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Valve has played a huge and important part in pushing virtual reality forwards over the years with its tracking system and SteamVR platform. But it didn’t launch its own VR headset until , the Valve Index. 

Even today, nearly two years after it launched, the Valve Index is one of the best virtual reality headsets money can buy. It has an ultra-crisp display that runs fairly well even with older GPUs, a wide field of view, a high refresh rate and Valve’s 'knuckle' controllers, which can track the movement of each and everyone one of your fingers.

It’s the complete VR package that we’ve been waiting for.

But the kind of next-generation VR on offer from the Valve Index is inevitably expensive – the Valve Index headset is $ / £ (about AU$1,). And, before we hail Valve’s hardware as our VR savior, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not without some issues, including a lack of compelling VR games on Steam and SteamVR’s problematic troubleshooting process.

More recently, there's also a Valve Index problem that has little to do with actual performance: it's tricky to find one. In many regions, stock can be frustratingly hard to come by. Valve CEO Gabe Newell has stated that necessary components for the headset manufactured in Wuhan, China haven't been readily available during the pandemic, so that doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.

But are any of these issues deal-breakers for getting your own Valve VR headset, assuming you can find one? Not at all. 


It’s easy to write off the Valve Index as another nondescript VR headset in the same vein as any Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset – but the devil’s all in the detail here. 

On the front, there’s a glossy plastic faceplate above two front-facing cameras that can be used for passthrough video and, potentially, AR applications. Go to put the headset on and you’ll feel the stone gray pads that line the inside; it’s a similar Halo design to what Oculus is doing on the Rift S, and it feels both comfortable and snug. 

To keep it that way, there are two dials you’ll need to use – one on the left side that changes the physical distance from the lens to your eyes, and the one on that back that makes the headband tighter or looser. While the second is definitely important, it’s something we’ve seen before. It’s the first dial that’s actually groundbreaking, as that’s what allows the Index to achieve its industry-leading field of view spec.

How does it do that? The science of this is pretty self-explanatory, but basically the closer a screen is to your face, the wider the field of view. The problem here is that, for folks who wear glasses, you won’t be able to get the lenses right up to your eyes – and that means you'll see a similar field of view to what you'd get with the other headsets out there. 

In terms of hard numbers, the Valve Index uses a dual LCD display with a x resolution per eye. Unlike Oculus, which has actually dropped the refresh rate of its displays for the Oculus Rift S, the Valve Index has a Hz display, with the option to bump this up to Hz. For comparison, the more-expensive Vive Pro has a lower refresh rate and smaller field of view, so this actually feels like a big upgrade.

Inside the box you’ll find the headset itself, the new Valve Index Controllers (colloquially referred to as ‘knuckle’ controllers), and the Version Base Stations, which need to be set up around your room. Now, if you have a Vive or Vive Pro headset already, the first-gen base stations are compatible with the Valve Index, but you’ll probably want to start with the second-gen stations if you don’t have a pair already. 

We won’t dwell on this aspect, but the fact that the Vive Index uses base stations at all feels like a step backwards, even if the end result it a good one – the Valve Index does a much better job of tracking behind-the-back hand movements (a rare use case, we know) than any other headset. Case in point: at no point during our hands-on time did the system lose track of the controllers. Obviously, that could change with more use, but so far so good.

Still, its reliance on external trackers puts the Index behind the Oculus Rift S, which does room-scale VR without any external tracking sensors that need to sit on a shelf. It’s a trade-off you’ll make by choosing the Valve Index over the Oculus Rift S, but it’s a worthwhile one.  


Amazingly, while all these features would seem to require extra horsepower under the hood of your PC, they actually worked fine with our much older Nvidia GTX GPU. That’s a boon for folks who don’t have the money to upgrade their GPU after buying a $1, VR headset, and it could allow for more people to get into VR.

That last bit is important, because as more people adopt VR, more developers will see a business case for making VR games – right now, Steam’s VR selection is a bit bare compared to the ever-expanding main store, and even the top titles selected by Valve to show off the new hardware are really just a lot of old titles that play better with the Knuckle controllers (see: Space Pirate Trainer, Fruit Ninja, Beat Saber and Arizona Sunshine). 

