Valve's Index HMD Takes Premium Consumer VR To The Next Level

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅30.04.2019 22:58:51



Virtual Reality on the decline? Not a bit of it according to Valve who today have taken the wraps off the Valve Index, their own solution to the next-generation premium VR hardware conundrum. Complete with Headset, controllers, base stations and software ecosystem, it's billed as a serious alternative to Oculus and HTC Vive's own PC-tethered devices.

Index Headset



As far as 'next-generation' credentials go, they don't come more cut-and-dry than HMD technical specifications. First generation premium HMDs tethered to the PC had similar specifications, derived from PC GPU hardware capabilities and the minimum requirements necessary for a low-lag/low-latency VR experience. Utilising a resolution of 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye) refreshing at a rate of 90Hz, they were a benchmark of where the technology was at the time.

Unsurprisingly the Valve Index takes things a considerable step further. Eyes are now treated to a resolution of 2880x1600 (1440 x 1600 per eye) refreshing at up to 144Hz, while staged fall-back refresh rates of 80/90/120Hz ensure backwards compatibility with older VR software. Each pixel is capable of full RGB and the display incorporates ultra-low backlight persistence (as low as 0.33ms at 144Hz).

Limited field of view is another factor present in earlier HMD generations that's addressed by the Index. Its FOV is 20 degrees wider than the HTC Vive, thanks in part to the new screens and optics.

Those are far from the only features of the Index's HMD. Comfort is high on the priority list, as it should be if Valve expect creators and gamers to spend hours on end using the system. The headgear is adjustable to fit any head, while the Inter-pupillary Distance (IPD) can be fixed from 58-70mm. Anti-microbial pads adorn everywhere the headset comes into contact with the skin, and the face pads can be quickly swapped for multiple users. Even the headphone speakers are off-ear.

Going one step further, Valve have incorporated two front-facing RGB cameras made for computer vision into the HMD and an auxiliary USB 3.0 type-A expansion slot onto the front. These offer expanded use for 'creators' and software developers pushing the boundaries of what's possible with the Index and its software API.

Controllers



The Valve Index is optionally shipped with a pair of wireless touch and gesture Controllers designed for 'enabling natural interactions, high-fidelity hand presence, and long-term comfort.' The mirrored devices each incorporate dozens of sensors to allow representation of human gestures, varied grips and even throwing in as natural a fashion as possible.

The controllers are secured to the hand and arm so you can completely let go of the base when needed and not worry about throwing the controller itself. Valve also claim that individual finger movements are tracked alongside other factors such as skin capacitance to ensure that it continues to operate optimally even as the conditions of your skin change or another user is tagged in.

Index Controllers are compatible with the full range of current SteamVR titles by default, and Valve are working with developers to broaden this range further as new experiences are released while also taking advantage of the new ways the controller can be used.

Base Station 2.0



As standard the Valve Index comes with two upgraded base stations (Base Stations 2.0) that offer greater coverage than prior solutions for up to a 400% larger play space. Larger and more complex spaces can be more accurately mapped by adding up to two more base stations, supporting an area up to 10x10m.

The base stations utilise coded laser sweeps rather than an omnidirectional blinker to judge position, tracking sensors on the HMD and controller quickly at sub-millimeter precision. Unfortunately they're only compatible with 2.0 tracking capable hardware, i.e. the Valve Index and HTC Vive Pro.

Software Ecosystem

Walled gardens are ever the bugbear fighting against the adoption of new technologies, but Valve are making the platform as open as they can:

Steam is the ultimate destination for playing, discussing, and creating games. As always, Steam is hardware agnostic - we don't believe your content should be locked to your headset. Any content you bought on Steam for your HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Rift, or Windows Mixed Reality headsets will work with the Valve Index - and vice versa.


Pricing & Availability

The Valve Index is priced commensurately with other premium VR solutions, and that means it's certainly not cheap. The Valve Index VR Kit, a package consisting of Valve Index HMD, Controllers and two Base Stations 2.0, will set you back an eye-watering 919 including V.A.T. Individually the HMD, Controllers and Base Stations are priced at 459, 259 and 139 respectively. You'll need two Base Stations to get up and running, but the system appears to also be compatible with the older Base Station 1.0 tracking system.

Pre-orders begin tomorrow (May 1st), and components will ship from June 28th.

Technical Specs

HMD

Displays
- Dual 1440 x 1600 LCDs, full RGB per pixel, ultra-low persistence global backlight illumination (0.330ms at 144Hz)

Framerate:- 80/90/120/144Hz

Optics:- Double element, canted lens design

Field of View (FOV):
- Optimized eye relief adjustment allows a typical user experience 20 more than the HTC Vive

Inter-pupillary Distance (IPD):- 58mm - 70mm range physical adjustment

Ergonomic Adjustments:
- Head size, eye relief (FOV), IPD, speaker positions. Rear cradle adapter included.

Connections:
- 5m tether, 1m breakaway trident connector. USB 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, 12V power (HDMI not supported)

Tracking:
- SteamVR 2.0 sensors, compatible with SteamVR 1.0 and 2.0 base stations

Audio:
- Built-in: 37.5mm off-ear Balanced Mode Radiators (BMR), Frequency Response: 40Hz - 24KHz, Impedance: 6 Ohm, SPL: 98.96 dBSPL at 1cm.
- Aux Headphone Out: 3.5mm

Microphone:
- Dual Microphone Array, Frequency response: 20Hz 24kHz, Sensitivity: -25dBFS/Pa @ 1kHz

Cameras:- Stereo 960 x 960 pixel, global shutter, RGB (Bayer)

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Controllers

Inputs:
- A Button, B Button, System Button, Trigger, Thumbstick, Track Button with Force Sensor, Grip Force Sensor, Finger Tracking, IMU

Ergonomics:- Adjustable strap with pivot, antimicrobial tech fabric

Connections:- USB-C, 2.4GHz Wireless

Haptics:- HD LRA

Battery Life:- 7+ hours

Charging:- 900mA fast charging, 1100mAh capacity Li-Ion polymer battery

Tracking:- SteamVR 2.0 sensors, compatible with SteamVR 1.0 and 2.0 Base Stations

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Base Station 2.0

Range:- 7m

FOV:- 160 x 115

Expandability:- Up to four base stations, up 10m x 10m playspace

Power:- 12V, compatible with existing HTC Vive power supply


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