, more games will be optimized for the headset in the future, but right now there are only about three dozen such titles – a decent number before launch, but still just a fraction of the VR games available on Steam.
The controllers do look quite bizarre, like something you’d find on Batman’s utility belt. Each has a joystick, two buttons, a rear trigger, and a trackpad (good for scrolling through items and weapons).
All in all, the Valve Index is a really good choice for those looking for a 3-D experience. And although it has some unfinished tweaks, the Valve Index has proven to be a formidable tech. Valve would not disappoint and also keep adding updates to their newer versions. So watch out and enjoy.