'Valve Index' details revealed, raises questions about Vive and Steam

The HTC Vive was never an exclusive partner to Valve, but it certainly played a major role in early SteamVR adoption. The release of the Valve Index raises some questions about the future of this relationship, and Vive's next move is evident in free Viveport trial.

The Valve Index is the new virtual reality headset from the creators of Steam and classic franchises like Portal and Half-Life.

The headset will be sold either as a package (including the new motion-tracking “Base Stations 2.0” and hand controllers) for $999.99 this July, or ala carte for $499.99 (headset), $279.99 (controllers) or $149.99 (one base station).

It’s worth noting that the Oculus Rift S, Oculus’ upgraded PC VR HMD, is priced at $399, and that includes controllers. The Rift S does away with external sensors and instead uses five internal ones.

When asked how this vast difference in pricing would impact the Valve Index, IHS Markit analyst Piers Harding-Rolls said there’s little to worry about for Valve.

“Valve Index is a high-end product targeted at those wanting the best PC VR experience,” Harding-Rolls told GameDaily. “On that basis the pricing is relatively consistent with previous headsets. Those already owning suitable base stations needn’t buy the full set. I don’t think the pricing will put off enthusiasts but the audience will be niche.”

Valve Software shared details on the technology behind the Valve Index, which Valve says is compatible with all SteamVR games, on Wednesday.

The Valve Index HMD most notably minimizes the “screen door” effect of other VR setups via two 1440×1600 custom LCD panels, using a custom pixel layout. An increased field-of-view has also been achieved, reaching 20% wider than the original HTC Vive headset. The “Index Controllers” are able to track the motion of individual fingers, allowing players to more intricately manipulate in-game items, like the length of a baseball bat shown in a demo video. Other general improvements include the base stations providing a wider range of motion tracking, and nearfield off-ear speakers that Valve says provide a more natural audio experience.

One question that seems to linger on the minds of many is what impact this new VR hardware will have on the HTC Vive, which has generally been regarded as the defacto SteamVR headset since the service’s launch. Despite that public perception, Harding-Rolls feels again that there’s nothing to worry over.

“HTC’s VR relationship with Valve is not exclusive,” Harding-Rolls said. “Valve has previously indicated it could partner with other companies on VR to drive consumer adoption. I don’t think this impacts the relationship. Anything that helps with adoption and builds the Steam VR ecosystem is positive for all participants.”

There has been a small reaction from Vive thus far, although it’s largely a positive one. In a press release, Vive said it is offering a free two months access to its subscription service, Viveport to all Oculus Rift S, original Oculus Rift, and Valve Index users. Viveport, much like Xbox Games Pass, allows users to pay a subscription fee in exchange for unlimited access to a library of Vive VR games. A typical subscription costs $12.99 a month. Vive themselves calls the service “platform agnostic.”

This will likely be the route that Vive takes now that Valve has hardware to sell, even if it is to a niche audience. Vive will offer their subscription service at a similar fee to services like Xbox Game Pass and others, and may stand a chance of enticing users over to their own service as a result. After the hefty $499-$999 price tag of a Valve Index, the last thing many VR users want to do is waste their money on a game that turns out to be a dud.

“We’re building Viveport to be the best destination for discovery and value for the entire VR industry,” said Rikard Steiber, president of Viveport. “Through Viveport, VR users on a PC-based headset, including the new Rift S and Valve Index, can discover great VR content and save thousands of dollars with an unlimited VR library.”

GameDaily has reached out to Vive for comment, but did not receive a reply by publishing time.

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Joseph Knoop is a writer for Game Daily, IGN, PC Gamer, and plenty more. He owns an irresponsible amount of Overwatch merch. Break it down with him on Twitter @JosephKnoop.

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