In this article, I am going to summarize all the info that we know about this headset… so that if you are unsure about buying it or not, you can make your decision in a better way.
What is the Valve Index?
The Valve Index is the first PC VR headset completely produced by Valve, from the design to the manufacturing stage.
Is the Index the Vive 2?
More or less, yes. But this time, Valve has made it without the collaboration of HTC. We can say that it is an improved Vive Pro.
Is the Index a next-gen device? Is this VR 2.0?
Not completely. Maybe with eye tracking and some more screen resolution, it may have been. But it introduces some amazing innovations, so we can say that it is VR
Who is this device for?
The Valve Index is a device for people wanting to buy a headset that is:
- So comfortable that can be used for long VR sessions;
- Hackable and moddable;
- Able to offer great visuals and sounds;
- Able to feature controllers that let you use all your 5 fingers;
- Able to offer the computational power of a PC.
Instead, it is not for people wanting:
- An affordable device (Rift S is much better in this sense);
- A portable device (Oculus Quest or Vive Focus Plus are the way to go);
- A super-big screen resolution (Varjo VR-1 or HP Reverb are better in this sense);
- An easy-to-use headset (again, Rift S or WMR devices like the Samsung Odyssey are better).
If you need to use Mac, probably you have still to stick to the Vive Pro, since there is no news on the
It is a device for prosumers, developers and hard gamers that want to experiment Virtual Reality with a high-degree of polish and visual fidelity. It is not a headset for the masses. If the Rift S is a Sedan and the Varjo is a Ferrari, this is like a BMW.
The Valve Index is like an evolution of the Vive Pro and so it can be useful for the same category of customers that are currently buying the Vive Pro and this of course includes enterprise customers.
We don’t have any details on the possible business licensing of the Valve Index, but I guess that sooner or later Valve will release further info.
The Index can serve enterprise customers that need:
- A highly customizable headset. The Index is a highly-moddable device and this can be useful for companies that have to use it in combination with custom accessories;
- Very good visuals. The Index sets a new bar in clarity of VR content and this may be useful for companies that need that (e.g. to design new products). Keep in mind that this visual quality is not the best available on the market, so companies that really need high resolution may prefer other devices like HP Reverb or Varjo VR-1.
Valve Index Specs
- Display resolution: 1,440 × 1,600 per eye
- Display type: ultra-low persistence LCD
- Refresh-rate: 120 Hz (with optional 80/90/144Hz modes)
- FOV: around 130 degrees
- IPD Adjustment: hardware. There is also an eye-relief knob
- Tracking: outside in (Steam VR 2.0)
- Connection: 1x USB 3.0, 1x DisplayPort 1.2
- Frontal Cameras: two 960 x 960 global shutter RGB cameras
- Audio: off-ear Balanced Mode Radiators speakers. Integrated Mic. 3.5mm jack for external headphones
- Inputs: A Button, B Button, System Button, Trigger, Thumbstick, Track Button with Force Sensor, Grip Force Sensor, Finger Tracking, IMU
- Connections: USB-C, 2.4 GHz Wireless
- Battery life: 7+ hours;
- Charging: 900mA fast charging, 1100mAh capacity Li-Ion polymer battery
- Tracking: outside in (Steam VR 2.0)
Required PC specs
Minimum PC specs for Valve Index
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater
CPU: Dual-core with hyperthreading or greater
Memory: 8GB+ RAM
Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2 (there is also an adapter for VirtualLink)
USB Ports: 1x USB 2.0 port if you don’t need to use passthrough cameras, otherwise 1x USB 3.0
OS: Windows 10, Linux, SteamOS
Recommended PC specs for Valve Index
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1070 / AMD Vega 56 (?) or greater
CPU: Quad-core with hyperthreading or greater
Memory: 8GB+ RAM
Video Output: DisplayPort 1.2 (there is also an adapter for VirtualLink)
USB Ports: 1x USB 3.0 port
OS: Windows 10, Linux, SteamOS
The specs list is very similar to the one of the HTC Vive Pro. It is funny because the GTX 970 was the same minimum requirement of the Oculus CV1, that is a headset that is far less demanding than the Index.