That said, when we played some newer titles, like Valve’s Moondust demo, we couldn’t help but smile. Not only do the games look great on the high-resolution screen, and play without any hitches even on our less-than-ideal hardware, but they feel more interactive with the Index Controller. Being able to release items by opening your hand – a completely natural experience here in the real world – feels unnatural at first after using regular VR controllers for the last two years, but once you adapt to it, it once again becomes second nature.

Unfortunately, not all titles will do something extra with the new Valve Index Controllers. In fact, during our testing we found a number of games that actually didn’t work, period. According to Valve, more games will be optimized for the headset in the future, but right now there are only about three dozen such titles – a decent number before launch, but still just a fraction of the VR games available on Steam.

When talking about virtual reality, there’s also sound quality to consider. The Valve Index uses a built-in solution that, to all intents and purposes, works incredibly well. You’re able to hear a great number of details without distortion, and even though it’s an inch from the ear, it can still get reasonably loud. It also feels a bit more hygienic when it comes time to pass the headset to another person – as your ears never make contact with the pads, although that’s a fairly minor detail.

Over the course of several sessions we were able to get a lot accomplished - we played a bit of Beat Saber’s campaign, chopped some fruit in Fruit Ninja and wrecked some robots in Space Pirate Trainer – and through it all the controllers held their charge. At the end of the last day the controllers dropped down to a single bar of life, but a safe assumption is to expect around five hours of playtime before you need to recharge the controllers, and about an hour on the charger to bring them back to full juice.

Setup and SteamVR

The biggest fault we found with the headset after using it for more than a month is that SteamVR can be capricious… and, occasionally, a malicious, dastardly platform. 

As anyone who’s used an HTC Vive or Vive Pro can tell you, SteamVR doesn’t always like running properly the first time, telling you that something is disconnected, or that your firmware is out of date despite just being updated, or simply telling you the hardware can’t be found. And that’s frustrating when you just want to jump in and play this week’s latest release.

This happened to us a few times throughout our testing, and it gave us a real sense of deja vu – we can remember testing the Vive Pro just over a year ago and having the same problem. Friends and readers have also complained about the original Vive’s lengthy and unwieldy setup process, only to find a number of errors the next time they go to play it. 

In Valve’s defense, the setup process has gotten a bit smoother over the years. The headset does appear to work right out of the box without much hassle, and setting up the base station appears to be a bit faster than before. But there’s still the problem that if anything in the room changes – the base stations get moved because you’re cleaning the shelf, for example – you’ll need to recalibrate and go through the whole setup process again.

Final verdict

The Valve Index might be one of the best VR headsets currently on the market, but it’s brought some of VR’s most annoying aspects along for the ride. Setting it up can be time-consuming and irritating, updates can cause connection issues, and you may find a new error the next time you go to use it. 

However, if you can look past those issues, this is a really good VR headset. Its higher-resolution screen and better refresh rate allowed us to use it for longer periods of time without discomfort compared to most other VR headsets, and the Index Controllers are a real step up from the ones that ship with the Vive.

But square all of these performance improvements against the headset’s price tag, and it's a lot of money to pay for a piece of hardware that isn’t absolutely perfect – especially when Oculus has a great VR headset of its own. The Oculus Quest and now the Oculus Quest 2 are both available at less than half the cost of the Index. 

Around the house, there’s no doubt the Valve Index will be our default VR headset going forward. It’s a significant upgrade to the HTC Vive, and runs much smoother than the Vive Pro, a powerful VR headset that really struggled to deliver on the promise of high-end VR. Whether it’s a better all-around headset than the Oculus Quest, however, is up for debate; the Valve Index has the better specs, but Quest has the convenience and is bound to be more appealing to anyone who doesn't have the time, high-tech set-up or budget to opt for the Vive Index. Ultimately, which one you choose depends on the experience you want and how much money you have in the bank. 

Prices - Valve Index:&#;

Nick Pino is the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's written for TechRadar, GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.


Valve Index VR Kit

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There are plenty of PC-connected VR headsets, and most of them work the same way: a set of full-motion controllers, a bulky head display that has a long thick cord going to your PC. Maybe it has extra room sensors you need to set up. Maybe it doesn't. 

The Valve Index is not much different from other PC VR headsets in that regard (see also: Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive, or Microsoft's VR offerings). It's not wireless, it doesn't have eye tracking, and it hasn't reinvented a way to not be a bulky, cabled headset.

But it is probably one of the best PC VR headsets of the moment, and its wild new controllers feel like the future.

