Valve Index Performance Feedback
Finally, Valve has recently released the much-awaited and speculated upon Valve Index VR HMD. With the competition in the VR hardware industry moving at a much faster rate, efforts to continue promoting and thus growing VR at a much more steady pace are being exhausted by the current major VR industry players. With the release of both wireless and inside-out tracking VR headsets from the main competition, Valve though has moved in another direction which is the quality of VR experience that the HMD can provide. In that regard, the Valve Index is quite successful and delivers on the promise, but as to whether it will be significant or good enough for the VR gaming community, the Index is still very much a mixed box of Pros and Cons.
First off, the Steam VR Base Station 2.0 allows a 10x10 meter play area and uses only one spinning motor laser array for tracking, making it more reliable and quieter. The lighthouses are smaller in size and have a wider field of view. However, if one has an available play space area that fits with the original Vive 5x5 meter size, the old HTC-Vive Steam VR 1.0 Base Stations will work just fine with the Index VR.
The flat-panel headphone-speakers are adjustable, do not touch your ear yet direct a full 3D sound to your ear canal. Instead of the usual headphone speakers, the Index phones are driver driven for the 3D sound. A headphone jack is available though should one decide to use regular headphones instead. The HMD has a knob to adjust the distance of the lenses to your eyes. The front has a couple of cameras on the front which can be used by app developers in the future aside from being used for pass-through video. A USB 3.0 port is also available behind the front panel.
The lenses have 1440X1600 LCDs instead of the old OLED ones with a refresh rate of 120 instead of the Vive's 90Hz. It also has an experimental 144 Hz refresh rate mode. This is to decrease motion sickness and improve the quality of the display. It also has a Field of View (FOV) of 130º plus because it uses RGB sub-pixels instead of the usual pen-tile OLED matrix, it removes the screen-door effect prevalent in other headsets.
As the Index uses a higher refresh rate, it will require a display port graphics card as an HDMI card will no be suitable for use. The high-end PC remains a requirement of course. Once the base stations and cables have been meticulously set-up and connected, you will have to configure the HMD's system via Steam VR set-up. These means tracking the play-space area, the headset itself and of course the awesome Valve Knuckle controllers.
The index Knuckle controller is an amazing piece of equipment. It straps onto your hand so even if you release your grip, it remains where it is. The straps are adjustable as you can vary the tightness and angle of the strap. The grip has sensors that actually track the position of your fingers that reflect itself in VR. The menu, trigger and option buttons are easy to access as not to get in the way during gameplay. The HMD itself might take some tweaking with its adjustment and though the padding is comfortable some effort may be needed to balance the weight.
As far as the games are concerned, performance-wise, they played and displayed better although finger tracking was not that much of an issue or advantage with the current set of available games. Developers will have to utilize the new features available on the index to come up with games and apps that actually use it in a substantial way. The graphics and clarity of the display are however very noticeable thus giving a far better quality VR experience because of the upgrades made. Playing with the Index as far as controller motion, movement and play area is concerned is still very much like the Vive as well.
As good as the Valve Index is (considering it was developed by Valve alone) there are a few features that the Index was not able to address which rather is a disappointment for many an expectant Vive HMD fan who was waiting then for the Index release. Noticeable of this foremost is the Inside-Out Tracking which was expected to be used with the new HMD. Instead, one gets the old Lighthouse set-up and play space maneuver, a daunting task for the not so technically inclined, just like with the Vive. Then, there's the price at around a whooping 1K USD.
The Index is clearly the winner in terms of High-End VR HMD quality, but considering the making gaming life easier features brought by Oculus to the table (wireless headset, inside-out tracking and a competitive price tag) the Index may have some tough competition down the road. The quality of the Oculus Quest may be a no match for the Index but the practicality of use and a much lower price may be enough to offset its current shortcomings. Never the less, the Valve Index and it's Knuckle controllers are still a major step in the advancement of High-End VR technology.
Now, to the tune of Voltes V…Chain Knuckles !!!