The native frequency of the Valve Index is 120 Hz… to run at that frequency, the PC has to render 553 million pixels per second. For the Rift CV1, the required pixels to render were 233 million. A PC attached to the Index has to render more than double of the pixels of one attached to the CV1! How the hell are
I think that someone is fooling us with specifications: of course, if I have to render the standard Unity cube at 120 Hz, maybe also a Raspberry can be enough… but this can’t count as a minimum specification. Of course, if I let the Index run at 90Hz, the number of rendered pixels lowers, but this way I lose one of the biggest advantages of this headset. Of course, there are ATW, ASW, the possibility to change render scale, and all these tricks. But in my opinion, we have to wait for the first benchmarks to understand the real requirement of this headset on real games for the native resolution and framerate of the Index. My bet is that to have a good experience, you have to own at least a GTX 1080, but this is just my impression.
And if you want a confirmation of what I am saying, go reading the review of Ars Technica when it talks about the motion blur of the display:
My rapid movement within the event’s demos always included some slight blurring—perhaps due to the fact that LCD technology, even at its most refined, doesn’t enjoy the total pixel blackout of a pure OLED panel. This wasn’t helped by some of the demos struggling to maintain a 120Hz refresh rate.
Even Valve’s PCs weren’t able to
Reading the specs of the Valve Index, I was like “oh, they are just a bit better than the ones of the Vive Pro“. But it seems that just reading some numbers is deceptive. Everyone trying the Valve Index has just got in total awe after having tried the display. Norm of TESTED is a veteran reviewer of VR hardware and he describes what it has seen with so much excitement that you really understand that there is some special stuff going on there.
There are some reasons for that and I am going to explain them to you now.
The first one is that that being the display an LCD one, the fill-factor is bigger than the Vive Pro, that features an OLED display. Ars Technica highlights how Valve has said that this display has “50% higher subpixel resolution, 50% higher ‘pixel fill factor’, and 5x less motion blur than ‘a typical OLED panel.'”. This means that the Valve Index has a very little screen door effect. It is still
We are talking about a very special high-quality LCD display, that features an incredibly low persistence: 0.330ms to be
The framerate of 120 Hz (with an experimental mode at 144 Hz) is another game changer. When I read those values, I thought it was useless: I can’t spot the difference between a 72Hz and 90Hz display… why should I care of 120 Hz… or even beyond, that is beyond what is needed by the human eye? Well, it seems that we all should care. This high framerate lets you see the virtual reality in a more fluid and realistic way. It is a sensation that has been confirmed by every reviewer that has tried the Index, something that has almost blown their mind. Norm of TESTED describes it as being under the effect of a lot of caffeine that lets you perceive everything more
The high-frequency display should also reduce the strain of the eyes while enjoying VR, allowing longer virtual sessions.
The headset also allows for a 90Hz mode for
Notwithstanding it is an LCD, I have heard no complaints about the black colors on the Index, but I think that more accurate tests have to be made in this sense.
But it’s not only the display… it is all the visual system that works together in offering a great experience. The lenses are high-quality next-gen ones and they are made with a special dual-element optics. They allow for a bigger FOV and sweet spot, and also reduce glares and god rays. According to my review hero Ben Lang, in some scenes, the god rays are still present, too, so they are not completely eliminated.
The device also features IPD adjustment, so you can accommodate the lenses to fit your eyes positions and this also improves the visual quality. But the Index also introduces a novelty called “Eye-relief knob” that is basically a knob that lets you move the lenses forward and backward by 1cm, so that you can put them as close as possible to your eyes (or to your glasses). For the first time, the lenses are not attached to the face mask of the headset, but they can move freely. This great innovation, according to Valve, will let you have +20° FOV on your perceived virtual world.