And yet I recently had a realization I never thought of the first time I tried the hardware weeks ago: this doesn't feel like a new system. That's because you don't need to buy all of it if you're already someone who owns an HTC Vive.

Now that the Valve Index is available (although current shipping times put new orders into mid-September), here's my guide on how to consider whether to buy it -- or which part of it.


Welcome to the modular VR world of Steam

I mean, of course, Valve Index is a new VR system. Index is a new head-mounted display, there are new controllers, and there's a $1, box that includes all of this along with little boxes to mount in your room to track your movements.

But what's cool about the Index is it's all made on the same Steam VR platform that the HTC Vive uses. You could mix and match Vive hardware and Valve Index hardware. This is, in a way, an HTC Vive 2.

HTC isn't making the Valve Index, to be clear. Vive still exists, and Valve Index will exist alongside it. But you can mix and match Vive and Valve Index hardware, both of which use Steam VR. Which means, if you already own a Vive, and you're Valve Index-curious, you may want to just buy the Index's super-cool new controllers instead, spend $, and consider that your upgrade.

Take a look at Valve's different piecemeal part offerings for yourself. 


Index headset: Excellent video and audio, but

The Valve Index's headset does look great, optically. The LCD resolution is sharp (1,x1,, same as the Vive Pro and Oculus Rift S, but lower-res than the HP Reverb), and the extra field of view (about degrees) reduces the VR scuba-goggles feel. A faster Hz frame rate makes things feel even smoother-moving and more present (there's an experimental Hz mode in Steam VR, but I haven't felt the need). The hovering pull-down speakers on the sides deliver booming, crisp sound. In that sense, it's a head-mounted display that feels really good.

However, the Valve Index lacks a few things. It's not wireless, which means you need a cable tether. The Index's streamlined cable setup skips the clunkier breakout box on the Vive, but it's still a big cable (it needs DisplayPort and USB on your PC, plus a power outlet to power the headset).

The Index also lacks eye tracking, a technology that should greatly impact control and graphics quality in future VR. Eye tracking isn't really in non-enterprise VR yet (the Vive Pro Eye has eye tracking but only for enterprise use, and it costs a fortune). But still, it's a missing feature.

The Index doesn't do self-contained room tracking, either. The Oculus Rift S and Microsoft's VR headsets like the HP Reverb use cameras in the headset, and that's it. The Valve Index still needs little light-emitting boxes to be installed in the room you're in. It's the same tech, basically, that the original Vive used. The version of these sensor boxes can enable a large room to turn into a holodeck, and the tracking is really good -- but it's extra gear you need to set up.

Finally, like most VR headsets, even though the resolution's good, it's not "retina-level." Meaning, you can still see pixels. I've only ever seen one retina-level VR headset, and it costs $6, Someday, it'll arrive to all headsets. Again, just a reminder that the Index isn't the uber-headset.


The controllers are great upgrades, but app support varies

The Valve Index controllers, as I've said, feel like the overdue sequel to the original Vive VR controllers. They're great, they feel comfy and can track all your fingers like magic gloves. They can register force when you squeeze them. They feel like the future of VR input.

They also have some nice extras that the Vive controllers lack, like buttons and analog sticks. That makes them serve as more-capable game controllers, much like the Oculus Touch controllers.

It's great that these controllers can work with all the games and apps that support Vive's controllers, so there's a deep library to tap into. They can be your Vive replacement controllers, easily.

But that being said, only a handful of games take advantage of the Index controllers' unique qualities right now. A list, if you're curious:

  • Space Junkies
  • Museum of Other Realities
  • #SkiJump
  • Garden of the Sea
  • Vacation Simulator
  • Fujii
  • Trover Saves the Universe
  • Aperture Hand Labs
  • Shadow Legend VR
  • VRChat
  • Onward
  • Pavlov VR
  • Arizona Sunshine
  • Space Pirate Trainer
  • Fruit Ninja VR
  • SuperHot VR
  • Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
  • PokerStars VR
  • Vanishing Realms
  • Cosmic Trip
  • Neos VR
  • Accounting+
  • Job Simulator
  • Tilt Brush
  • Jet Island
  • Duck Season
  • Windlands 2
  • Moss
  • Echo Grotto
  • Blade & Sorcery
  • Bigscreen Beta
  • Climbey
  • Beat Saber
  • Compound

And, even in that list, some games don't really do much with the extra finger tracking. The brilliant Aperture Hand Lab is a great demo app that shows what experiences could do when designed with these controllers in mind. But how many games and apps will bother to do that?


