When the Valve Index was announced, it was a historic moment in gaming history. Up to that point, the only VR experience that was catered towards gamers was the PlayStation VR headset. The Oculus was a nice choice, but it wasn’t built from the ground up with gamers in mind.
With the biggest pc gaming marketplace in the world backing their own headset, there is a good chance the Valve Index is here to stay. But like other great creations from Steam, is it more of a proof of concept?
The Valve Index is the most VR looking headset that you will ever purchase. If the entire setup wasn’t so bulky, it would look like a cool pair of ski goggles.
Overall, the unit is heavier than its competition. Valve handled the extra weight well, and it is distributed evenly. The most noticeable part about wearing this headset is how comfortable it is past the one-hour mark.
There is a breaking point for most headsets that makes them uncomfortable during extended sessions. For the average gamer, this causes conflict, even with casual titles that have short rounds.
The key to the design of the Valve Index is the use of a high-quality head strap. With a high amount of flexibility, it never feels like there is pressure on your nose or either side of your head. It is a perfect fit every time, and adjusting it takes seconds.
A high resolution and consistent refresh rate are the bare minimum expected for a great VR experience. The Valve Index smashed both of those expectations by delivering 1440×1600 with a refresh rate of 120 HZ.
This goes above and beyond the best in the industry and is exceptional since it includes an intuitive lens adjustment slider. Users that spend a lot of time adjusting their game settings will find the slider of this headset familiar.
Media and gaming will not always be optimal in the same FOV settings, so having the ability to change it on the fly is essential. Having a high-resolution screen for each eye would be pointless if there wasn’t a way to individualize the experience.
Although the headset is the epitome of quality, there are some concerns in a few areas. You can expect a lot of moving parts to complete the entire experience. There is the headset with the built-in audio, the two Knuckle controllers, and two base station sensors. This isn’t a wireless headset, so there is also the wire that connects to your desktop.
Users have already complained about the length, and in some cases an extension cable is mandatory. This creates a bad scenario due to the high refresh rate of the Valve Index.
Be careful when making a purchase since any old extension cable won’t cut it. Many of the lists that have compatible cables lean toward active extensions, which are an unavoidable expense when you need a lot of cable length.
It only takes one of these extra parts to malfunction before you have a useless VR headset. This is not the fault of Valve, but is something to consider if you tend to be rough on electronics.
Natural interactions are hard to put into a virtual setting. That feeling of weightlessness when you’re in a virtual world is still there. This is something that has forced a lot of VR companies to think outside of the box. Until technology advances, there will always be that ‘floaty’ feeling while living in a virtual world.
The Valve Index gets around this problem by introducing controllers with finger tracking. As a result, users get an unlimited amount of expressions and gestures that can be used in-game.
More importantly, this opens up more ways to interact with media elements. The difference in fluidity is astonishing, and it is truly the change that the VR world needed.
Going back to other controllers is difficult, and in some instances impossible if you’re looking to play a specific game. Games and media using standard controls will instantly adapt to generic inputs and advanced commands after customization.
Casual users that are new to VR will find the entire setup confusing. It is similar to introducing a non-gamer to an analog controller without any previous guidance.
Along with two controllers, the package will also include two base stations. Base station setup follows the usual guidelines based on room space and the specific play area. You can add additional base stations as needed, but for most setups this is unnecessary.
Hardware requirements are low and have been optimized to work with older desktop systems. The biggest drawback on any system will come down to the GPU, and the amount of VRAM it has available.
You don’t need an impressive rig to use the Valve Index. But having more than the minimum specs is required to have a good experience. In fact, the listed minimum specifications are entirely misleading.
Half-Life: Alyx is Valve’s exclusive VR game, and technically the main reason to own a Valve Index. The minimum hardware requirements to run this VR only game is more than 4x the minimum specifications for the Valve Index.
There is no way to finesse using an underpowered desktop with a VR headset. Even with its optimizations, the Valve Index is still at the mercy of your GPU, and the other associated desktop parts.
Things get even less flexible when you talk about GPU performance. Your target should be at least 6GB of VRAM on the NVIDIA side, and 8GB of VRAM on the AMD side.
For minimum models, users are looking at a 1060 6GB or a 480 8GB. These are not exactly powerhouses, but they do add an additional cost if you have an unreliable GPU.
The GPU barrier is low, but unstable prices with each tier makes getting a good deal unreliable. It’s smarter to shop for a GPU long before you decide to put the Valve Index in a shopping cart.
Out of the box, the Valve Index comes with built-in ear speakers that provide a full surround sound experience. They don’t touch the ear and as a result, are comfortable for multiple hours of use.
Hardware and software immersion were taken into account when making this design. With a slick binaural setup and great delivery, this is clearly the best audio experience available for a VR headset.
Even the bass hits hard, which is incredible since the speakers are an inch away from the ears. Users have the option of replacing the built-in speakers with headphones of their own. The entire setup is a win-win situation, that expands on the audio possibilities of a superior VR experience.
How Does the Valve Index Compare?
There is no doubt that the main competitor of the Valve Index is the Oculus Rift S. These are the two premiere headsets that buyers consider when they want high compatibility blended with great hardware.
The Index wins marks for having perfect integration with the Steam Store, but that was expected. Buyers that aren’t hardcore VR enthusiasts may digest the following information in a completely different way.
|Valve Index||Oculus Rift S|
|Minimum GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970/AMD RX 480 4GB||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050ti/AMD RX 470|
|Tracking||2 External base stations||Five cameras built in|
|FOV||130 degrees||110 degrees|
|Face Cushion||Foam covered microfiber||Soft foam on rubber|
Taking a Leap of Faith
There is no doubt that the Valve Index is the gamer’s choice for a VR headset. But what about everyone else? The price of admission will always be a deterrent for VR, and in the case of the Valve Index, it really splits the market.
This is an incredible piece of technology that is held hostage by Steam Store’s ability to deliver exclusive content. With their track record for sequels, it isn’t a safe bet.
So for buyers that don’t have thousands of hours invested in Steam, the Valve Index turns into an avoidable gamble.