The two displays are not perfectly parallel, but they are canted 5° degrees in the outward direction. This has been made to increase the FOV as well. It also reduces slightly the area of stereo overlap of the images, but no one has noticed that while trying the device. What everyone has noticed is that the FOV is larger, and so the peripheral vision is exploited more, and the sensation of being inside binoculars is highly reduced. A review reports how this makes watching a movie inside the cinema in Bigscreen VR much more immersive, since you see all the surface of the cinema screen with your eyes.
The result of all of this is a field of view that is around 130 diagonal degrees,
Valve has stressed this a bazillion times during the presentation of the Index: this is a device designed to offer comfort over long VR sessions. 30minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours in VR should feel comfortable. Considering the fact that this is a headset for professionals and hard gamers, that is for people that have to spend a lot of time with the headset on, this seems a reasonable choice.
The headset is very comfortable and you can fit it on your head using a semi-rigid
The over-the-ear speakers (more on this later on) make the device easier to wear (since the headphones do not mess with your hair easily) and are comfortable on the long run for the fact that since they don’t touch your ear, they don’t make it feel hot after a long session with VR, especially during the summer.
The device can accommodate glasses and thanks to IPD adjustment, it should feel ok for people that have an IPD in the range 58-70mm.
The Index features the innovative Knuckles controllers, that now are simply called “Valve Index Controllers”.
They feature thes types of input: A Button, B Button, System Button, Trigger, Thumbstick, Track Button with Force Sensor, Grip Force Sensor, Finger Tracking, IMU. The thumb goes on the top of the controller and from there, it can press the A Button, the B button, the System Button or move a thumbstick. It can also rest in the central part of the controller, that is a capacitive button itself, that can serve for instance to make a pinching gesture with the index (this is actually implemented in some demos). The Index goes on the Trigger. The other 3 fingers go to the handle of the controller, where there are finger tracking sensors.
They are innovative because:
- They are worn by (pinched to) your hand, and so you don’t have to hold them all the time. This means also that you can open your hand completely while in VR, e.g. to throw an object;
- They can track all the fingers: while Oculus Touch were just able to track 3 fingers (ring and pinky were ignored), the Index Controllers are able to track all 5 fingers, in a way or another;
- The fingers tracking doesn’t happen just by pressing a button: the various fingers are really tracked thanks to capacitive and force sensors, and don’t have just an on-off state, but various in-between states, as in real-life. There is no button to push for the last three fingers of the hand, just sensors that detect how much force are you using to close your hand. Thanks to force sensors it is possible to detect when the user is just closing his/her hand vs when the user is really closing the punch, e.g. to destroy an object. This allows for new and innovative interactions;
- They have comfort options to accommodate hands of different sizes. Plus, the controllers continuously auto-recalibrate to take in count the actual hand size of the user when reading the input of the sensors;
- There are 87 sensors on the controllers!
- 7 hours of battery life is great. After that time, the controllers must be recharged.
Knuckles controllers enable a lot of new interactions in VR: you can finally squeeze objects; you can throw objects or make a high-five leaving your full hand open; you can pinch elements; you can even make a middle finger to someone! And since you don’t have to continuously hold the controller, this is more comfortable for your hand on the long run.
Some games, like the upcoming Boneworks, show the potentialities of the Index Controllers very well: you can finally take a crowbar in your right hand, and then move gently the left hand on the crowbar without actually taking it with both hands, since the left hand is not applying the “squeezing” force. Then you can take it with two
Furthermore, they are compatible with all the old games, since they feature buttons that are very similar e.g. with the ones of the Oculus Touch and most of games on Steam are already Oculus compatible.
