You may recall that Valve has its own virtual reality headset, the Valve Index, which it surprise-revealed one month ago. And you might even remember that Valve said preorders will begin tomorrow, May 1st, and ship this June. Now, Valve is fully detailing the Index headset for the first time, and revealing exactly how much it will cost: $999.
That’s a relatively high price by today’s VR headset standards — 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. If you’ve already got a Vive or Vive Pro and / or don’t need the latest Knuckles controllers, you won’t necessarily need to spend that whole $999 to get started.
Here’s the whole price list right now:
And here’s your best look yet at the Valve Index, courtesy of Valve’s official photos:
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 passthrough (letting you see the real world through the headset) and for whatever the computer vision community can dream up.
Instead, Valve says the Index’s focus is on delivering the highest fidelity VR experience possible, meaning improved lenses, screens, and audio — which in this case actually includes a pair of 1440 x 1600-resolution RGB LCDs, rather than the higher-res OLED screens much of the competition is using. But Valve says its screens run faster — 120Hz, with an experimental 144Hz mode — and are better at combating the “screen door effect” and blurry-when-you-move-your-head persistence issues that first-gen VR headsets struggled with.
The Valve Index also has an IPD slider to adjust for the distance between your eyes (something none other than Oculus founder Palmer Luckey criticized the new Rift S for leaving out), and lenses that Valve says offer a 20-degree larger field of view than the HTC Vive “for typical users.”
Interestingly, Valve says the built-in headphones we saw in leaked images aren’t actually headphones — they’re speakers, and ones designed not to touch your ears, instead firing their sound toward your head. That’s similar to how Microsoft’s HoloLens visors produce audio, and it means that while people around you could theoretically hear what you’re doing, there’ll be less fiddling with the mechanism to get that audio aligned with your ears. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack if you want to plug in your own headphones.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the Valve Index can be purchased separately for $279. The Valve Index Controllers, formerly known as Knuckles, might be the most intuitive way to get your hands into VR yet. While a strap holds the controller to your hand, 87 sensors track the position of your hands and fingers and even how hard you’re pressing down. Theoretically, you could easily reach, grab, and throw virtual objects with such a setup, something that wasn’t really possible with the HTC Vive or Oculus Touch controllers. (You had to let go of a button and pretend to throw, without actually letting go; a Wii-like dangly wrist strap was the only thing keeping those controllers from smashing into your wall.)
Here’s one gameplay example that Valve is showing off:
I’m also happy about one little improvement to the company’s Lighthouse base stations. Since they only use a single laser now, and no IR blinker, Valve says they play nicer with other IR devices, hopefully meaning I can now turn on and off my TV without needing to power them down first.
Our sister site Polygon has an early hands-on with the Valve Index, and they say the Knuckles feel great (though there’s still a little lag), the optics are sharp, and that it may be the most comfortable way to wear a VR headset over a pair of glasses yet.
Polygon also got Valve to explain that $999 price:
During Valve’s demonstration, a spokesperson said that Index is the sort of thing that is likely to appeal to a virtual reality enthusiast who (a) must have the latest thing and (b) enjoys sufficient disposable income to satisfy that desire. It’s an interesting contrast with Facebook’s strategy for Rift, which is pushing hard for the price tipping point when VR suddenly becomes a mass-market thing, like smartphones did a decade ago.
Unfortunately, Polygon says that 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. Unless, of course, Valve plans to reveal them between now and the headset’s mid-June launch. According to UploadVR, Valve will bring a “flagship” VR game to all Steam-connected VR headsets later this year.
Correction, May 1 at 11:08 AM ET: With four new Lighthouse base stations, the play area is 10 x 10 meters, not 10 square meters.