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Valve Index Review
Review By @ 04:29pm 18/08/21

Product: Valve Index
Type: Virtual Reality (VR) Headset
Price: $1899.95 (Complete Kit)
Availability: September 24
Link: ebgames.com.au/product/pc/231700-valve-index-complete-vr-kit

Virtual Reality has always been one of those “see it to believe it” bits of technology, and depending on the brand of space age goggles you place on your head the “see it” part can go from “cool” to “holy moly” in no time. From resolution to field-of-view to refresh rates to the type of LCD or OLED panel used -- it all plays a part in that videogame thing we call immersion. In other words, no two bits of VR kit are the same.

Speaking in broad VR terms, when pulled off it can make even the most mundane age-old mechanic feel fresh, exciting, and downright futuristic. With room-scale tracking and touch controls, opening up a filing cabinet and picking up a manilla folder is weirdly satisfying. Beat Saber has you simply slashing cubes in time to music, and even though it’s as simple as that the experience borders on transcendent. The same can be said of the recent VR viking rhythm gem Ragnarock. Even the Dreamcast-era classic Rez Infinite, when played in VR, feels like you're in one of those 90s movies where using a computer and going online is this over-the-top mix of CGI shapes and electrical currents.


A lot of what makes-up the experience of trying out VR hardware comes down to the software you end up using. With the Valve Index finally making its way to Australia, it arrives as the high-end Virtual Reality experience for PC. Specifically, as the in-house VR headset designed by Valve to get the most out of its own SteamVR platform. And the premiere way to play Half-Life: Alyx, the narrative-heavy spectacle and VR showcase set in the Half-Life universe.


Speaking in broad VR terms, when pulled off it can make even the most mundane age-old mechanic feel fresh, exciting, and downright futuristic.



Frankly it’s the sort of AAA-style VR game we wish there was more of.

From both a technical, interactive City 17, and potential wallet-damage standpoint, the Index is formidable. Valve’s custom controllers allow for individual finger tracking that sits on top of the usual analogue-stick and button pressing. In Half-Life: Alyx and games like Boneworks the result is tactile control that firmly sets VR apart from standard ‘controller in hand’ gaming.


And with the Index supporting up to 144Hz output, there’s the addition of discomfort-free VR for extended sessions and alleviating things like motion sickness or the screen-door effect. But, there’s no skirting around the pricepoint -- $1899.95 AUD for the Complete Kit. The Index’s cost of entry compared to the HTC VIVE Cosmos or the mainstream Oculus Quest 2 is, well, noticeable. And if you plan on hitting 144 Hz in Half-Life: Alyx there’s the additional hurdle of putting together a decent gaming PC in 2021.


With the Valve Index finally making its way to Australia, it arrives as the high-end Virtual Reality experience for PC. Specifically, as the in-house VR headset designed by Valve to get the most out of its own SteamVR platform.



With everything set-up, updated, and installed though, the Index lives up to its promise. Fidelity, comfort, and a level of control that delivers some of the most immersive VR you’re likely to see.

Access Granted




The Valve Index is also a reminder of the drawbacks that come from tethered VR designed for PC. Depending on where your rig is situated, having enough room to not only move around but plug in and properly position two powered Base Stations can be a challenge.

Related: Our Full Review of the HTC Vive Cosmos




Thankfully having SteamVR and the likes of HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift established for a few years now means setup is relatively easy. Of course you’ll need to spend the requisite time updating each component of the Valve Index Complete VR Kit before jumping into the land of the virtual. The headset, controllers, and base stations each run their own firmware.

Setting up the Valve Index is ultimately straightforward but not entirely intuitive, in that it requires doing stuff with the headset on as well as selecting things on your monitor or secondary display. In that way it’s very much a “PC” thing, where a keen sense of drivers and patches and “right-slick settings” is a given. But it’s here where the first not-so great choice emerges, and that is the base station requirement for room-scale tracking. Little square HAL 9000s you need to position in opposing corners, provide power to, and then use to track full-3D movement.


