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The Index, Valve Software’s new expensive entry into the virtual reality hardware market, has officially been released.

At $999 for the whole package, the Valve Index is easily the highest-priced method of entry for VR on the market (Oculus Rift S is the next most expensive, at $399). It has a number of high-end technical improvements over the competition to justify its price tag. The full Index consists of a headset ($499 by itself), two “Knuckles” rechargeable controllers ($279 for two), and two base stations ($149 each, with a 15-foot power cord, stand, and mounting hardware). The individual components are also backward-compatible with the HTC Vive and Vive Pro systems.

Initially announced back in late March, the Index is Valve’s first solo entry into the virtual reality hardware market, following the Bellevue, Wash.-based company’s 2016 collaboration with HTC that created the Vive. The Index is a peripheral for gaming PCs that’s powered by Valve’s SteamVR platform, and in keeping with many of Valve’s other recent projects, is compatible with Linux as well as Windows. It requires two base sensor stations to work, and can go as high as four if you buy extras, so you’ll need to dedicate a small play area to the Index in order for it to work.

The headset uses two custom-made 1440×1600 LCD panels with three full RBG subpixels, in an attempt to eliminate the VR “screen door effect.” The headset also features a 120-degree horizontal field of view, a broad suite of ergonomic adjustment options including lenses that can move independently of the facial interface, and off-ear speakers for non-contact audio.

The controllers, initially code-named “Knuckles,” are strapped to your hands during play sessions, so you can let go of them entirely if needed for more natural motions. Each controller features tracking ability for every finger on your hand, as opposed to the Oculus Touch controllers that only track the user’s thumb and index finger. This lets you pull off moves in VR like naturally picking up, dropping, and throwing objects, which is often trickier than it sounds.

Of course, the primary question with the Index, regardless of its horsepower, is whether or not it’s worth its price tag. Virtual reality is already hampered by its relatively steep cost of entry and space requirements, which other recent offerings such as the Oculus Quest have been attempting to address.

So far, the reviews have been positive, with a few consistent points both for and against the Index. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Valve Index Review: High-end VR with a luxury price (Bo Moore, PC Gamer, 79/100)
    “Yes, the Index looks and feels a bit better than the Rift S, but really not by much. For twice the price, I want something that delivers an experience leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.”
  • Valve Index Review: Aiming For PC VR’s Sweet Spot And Pulling The Trigger (Ian Hamilton, Upload VR, no score)
    “The difference in price between Rift S and Index is vast, but so is the experience. I’ll have to end this, then, by turning the $600 question around on you — how much time are you going to spend in VR and how important is it to you that time be spent in a headset offering the most comfort and highest fidelity available in 2019?”
  • Valve Index makes VR prettier, but it’s the controllers that steal the show (Kris Graft, Gamasutra, no score)
    “Regardless of the future of VR or its viability in the market, the fact is that the Index – and its wonderful controllers – is the best piece of kit currently available in this awkward, weird, exciting stage of new-age VR development.”
  • Valve Index Review: High-Powered VR At a High-End Price (Adi Robertson, The Verge, no score)
    “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.”
  • Valve Index review: Next-level VR (Devindra Hardawar, Engadget, 88/100)
    “Now for the big question: Who should actually buy the Index? Clearly, it’s not meant for everyone. At $1,000, it’s not even vaguely affordable, especially when other headsets like the Rift S and Windows Mixed Reality entries are going for $400 or less. (Vive Pro owners can also nab the headset and controllers for $749 and use their existing base stations.) The Index is an expensive and aspirational piece of gear meant for professionals and geeks who need the best. For regular folks, it’s something to seek out the next time you’re at a VR arcade. The Index’s controllers alone are groundbreaking, and hopefully they’ll pave the way for more finger-tracking competition.”
  • Valve Index review: $999 buys you the best VR experience yet – when it works (Ben Kuchera, Polygon, no score)
    “Do you have a lot of patience and want the absolute best VR experience money can buy? Is there already a ridiculously powerful GPU in your gaming PC? If the answer to these questions is yes, you should pick up Valve Index. … But it’s an enthusiast product that’s best left to tinkerers and those who don’t mind spending the time to make everything just so, and are willing to place external sensors in the corner of their VR space. I was impressed with Index, but often left frustrated at the time commitment and lack of reliability.”

Despite the multiple concerns about the price, it’s worth mentioning that if you want a Valve Index for yourself, units are already back-ordered through September.

The debut of the Index is the cap on a particularly busy week for Valve, with the start of the annual Steam Summer Sale; the attached, controversial Steam Grand Prix event, which has caused criticism from indie developers over fans de-listing their games; and the increasing popularity of the recently-released DOTA: Underlords, a free-to-play “strategy battler” game on Steam Early Access.

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