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Valve officially unveils the Valve Index

Steam giant's foray into VR hardware features individual finger tracking, compatibility with all of SteamVR, will cost $999

Today, Valve has revealed the details surrounding its upcoming venture into VR hardware, the Valve Index.

The Index is planned for launch later this year with initial, limited availability in the US and the EU, though Valve intends to increase shipments later based on demand. Pre-orders will open in May.

The full kit, which includes a base station, two Index controllers, and the headset itself, will cost $999. Individual pieces are compatible with HTC Vive headsets, controllers, and base stations. The headset alone will cost $499, the controllers alone are $279, and those who already own a base station can purchase the headset and controllers together for $749.

At a reveal event last week, Valve representatives said the Index's high cost (it's one of the most expensive headsets on the market) is due to the philosophy behind its development The Index is intended both as a high-fidelity, high-end headset for experienced VR users, and to remove hardware barriers for developers working in VR and increase the library of content available, rather than focusing on an affordable or low-barrier piece of equipment for users.

In terms of visual fidelity, the Valve index is a 120 Hz headset that's compatible both with 90 Hz and 144 Hz, though at the moment 144 Hz experiences are still experimental. The headset features dual 1440 by 1600 LCD panels, 0.330ms of persistence, and 50% visual fill factor - a feature that Valve claims will all but eliminate screen door effect - an improvement GamesIndustry.biz observed at the reveal event. And aside from just looking sharper, one major improvement brought by the Valve Index is text legibility - a perk also observable in demos at the reveal.

To improve field of view, the Index has adjustable inner lenses that can be moved closer or farther away from the face within the headset once the headset has been donned and tightened, effectively adjusting for face shape or glasses. A knob on the side of the headset adjusts these, with 1cm of knob turning equating to 30 degrees more or less field of view within the headset. Another adjustable knob on the lower right-hand side takes eye spacing into account. One final knob on the back tightens the headset itself, and each headset comes with an extra piece of padding for the back that can be added or removed to account for smaller head sizes.

Though the outer visor of the headset is purely cosmetic, it's also removable to reveal a component Valve refers to as the "frunk." Within is a USB outlet that Valve says will be compatible with various accessories, though for now the demonstration was limited to a simple LED light pattern visible with the visor put back in place. In addition, the cameras on the front of the headset are not for tracking (the Index uses Valve's Lighthouse tracking system), but are working cameras that Valve demonstrated with a number of experimental visual features that applied different filters to the view through their lenses. Valve says it will make the camera feature software open source for developers.

For audio fidelity, the Valve Index features a new type of VR headset sound system, using speakers that sit outside and near the user's ear without touching it, as opposed to headphones. These speakers do not touch the ear when worn and are adjustable up and down for different ear heights, but not closer to or farther away from the ear.

The Valve Index is compatible with both its own bases and HTC Vive 1.0 and 2.0 bases. The headset boasts over seven hours of battery life and is charged via USB C.

Then there are the Index Controllers, which will look familiar to anyone who has been following Valve's VR ventures over the past several years as their development has largely been public. Though the controllers have a grip for the hands, they also feature an adjustable strap (both for hand length and width) that will keep the controller in position on the hand when the grip is released.

The purpose behind this is to enable open and closed-hand interactions, though that isn't the end of it. Valve says it wants to eliminate "abstract" inputs in VR, essentially the idea of pushing a button such as the trigger to get an action to happen. The focus of the Valve Index controllers is instead "direct action," which is enabled by internal sensors in each controller that track the hand's position, motion, and force.

This allows games that take advantage of the feature to work with individual hand and finger movements such as pointing, picking up, throwing, dropping, and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors and holding a gun with a finger on the trigger. That said, the controllers do still have traditional buttons: A, B, trigger, a thumbstick, and a track button that can detect both motion up and down as well as force.

Those buttons are necessary, as the Valve Index is compatible with the entirety of the SteamVR library. At the reveal, Valve emphasized a focus on remaining an open platform and hardware agnostic - any VR game purchased on Steam, Valve says, will work with all PC VR headsets. Valve Index will also launch with Aperture Hand Labs, a demo of the headset's finger and hand tracking technology set in the same universe and environment as the Portal games. And today, it has been revealed that Firefox Reality will come to SteamVR this summer, making the VR browser compatible also with the Valve Index.

Hardware agnosticism will be especially good news for those with their eyes on rumored Valve Index titles, as Valve also confirmed at the event that one of the rumored VR flagship titles was indeed in development at Valve and would be launched across all PC VR headsets by the end of the year.

Disclosure: Valve paid for our travel and accommodations for the event.

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