From the beginning, Valve has worked closely with companies on virtual reality. The company partnered with HTC to design its Vive VR headset. Steam, Valve’s gaming platform, long ago introduced a dedicated SteamVR platform for virtual reality content. Few companies understand virtual reality better than Valve these days. Up until recently, Valve had never produced its own virtual reality headset. Now the company has introduced the Valve Index to compete with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
The Valve Index comes to the market as a premium VR headset for dedicated users. At a price of $999, Valve gears the Index toward hardcore gamers and professional users. Vive and Rift headsets cost $499 and $399 respectively. Valve isn’t hiding the fact that this premium headset isn’t designed for casual users. To add value to the product, various hardware features have been thrown in. Perhaps the Index can bring virtual reality headsets to the next level, although the core features remain the same as before.
For instance, users remain tethered to a high-powered PC while using the Index. Consumers and professionals won’t find a standalone VR headset here. Virtual reality is presented at 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye with the Index. That’s an excellent resolution and helps present a crisp VR experience. Currently, only developer-focused headsets provide better visuals and resolution. A max refresh rate of 120Hz keeps the action smooth and in focus at all times, which should thrill potential users.
When it comes to hardware, users will need a fairly powerful PC to pair with the Index. At a minimum, Valve recommends a GTX 970 or RX480 for a decent experience. A GTX 1070 is recommended for a smooth and playable experience, though. Virtual reality is quite demanding on PC hardware, so a more powerful GPU is always recommended. Otherwise, a weaker GPU produces lagging and stuttering visuals. A rough visual experience brings users out of the immersion and can even cause motion sickness.
Virtual reality remains a niche product to most gamers and developers. Small improvements have been made since the first headsets released years ago. In the end, the Vive Index doesn’t take VR to the next level. This particular device instead refines what gamers and developers are used to already. Valve brings a lot to the table with the Index, and there’s a lot to swoon over. It remains to be seen how well the premium headset can gain a footing in the market.