Not the same wireless freedom as Oculus Quest

This is a totally unfair comparison but the $ Oculus Quest, all self-contained and wireless, not needing any PC at all, was a more surprising experience to me than Valve Index. I love the Quest's easy-on, instant-start satisfaction. Admittedly, it's a totally different proposition: it's using a mobile chip and has a limited closed-off curated library of games. It's not as powerful as Valve Index.

Again, sorry for the comparison. But I want VR to become more effortless and wire-free, easy to be immersed in. Valve Index isn't that. You need a PC. You need those sensor boxes in your room. There's a long, thick cable. It is, however, an improved set of hardware that the Steam VR platform needed, and those Index controllers are really great. I just don't know, at this point, whether it's worth your money to dive in.

Valve Index Setup, Unboxing, Tips \u0026 First Impressions

Valve Index review: high-powered VR at a high-end price

Gaming company Valve pioneered VR as we know it today, creating a sophisticated tracking system and prototyping several headsets. It runs the popular SteamVR platform, and it’s partnered with HTC on the Vive system. But it hasn’t actually produced a VR headset. That’s changing with the Valve Index: a high-end, PC-tethered headset that starts shipping today.

The Valve Index is specialized and expensive even by VR’s standards. It costs $, which is more than twice as much as the $ Oculus Rift or $ HTC Vive. Like those systems, you’ll need a gaming PC to use it. If you need convenience and portability, it’s not the right choice. You can find headsets with higher resolutions or wider fields of view. But for people who spend a lot of time in VR, it offers solid visuals, thoughtful hardware design, and the coolest VR controllers on the market.

Good Stuff

  • Good resolution and field of view
  • Comfortable, user-friendly headset
  • Awesome controllers

Bad Stuff

  • Very expensive
  • Lighthouse setup is inconvenient
  • Still tethered to a PC

Buy for $ from Steam

The Index uses the same “Lighthouse” tracking system as the Vive, so it ships with two laser-emitting base stations that you’ll need to mount in opposite corners of your play space. These are second-generation base stations, and Valve promises a few benefits over the Vive’s beacons — primarily, an expanded diagonal range of up to 10 by 10 meters if you use four of them. If you already have a Vive, you can save $ by using its base stations, but I haven’t personally tried that mix.

I’ve had fewer syncing problems with the base stations than the models, but they’re still frustrating to set up, especially as Microsoft and Oculus have moved to more convenient front-mounted cameras, completely eliminating that setup. Valve has spent a long time fine-tuning its base station design, and the Index is aimed at people who have used these awkward systems for years, so it makes sense to stick with Lighthouse for them. But for anyone just getting into Valve’s system, it’s a frustrating hurdle.

Further, in standard home use, the new Lighthouses haven’t offered a substantially better experience than Oculus inside-out tracking. I can reach completely behind my back without fear of losing tracking, but that’s a fairly rare situation. And the tracking hasn’t been flawless — the controllers have occasionally drifted for no obvious reason, although they usually recover quickly.

A few Index features seem intended for developers. There are two front-facing cameras that can show you the outside world, but that’s really not enough to justify the added weight. So when Valve says they can also be used for computer vision experiments, that makes a lot more sense. The front includes a little compartment (officially dubbed the “frunk”) with a Type-A USB port, so tinkerers can plug in other devices.

But the Index also adopts some great overall design elements from other headsets. It features a comfortably padded, helmet-like headband that tightens with a dial on the back, similar to HTC’s alternative Vive head strap. You can adjust the distance between lenses to find the best focus, which is an excellent feature that Oculus controversially removed from the Rift. A dial lets you change the distance between your eyes and the lenses, giving you even more control over the image.

Some people won’t need these features — I’m usually fine with less versatile headsets — but they help fulfill the Vive’s promise of offering the best experience to the biggest number of users. The padded strap design simply feels great. The headset isn’t the lightest I’ve tried, but I felt all right after an hour or more in VR.

Like several other companies, Valve is also experimenting with speaker-based audio systems. The Index features two speakers that look a lot like headphones, but they sit about an inch away from your ears, projecting sound without actually pressing against your head. That’s very comfortable in long VR sessions, and it sounds richer and more realistically ambient than the Oculus Rift or Quest’s strap-based speakers.

