Valve’s new virtual reality headset, Valve Index, is available for pre-order on Wednesday. If you want the whole kit—the headset, two hand tracking controllers, and two base stations that use laser tracking sensors to increase play space—it’ll cost you $999, the company revealed on Tuesday.
Valve, which operates the Steam digital marketplace, first teased its VR headset last month, but didn't share any details at the time. Now that we know more about the Index, it seems as though Valve is targeting users interested in high-end gear, undercutting the more expensive HTC Vive Pro—which Valve itself co-created with the Taiwanese smartphone maker.
The Index marks Valve’s entrance into the VR market, which is dominated by the Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony’s PlayStation VR. Meanwhile, the Oculus and PlayStation VR headsets are already cutting prices and offering more affordable iterations in an attempt to reach a wider audience.
Though the Index’s $999 price tag is an eye-popper, the good news is you can buy its components separately. The headset alone is $500, the controllers run $280, and one base station is $149. You can also buy the headset and controllers together for $749. If you’re already deep into VR and own an HTC Vive or Vive Pro, you won’t need to buy the Index’s base station or controllers, since the Vive controllers and stations work with the Index. (The new base station, however, only works with the Vive Pro, according to Valve.)
The Index’s controllers are one of the more interesting new features of the whole kit, since they use a whole bunch of sensors—87 per controller, according to Valve—to let users control things in-game with more precision, down to finger movements. As for the Index base stations, they’re an upgraded version of the ones that shipped with the Vive, with a wider field of view and more range. Adding more base stations to your setup area will increase useable space, and Valve said on the Index Steam page that players can have up to four base stations.
Even in the premium VR market, the Valve Index is a heavy hitter. The HTC Vive Pro is more expensive than the Valve Index at $1,400, and it appears that the Index will rival the pricier system. Compared to the HTC Vive Pro’s 90 Hz refresh rate, Valve Index goes up to 144 Hz, with a 130 degree field of view compared to Vive Pro’s 110 degrees.
Meanwhile, on the casual end of the VR scale, Facebook has two new VR headsets available for pre-order today, too. The Oculus Rift S and Quest will cost $399, and, naturally, are less powerful than the Index. (There is a 128BG version of Oculus Quest that’ll cost $499, up from 64GB.) Both headsets also have lower barriers to entry than the Index; you don’t need a high-end PC, or a PC at all, to use the Oculus Quest.
It seems that Valve’s betting that there are enough users who want to invest in high-end gear, and chances are it's not making that bet blindly. In addition to having a lot of data on what games people buy and play, the company also conducts regular surveys on what kind of operating systems and hardware its customers are using.
You’ll be able to use the Valve Index to play any VR game available through Steam, but Valve hasn’t announced any of the three “full games” that Valve co-founder Gabe Newell said in February 2017 are in development for the HTC Vive and Steam—something that would have definitely sweetened the deal for those unsure about pre-ordering the new Index headset.
If you're curious about whether your computer can handle the Valve Index, you can download an app to test your PC specs on the Valve Index Steam page.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.