But it is not all gold everything that shines. The Index Controllers have some problems as well:
- They continuously pinch your palm, so every time you know that there is something there. This can break the immersion;
- The auto-calibration function didn’t always work well during the demo for the press;
- Sometimes the system detects that your hands are closing, even if you are just leaving your hands at rest;
- There is not enough content that exploits them. And until that time, the Knuckles just remain a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. If all the games will start introducing amazing possibilities using the Knuckles, then everyone will want them. Otherwise, the cheaper Oculus Touch will be enough for basic gripping and actioning mechanisms;
Valveshould provide some best practices: currently, the various studios implementing the demos have invented interaction methods that are all different the one from the others. This must standardized, or users using the Index Controllers will get crazy.
The Valve Index uses the famous Steam VR 2.0 tracking for both the headset and the controllers. This kind of tracking is very stable, very performant, very precise, but has at the same time the problem of requiring you to install two base stations in your room. Again, great for prosumers (that can also exploit the Vive Trackers), but too much a hassle for average consumers.
Finally, Valve has decided to sell the 2.0 stations alone, not bundled to an HMD. This means that you can buy multiple base stations for your Index (or Vive Pro) so that to create a larger play area (you can have a 10m x 10m play area with 4 stations) or even a multiroom setup, where you can move from one room to another in full freedom while still being tracked by your system. I tried it in Beijing at HTC offices and I was amazed by this possibility. Since the cable of the Index is long 5 meters, it allows you to move a lot and so some experiments in this sense are possible.
The two frontal cameras are NOT used for outside-in tracking.
The audio output of the Index has fostered this kind of reaction in the journalists that have tried it:
The Index features two over-the-ear speakers that are able to send the audio directly into your ears. They are more or less like the headphones of the Rift CV1, but they are more distant from the ear (they don’t touch it) and this allows for
The speakers employ a technology called Balanced Mode Radiators (BMR) that lets them emit a wide range of frequencies. What this mean is that finally also the basses emitted by the headset are great.
According to reviewers, it is the
Talking about the shortcomings, well, since you have the speaker distant from your ear, you will have to raise the volume to hear better… and this means that people around you will listen to what you are listening. With the Oculus CV1 there is more privacy about what you are doing… so be careful about what you do inside a Valve Index when there are people around (YKWIM).
For the audiophiles of you, there is also the 3.5mm jack on the headset that lets you connect your favorite headphones. The position of the jack is really weird, considering that it is behind the face mask.
The Index features two frontal RGB wide-baseline cameras. They can’t be used for inside-out tracking, but Valve is adding them to let developers experiment with them. The idea is to let people create applications that will exploit some computer vision algorithm to analyze the environment around the user. Some possibilities are: implement finger tracking, environment reconstruction
Valve will release some sample code in the future to show how they could be exploited. In the demo to the press, they showcased some little toy programs that let the user see the surrounding environment in
Valve unveiled a new series of camera demos at the Index event. These used Valve’s “machine learning model” to render my real-life environs as blocks, voxels, blobs, and other artistic touches, all with their real-world colors and 1:1 mapping. I could see a hand through these camera-modeled scenes and reach out to touch it perfectly. Sadly, Valve didn’t offer images or videos of this demo, which is a shame, because it looked quite cool in action.Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica
When trying them, some people reported that there was some lag in the experience, in the sense that the real world was perceived with some little delay (of course: if there is not something implemented directly by the manufacturer, there is always lag while applying the camera texture in front of the eyes of the user).
As someone that loves to play with this kind of stuff, I think that the two frontal cameras are a great addition to add functionalities to this headset and maybe also create some Mixed Reality apps. And I bet that someone will use them to create an experimental inside-out mode.
All the Vive Index ecosystem is completely open: Valve will release not only the source code of various samples and SDKs to let you develop special applications (see the above example for the cameras), but also all the CADs of various parts of the device, so that people will be able to create dedicated accessories for it easily.
For instance, the face mask can be easily removed (it is attached using 4 magnets) and so, it can be possible for you to create a customized face mask for your face, for instance, to increase your comfort (as my friend Rob Cole always suggests).