These headsets all share one basic problem, though: everybody can hear exactly what you’re doing from several feet away. I’m willing to accept that sacrifice on a cheaper product, and you can always plug your own headphones into the Index. But since the Index is a top-of-the-line system aimed at people who want loud, intense gaming experiences or who work in professional settings, I wish Valve had looked for a slightly more discreet solution.

The Index doesn’t make any pretenses toward coziness, stylishness, or minimalism. It’s a big, attention-grabbing black helmet covered in dials and sliders. The front features a slightly RoboCop-like strip of shiny plastic, which you can pull off to reveal the frunk. It’s not my favorite aesthetic, and with its two cameras, it shares the “sad robot with giant forehead” look of the Rift S. But Valve more than justifies its bulkiness. And while the design might be clunky, it certainly doesn’t look or feel cheap — although that should really be taken for granted on a nearly $1, headset.

I’ve written previously about Valve’s unique yet eminently practical new controllers. The Index controllers (previously called “Knuckles”) are strapped around your hands instead of held, and they look more like a sci-fi weapon than a remote or gamepad. A central stock detects individual finger motion and squeeze pressure, and its sensors can even tell when your hands are close to — but not quite touching — the controller. A more traditional top section includes an analog stick, two face buttons, and a little trackpad groove.

When the Index controllers are used well, they can feel incredibly natural since you can open and close your hand naturally instead of relying on abstractions like a grip or trigger. The Index controllers enable some great interactions. There’s an official Valve demo where you play rock-paper-scissors or test your handshake grip strength with a robot.

As I mentioned before, most game developers probably won’t add lots of Index-specific interactions. It’s more likely that you’ll get the same control schemes in a slightly different package. Fortunately, Vive and Rift games can be translated pretty well to the Index based on titles I’ve tried with official support. You can play games seemingly without optimization, although sometimes they translate the controls in weird ways. Doom VFR puts its weapon wheel on the Index’s basically two-directional trackpad, for instance.

The controllers’ only major hardware issue is the lack of tactile feedback. When you’re using it as a basic grip button, you don’t get solid confirmation that you’ve squeezed hard enough. So if you fail to pick something up in a game, it’s not immediately clear why.

The Index’s screen easily outstrips the Rift or Vive; at x pixels per eye, it’s got the same resolution as the high-definition Vive Pro. You can find headsets with a bigger pixel count, including the HP Reverb. But as Road to VR has pointed out, the Reverb isn’t a consumer-focused headset, and it uses clunky Windows Mixed Reality controllers. Images on the Index look smooth and bright, especially with refresh rates that can reach up to Hz. (There’s an experimental Hz mode, which didn’t feel like a noticeable improvement to me.) I’ve seen some complaints about grayish-blacks due to the LCD display, but it’s still a very impressive screen.

I was using the Index with a recent, high-end Lenovo Legion gaming laptop, so I can’t speak to its performance with a lower-powered gaming PC. In theory, you can use it with an Nvidia GeForce GTX or AMD RX graphics card at the low end, but a GTX or higher is recommended.

Valve also promises a “typical” field of view up to 20 degrees wider than the standard to degrees. Basically, the field of view depends on how far the Index’s screen gets from your eyes. When you dial it all the way out, the Index has the same goggle-like effect you’ll find in other headsets. As it gets closer, though, your peripheral vision starts filling out. Dialed all the way in, the Index’s only compromise is a black half-circle at the very edge of the screen.

I couldn’t keep the lenses quite this close. The plastic rims dug into my forehead too much, despite buffering from the headset’s padded mask. But even at a comfortable distance, my field of vision felt more natural and less limited.

Overall, though, the Index is still offering first-generation VR. It’s not qualitatively different from the Rift or Vive. You won’t find features like eye tracking or exotic displays-within-displays to improve the resolution. After the wireless Oculus Quest, the cable feels more limiting than ever. And unlike a gaming PC or other hardware with a predictable development cycle, the Index isn’t future-proof. We’re nearing the end of Oculus’ first-generation headset lineup, for instance. So in a few years, people might want very different things out of a VR system.

The Index isn’t necessarily the “best” VR headset — at least, not for everybody. Unless the price drops in the future, it’s a product for people who play VR games very heavily, use headsets for professional work, or have a very large disposable income. But within those limitations, it delivers high-quality virtual reality with very few compromises.

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