Facebook just announced the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S will ship May 21st for $399. But Valve will also let you buy parts piecemeal if you need, which is rather nice.
Valve this week started to take pre-orders last May 1st on its next-generation Index VR headset that was developed entirely in-house. The product significantly improves all the capabilities of the HTC Vive when it comes to screen quality, controllers, ergonomics, and tracking.
Now, Valve is fully detailing the Index headset for the first time, and revealing exactly how much it will cost: $999.
Valve Index VR Headset Features
Like the HTC Vive before it, which was co-designed with Valve, the Index will still be a tethered experience with a 5-meter cable that plugs into a beefy gaming PC, and one that uses the company’s laser-firing Lighthouse base stations to figure out where the headset is at any given time. That’s how it lets you walk around a room’s worth of space in VR — up to a huge 10 x 10 meter room, if you’ve got four of them.
Valve’s not using cameras for inside-out tracking; the company says the twin stereo RGB cameras here are designed for pass through (letting you see the real world through the headset) and for whatever the computer vision community can dream up.
One of the key part of every VR headset is its display subsystem. The Valve Index is equipped with two LCD screens featuring a 1440×1600 resolution per eye (2880×1600 combined resolution), an up to 120 Hz refresh rate (as well as 144 Hz in overclocked mode), and an expanded field of view of around 130°.
The screens are equipped with new optics featuring adjustable dual element canted lenses that ensure optical sharpness across the entire surface and enable users to look around using their eyes, not only the head. The optics also feature interpupillary distance and lens-eye distance adjustments to ensure the maximum viewing comfort.
When it comes to audio subsystem of the Valve Index, it has two nearfield off-ear speakers that feature accurate spatial positioning, yet do not touch ears. This is designed to ensure that users will not get as tired when using the headset and will still hear what is going around them. The headset also features a 3.5-mm headphone jack for those who prefer their own headphones.
Unlike other advanced contemporary VR headsets, the Valve Index continues to use external trackers. The SteamVR Tracking 2.0 system relies on two or four base stations featuring laser tracking that are said to be more reliable, more energy efficient, and cheaper to produce.
Valve says that when using four trackers, gamers will be able to enjoy play areas of up to 10×10 meters. It remains to be seen whether such play areas are practical with a tethered headset, however. It is noteworthy that owners of the original HTC Vive will be able to use their base stations with the Index VR headset, but the reverse is not true: the new trackers can only be used with the new Index headset.
In addition to the new tracking system, Valve’s Index VR also comes with all-new controllers. The new controllers can track not only the position in space, but also all five fingers (a consumer industry first), allowing to grab and throw virtual objects. Obviously, to take advantage of the new feature, support from games is required. The Index Controllers also feature a small joystick, a tiny touchpad, two buttons, an analog trigger, a system button, a strap, and a Micro USB port for charging (Ian: a what??). Valve believes that its controller can live for about seven hours on one charge, but everything naturally depends on the actual use.
Valve’s Index VR headset uses a DisplayPort 1.2 and a USB port to connect to PC. When USB 3.0 connection is used, it will be possible to access camera’s pass-through mode for AR applications. Meanwhile, the HMD also has a VirtualLink interface support that can handle both display and USB data through a single USB Type-C cable.
Valve is taking pre-orders on its Index VR headset now with plans to ship the units in June. The whole package containing the HMD, controllers, and base stations costs $999. Alternatively, it is possible to get the HMD with controllers for $749, only the headset for $499, only the controllers for $279, and a pair of base stations for $299.
Unfortunately, Valve is still being tight-lipped about its promised three full-length virtual reality games, meaning there aren’t currently any big Valve-made titles to tempt you into VR on day one. According to reports, Valve will bring a “flagship” VR game to all Steam-connected VR headsets later this year.