The front part of the headset has a lucid lid, and if you remove that, you can find a slot that Valve calls the “frunk” (frontal trunk). It is just a rectangular hole with inside a USB type-A 3.0
As you can see, this is a device that has a completely open ecosystem: the frontal cameras, together with expansion ports and the Vive Trackers allow for a lot of possible customizations that will let makers go crazy. And of course, this is also very useful for enterprises.
The Index, with its crisp visuals and great
What misses, though, is some content really dedicated to this headset and its controllers, that makes it shine… a bit like Robo Recall has made for the Oculus Rift CV 1 + Oculus Touch. As I have said, without content that makes the Index Controllers feel great, they are just an expensive add-on. The only true content that uses them in an amazing way is Boneworks, plus some demos made by Valve (like an unnamed demo in the Portal 2 universe). If there won’t be other games truly optimized for the Index, it risks of just being a cool headset for some pro users… and if there is a little market, few devs will be interested in making games optimized for it and this will make the situation even worse. I’m not saying that this will happen, I’m saying that it is a risk.
We are all waiting for the Half-Life-themed game that should be released by Valve, but it has not been revealed yet. Valve said that “a flagship VR game” will come at some moment in 2019 and that it won’t be a Valve Index exclusive (but I bet that it will be truly amazing only with the Index controllers). Of course, a
As a developer, I want to say that while I love all the innovation that Valve is carrying on with this headset, it can also be a bit frustrating for us devs. If we’ll release a game on Steam, we should make it compatible with a new headset, that has a new demanding refresh rate and controllers that are completely different from the other ones.
The setup procedure of the Index is almost the same
There is no more the little box that you had to put on your desk, and now the cable just has a “Safety breakaway point” that prevents you from smashing your PC on the floor if you pull the cable too much.
When you buy the Valve Index, this is what you find in the box for the full bundle:
- Integrated Headphones
- Headset Cable
- Headset Connection Cable with DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.0 Connections
- Headset Power Supply
- Regionalized Headset Power Adapter(s)
- Headset Cradle Adapter (for smaller heads)
- Headset Face Gasket
- 2 Controllers, Left and Right
- 2 USB Controller Charging Cables
- 2 SteamVR 2.0 Base Stations
- 2 15 ft (4.5 m) Base Station Power Cables
- 2 Base Station Stands with Mounting Hardware
- Regionalized Base Station Power Adapter Plug(s)
- Cleaning Cloth
Price and Availability
The Valve Index is already available for pre-order since May, 1st 2019 only on Valve’s website. Shipping of the first batch happens on June, 28th 2019. The headset is already sold-out, and if you try to preorder it now, you will enter in
It currently ships only in
Regarding buying the headset, there are different options. I love that Valve lets people choose exactly what to buy, according to their needs. So, you can buy:
- Headset only: 499$ / 539€
- Headset + controllers: 750$ / 799€
- Headset + controllers + 2 Base Stations: 999$ / 1079€
- Controllers only: 279$ / 299€
- One base station: 149$ / 159€
- VirtualLink adapter: 39$ / 43€
The prices are incredibly high, but IMHO this is reasonable.
It is not a device for average consumers, so it doesn’t need to have an affordable price. It also require a beefy PC to run. And for these reasons, it probably will never become mainstream. But it is not even the purpose for which it has been built. It was built to push current VR limits further and this mission has been accomplished.
If you want to discover more about the Index, first of all, you should visit its official page.
I suggest you to watch the review by TESTED, that is very informative
I hope that you liked this long journey inside the Valve Index, and if it is the case, why don’t you make me happy and share this post with your friends and you also subscribe to my newsletter?
(Header image by Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica)
Disclaimer: this blog contains advertisement and affiliate links to sustain itself. If you click on an affiliate link, I'll be very happy because I'll earn a small commission on your purchase. You can find my boring full disclosure here.