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(Pocket-lint) - The Valve Index is a high-end virtual reality gaming headset from Valve - the company behind Steam. It's been in the works for a while, was leaked last year and has now been officially revealed

We're taking a look at what this headset is, how it's different from other VR headsets already available and why it costs so much money. Stick with us to find out more. 

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What is the Valve Index?

The Valve Index is a powerful high-end virtual reality headset that's similar to the HTC Vive (in that it works with Steam VR) but packs upgraded tech and improved specs. It appears to have a much more gamer-focussed design than the high-end Vive Pro and Vive Pro Eye which are aimed more at business users. Like those devices though, this new headset does come with a high asking price. 

The Valve Index is available as a full package - with headset, controllers and two tracking base stations or in individual parts as an upgrade if you already own an HTC Vive. That's because the Index is backwards compatible and will work with parts from those other headsets. This could be a good way to get your hands on the new headset without spending a small fortune, though you won't quite get the same experience. 

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The headset

  • Integrated headphones with off-ear design
  • Headsize adjustment wheel
  • Eye relief and IPD slider

Valve says the new headset has been designed with a focus on "fidelity first" - meaning a focus on visuals, audio and ergonomic design to create a VR headset that's a joy to use. 

Based on what we know from the images and specs, this new headset should indeed be comfortable to use. It has various premium design features similar to those we've seen on other VR headsets. This includes use of padded and woven antimicrobial fabrics on the headbands, swappable face pads and various size adjustment options. 

Apparently, the Valve Index will not only adjust to the size of your head but will also be able to be tweaked to sit nicely on your face with comfort further enhanced by IPD and eye-relief adjustment options. 

As well as housing a number of tacking lenses, the front of this new headset also includes a pair of global-shutter RGB cameras. These will enable pass-through to give you a vision of the room around you. This tech also opens up options for developers to make use of these cameras in their content. We're not sure what this means yet, but it shows how expandable and customisable the experience will be. 

Alongside the cameras, there's also a front expansion slot that Valve is calling "the frunk". This includes a USB 3 Type-A port and can be used by other companies to create accessories for the Valve Index. To us, it looks perfect for things like the Leap Motion hand-tracking module we've seen before on the HTC Vive. This sort of thing could enhance future VR experiences by tracking your hands rather than plastic controllers you have to hold.  

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The integrated speakers

  • Integrated ultra-nearfield flat panel speakers
  • 37.5mm off-ear Balanced Mode Radiators (BMR)
  • 40Hz - 24KHz Frequency Response
  • 6 Ohm Impedance
  • Aux Headphone Out 3.5mm

The audio of the headset is also designed with a focus on comfort. The integrated headphones, for example, don't actually sit over your ears but just hover above them. This is meant to help keep you cool while you play while also allowing the sound to flow freely. Virtual surround sound comes from around you, rather than from within some headphones that are clamped to your head. 

These ultra-nearfield flat panel speakers are also adjustable so you can move them around to suit your head type and the position of your ears. 

Display visuals

  • Dual 1440x1600 LCDs
  • Up to 144Hz refresh rate
  • 20 degree wider Field of View than HTC Vive
  • IPD adjustor with 58mm - 70mm range 

The Valve Index is designed to offer the "best-in-class" VR experiences, as such, you'd expect some fairly decent specs. This headset sports two LCDs offering a resolution of 1440x1600 per eye, that's the same as the HTC Vive Pro. However, Valve claims these RGB LCDs offer 50 per cent more subpixels than the traditional OLED screens which result in improved sharpness. 

New lenses and an improved design also promise to reduce the screen door effect often seen on VR headsets. The Index also boasts the ability to support up to 144Hz refresh rate - significantly higher than the 90Hz on the HTC Vive Pro. All this means improved realism and better immersion during gaming sessions. 

An improved Field of View and custom canted lenses mean you will get better edge-to-edge visuals when gaming when moving your eyes, not just your head. Less distortion and crisper graphics should lead to a much more convincing experience.  

How does the Valve Index work?

Like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the Valve Index needs a gaming PC in order to run. It also needs tracking base stations to monitor your movement in the virtual world and relay that info to your machine and your headset. 

The new Base Station 2.0 setup offers improved tracking range, a better field of view and the possibility of increased play space. In fact, Valve says two of these upgraded base stations can track a space that's 400 per cent larger than the old technology. Add more base stations into the mix and you can expand the play space up to 10 metres squared. 

These base stations sweep the area you're playing in with fixed lasers that pass across the room 100 times a second to monitor the position and movement of both the headset and controllers. 

Both the headset and the controllers house photonic sensors to help relay that information to the system and ensure the best possible tracking. 

All this technology allows you to pop the headset on, grab the controllers and dive into the latest and greatest VR experiences available to buy on Steam. 

Can you run it? 

Being a high-end VR headset, the Valve Index requires a pretty decent gaming PC in order to power and run it. The official requirements for the headset are said to be:

Minimum system requirements:

  • Operating System: Windows 10
  • Processor: Dual Core with Hyper-Threading
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, AMD RX480
  • Network: Broadband Internet connection
  • Additional Notes: Available DisplayPort (Version 1.2) and USB (2.0+) Port Required 

While the recommended specifications for the best performance are:

  • Processor: Quad Core or better
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 or better
  • Additional Notes: Available USB (3.0+) Port Required for Headset Pass-Through Camera & USB Port Support 

If you're not sure whether your current machine is up to the task you can download some free software via Steam to test it.  

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The Valve Index Controllers 

  • USB-C and 2.4GHz Wireless connections
  • 900mA fast charging with a 1100mAh capacity Li-Ion polymer battery
  • Over 7 hours of battery life
  • A Button, B Button, System Button, Trigger, Thumbstick, Track Button with Force Sensor, Grip Force Sensor, Finger Tracking, IMU

Accompanying the Valve Index headset are the Index Controllers - these controllers have been rumoured and shown off in various ways for a long time and were previously referred to as the Valve Knuckles.

The Index Controllers feature a fresh new design that is intended to let players interact with objects in the game in a more natural manner. Using these controllers you'll be able to pick up, move, throw and grab items as you would in the real world and in a much more convincing way. 

We've previously seen a taste of what this new design means for VR gaming with a teaser of Boneworks gameplay:

The Index Controllers have 87 sensors built into them meaning they'll be able to track not only your hand movement, but also individual finger positions and things like grip and pressure. Valve says this has all been finely tuned to enable much more natural and accurate movement. 

These controllers not only track individual finger movements but are also capable of accounting for different hands if friends come over to play and even re-calibrate to account for changes in your skin's capacitance.  

The Index Controllers are also "worn instead of held" so your hands don't get fatigued while playing as you're not constantly gripping a controller. Secure straps and other ergonomic enhancements like anti-microbial, moisture-wicking and easy to clean fabrics make the controllers much easier and cleaner to use. With far less risk of them slipping out of your hand mid gaming session. 

How much is Valve Index?

If you're starting out fresh with no other hardware, you can buy the entire kit that includes the headset, controllers and base stations for £919/£999 direct from the Steam store here

If you already own the HTC Vive or Vive Pro then you can choose to buy just the headset for almost half that, but you won't get the new and improved controllers or the upgraded base stations. 

Orders will start shipping 28 June 2019. 

Writing by Adrian Willings. Originally published on 1 May 2019.