The lack of inside-out tracking found in the latest HTC VIVE and Oculus products is disappointing. Having one less “physical thing” to worry about brings us one step closer to the dream of wireless VR and a place where all you’re doing is pressing the activator chip located near your temple to make your eyes go white as you enter the world of Virtual Virtual Skeeball. Throw in the super-long DisplayPort and USB combo cable and Index still feels, like most VR-headsets do, like a small step forward as opposed to where VR might ultimately end up.


The Valve Index is also a reminder of the drawbacks that come from tethered VR designed for PC. Depending on where your rig is situated, having enough room to not only move around but plug in and properly position two powered Base Stations can be a challenge.



With the right space and everything plugged in though, using the Index is smooth. And the Base Stations offer up impressive accuracy. Putting the headset on automatically fires up SteamVR Home too, the easy-to-use interface used to access all the VR software and games you've got installed. In addition to virtual access to all of Steam’s community and store features you can also adjust settings and other things from within the world of the virtual.

But, it has to be said that having the ‘Home’ button reside on the headset itself is a little weird in that it was the last place we checked when trying to figure out how to get back to our virtual crib from inside City 17.

Goggle Talk… and Virtual Hands




With up to 144Hz in the refresh-rate department (90Hz is seemingly the standard elsewhere), a 130-degree Field of View, and a per-eye resolution of 1440 x 1600 pixels, there is a clarity to the image the Valve Index produces that puts it in a class above. And in that realm that is most certainly premium.

Related: Our Full Review of the Oculus Rift S




The only real drawback being that the LCD panels suffer from the usual contrast issues when stacked up against an OLED panel, in addition to light-glare when bright text or a bright white object is placed on a dark background. The benefit of having a high-refresh rate and wide FOV though more than makes up for this, with the overall Index effect being akin to going from SD to HD -- in that everything looks crisp and defined even when in motion.
Screen: Dual LCD
Resolution: 1440 x 1600 per eye, full RGB per pixel
Refresh Rate: 80/90/120/144Hz
Tracking: SteamVR 2.0 sensors, compatible with SteamVR 1.0 and 2.0 base stations
Audio: Integrated speakers
Cable: 5 metres
Connections: DisplayPort 1.4, USB 3.0
Controllers: Valve Index Controllers


The second half of the picture here comes from Valve’s Index Controllers, which feature full motion tracking right down to individual finger movement. More advanced than what we found when we tested the Oculus Touch Controllers, the Index Controllers can also measure grip strength, adding the sensation of holding onto something. Is it perfect? Not quite, but in practise it works -- especially in compatible titles like Valve’s own Half-Life: Alyx and Boneworks.


With up to 144Hz in the refresh-rate department (90Hz is seemingly the standard elsewhere), a 130-degree Field of View, and a per-eye resolution of 1440 x 1600 pixels, there is a clarity to the image the Valve Index produces that puts it in a class above.



Like the headset itself, it’s once you’re fully decked out that the build quality of the Index kit makes itself apparent. Not only in terms of hardware components but the ergonomics and materials used. The Index features one of the most comfortable high-end VR headsets to date (even if it’s a little heavy at 809g), with easily adjustable straps and tilting to get it all snug. Having the audio being two little headphones/speakers that hover close to your ears is just-about genius too -- especially when the sound quality hits the sort of fidelity that matches the image quality. In fact the Valve Index Ear Speakers sound quality is exceptional for an all-in-one solution and a definite feather in the Index cap.

Inside Gaming




The Index first launched overseas prior to the release of Valve’s own Half-Life: Alyx in March 2020, and as such has always had that long-awaited “something new in the Half-Life universe” to lean into when it comes to the question of what to play. Or, what’s the killer-app for VR? Having a technically proficient and capable bit of hardware without the software to back it up is not ideal, but again, thanks to the maturity of the SteamVR platform there are a number of great VR games that shine when paired up with the Index.

Related: The Best VR Games to Play in 2021




Even controller-only affairs like the Star Wars: Squadrons benefit from the Index’s wide FOV and up-to 144Hz refresh rate. With that in mind, even though the system requirements for the Index are fairly modest in calling for a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970+ or AMD RX480+ you’d probably want at least a GeForce GTX 1070 as a bare minimum. For our own testing, as the Valve Index is a premium slice of VR, we thought it would be fitting to pair it up with the latest NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti for that “maxed out, no compromises” experience.


So let’s go through some of the games tested for this review, both old and new, and all available via Steam.

As one of the flagship experiences that takes full advantage of the Valve Index’s headset design and controllers, playing Half-Life: Alyx feels very much like stepping into a detailed and awe inspiring rendition of City 17. A lot of the experience feels like Half-Life 2 (or a potential Half-Life 3) and with that the mix of exploration, combat, and straight-up survival horror is impressive. The latter gets pretty intense too with headcrabs and those tentacle sucker things offering some of that truly tense VR, well, tension. It’s also one of the most impressive looking VR games to date, with visuals on par with a modern AAA release.


As one of the flagship experiences that takes full advantage of the Valve Index’s headset design and controllers, playing Half-Life: Alyx feels very much like stepping into a detailed and awe inspiring rendition of City 17.



Keeping the survival horror trend going, jumping into Wraith The Oblivion - Afterlife and Blair Witch VR was a reminder of just how “next-level” VR can be for fans of horror games. So much so that the immersion is a blessing and a curse, because if like me you’ve bounced off horror games purely because of the tension and mood, VR horror becomes a test of endurance.


Which is why I spent a lot more time with the arcade and rhythm-like action of Ragnarock, YUKI, and Walkabout Mini Golf. The latter is self explanatory, and with motion controls it’s essentially as good as the real thing, but with the added benefit of courses that are far more outlandish than what you’d find in the real world. Ragnarock has you beating drums on boats as a viking, and generally “rocking out” in a fun, vibrant setting. YUKI is essentially Ikaruga but you’re holding onto and using a toy figurine to dodge bullets and shoot.

VR and SteamVR is definitely in a place now where there are many worthwhile experiences to jump into, covering a wide range of genres. From a fidelity and controller standpoint the Index lives up to its premium price tag and spec-sheet, in addition to working well with a high-end gaming PC. It may not be the most versatile, or portable, but it’s definitely been worth the wait -- getting to witness crisp and smooth VR without the usual motion sickness (in terms of refresh rate and focus) points to a very bright future for both the format and SteamVR.
What we liked
High-fidelity VR thanks to resolution, up-to 144Hz refresh rate, and FOV
Valve Index Controllers and the finger tracking
The big library of VR games on Steam
Easy to set-up
What we didn't like
Base station requirement feels out of step with the move towards inside-out tracking
Some UI navigation quirks without a dedicated 'home' button on the controller
Expensive for the full kit
LCD panels prone to glare
We gave it:
8.5
OUT OF 10
Latest Comments
Darkhawk
Posted 07:00pm 18/8/21
I have an Oculus Quest 2 that can now use 5GHz routers to go fully wireless and it supports 120FPS, this seems like it's not much of a step up for the extra $1500 or so seeing as its per-eye resolution is lower and only has an extra 24Hz. Is the 40° extra FOV really worth that extra dosh?
trog
Posted 08:32am 19/8/21
Wow this is a unit. Not cheap though. Does VR stuff tend to drop in price over time or does it maintain RRP for a while?
d^
Posted 08:49am 19/8/21
I per-ordered one which should arrive next week. I'll let you guys know my verdict. Going to play Half-Life Alyx and Saints and Sinners.
trillion
Posted 06:02pm 20/8/21
the real differential with the Index isn’t so much the fov or per eye resolution, it’s those knuckles controllers that make the interactivity that much closer to an immersive experience for games that have it enabled in the steamworksSDK. i spent many hours with the early version Valve made with HTC, now that these are less than $3000 it might be time to jump back in with a gpu like a nv3000 series for some Half Life: Alyx goodness.
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