SteamVR – Valve Index Review and VR Buyer’s Guide

SteamVR – Valve Index Review and VR Buyer’s Guide 1 -
SteamVR – Valve Index Review and VR Buyer’s Guide 1 -
WIP pending double-density floppy disk drive repair


[ Introduction and Blather ]

It’s finally here. After using a Vive and being completely happy with it for 3 years, images of a Steam VR Hat leaked on the Internet. I knew I was gonna buy Knuckles with an existing cache of wallet funds, but now I could upgrade to the “best” headset all without spending a dime of real world currency. If this weren’t a Valve product, I wouldn’t really care to be honest, and if I had to spend real money on it, I wouldn’t own it. I’m actually quite poor and stupid. Anywho, thanks gaben, I’d like to buy you a microphone. I hope this review will be accurate and useful. It will just be and endless amount of shower thoughts, but I’ll try to highlight stuff. 
This is taken primarily from the view of a user upgrading from the OG Vive, which I think is the most proper way to judge the Index. I think the Vive is the most innovate consumer technology product of this decade. I spend 800$ on it, and it’s now $500, and slightly lighter. This must be stated up front; the Vive is the NES or the VHS of VR, and still sports the defacto feature set required for premium high end room scale Virtual Reality. Everything else tries to approximate (many times with success) what the Vive and Lighthouse were doing since 2015 or whatever. 
I own an OG Vive (the one that weighs more, that I had to order from the scary tawainse web form, and it came in the huge awesome boxes). I upgraded to the Das, because my original strap got frayed, and I also upgraded the cable from the flat old style to the new thin one, because the flat 3-in-1 hdmi went bad. Naturally, I’m using/keeping the Vive Wands (along with Knckles), and the original Vive base stations. I also have Google Daydream+Cardboard and the Oculus Go, the latter of which, I really love, and is a tremendous value. 
I’ve never used a Pimax, or either Oculus Rift. I can keep the disdain for Oculus at a minimum, suffice it to say that Facebook is evil, and the original rift’s staggered rollout of their rug-scale tracking combined with their exclusivitiy deals kinda ♥♥♥♥♥♥ the first several waves of VR titles, creating descrapanies and limitations in what kind of experience a game would provide based on the tracking solution, or whether or not an user had 2 or 3 sensors. The Vive distrupted the market and Oculus had to scramble to get Constellation working. That being said, I love my Oculus Go, and the Rift S looks to be a great product for most people. 
I will retain my Vive (it won’t sell for much), in fact, the link box is plugged into my computer, and I will plug in either headset before starting SteamVR for comparision between both VR hats. As for right now, this review mostly tries to ignore the existance of the Knuckles controllers (as they clearly need their seperate review), but they will be mentioned, usually in regards to purchase/upgrade paths. 

[ Box Contents and Installation ]

The box contents and super tight black packaging are simple in comparision to my original Vive nested box maze, but I loved that too. Both sets of boxes are now shelves. Loving the rainbow instruction booklets, and the large colored lense wipe (this makes it easy to locate). Unlike the controllers bundle, you get everything you need to use the headset. 
This includes a 1 meter trident/dongle connector for the headset, which I found way more convenient than the Vive link box, both for installation and placement. Combined with the longer, less rigid HMD cable, this aspect of installation (routing the cable, and planning possible extensions) is much improved. I had a Amazon Basics HDMI extensions and USB extension (from the Leap Motion kit) in my original Vive, and I no longer have to use these. The ability to easily disconnec the headset form the dongle (for storage or cable unwinding) is useful too. The new trident and considerably less rigid longer cable are not getting the attention they deserve. 
I already had the 1.0 base stations installed of course (which power any SteamVR headset perfectly), so basically all other aspects of the installation where already done for me.I’m infact using the last chaperone profile from when I was using the Vive, and I’ve yet to rerun room setup. I’m sure I will have to at some point, and it will be run to try it with the new controllers. That being said, if you are installing base stations, you will have to drill a few holes in your drywall, and maybe piss off a landlord, but it’s worth it for the most solid and precise consumer (or professional) VR tracking system that will exist for the foreseeable future. 
While most will be retaining the original base stations it’s worth noting that the new 2.0 base stations ease installation somewhat because they never need a ‘sync’ cable. If a user’s 1.0 base stations cannot see each other (which is usually not the case) they will need to be connected to each other with a long, thin, 3.5mm audio type cable. I’d be very curious to see the results of a poll of 1.0 Lighthouse users and whether or not they need (or think they need) the sync cable. I’m pretty sure my base stations can see each other, but I use the sync cable because it hides under the floorboards and I’ll bank that extra assurance, but this should be disclosed as an aspect of installation I preformed (3 years ago) that might be preventing tracking problems, so it’s pertinent. 

[ Build Quality and Materials ]

One of the first things you’ll notice about this HMD is the intense and striking build quality of the plastic and overall enclosure. This thing is SOLID, and adjusts itself with ease and grace. The Vive ‘chassi’ creaked and flexed, and that wasn’t disconcerning in any way, but how Index feels and ‘retains its shape’ as an object really pleases me. I don’t own many high quality electronics, and the only thing that really is close to this level of solidity is actually, my Steam Controller! I love to just hold that thing, much the same way I like to touch the Index and pick it up and adjust the little knobs. 

[ Weight, Comfort and Fitting ]

The Index is one of the most heavy VR headsets in its class, with only the vive pro about 50 grams heavier. The distribution of it is excellent though, and it really lets my whole head support the unit, better than the DAS and miles ahead of the OG strap. 
The facial interface is now a magnetically attached gasket, and combines the nose gasket and face gasket, rather than the old velcro Vive fask maskes you would rip off — with the Vive nose gasket likely never being changed by most users, even if I think they sold a seperate size. I don’t know whether or not it is easier to clean than the Vive masks, but I expect that it is. I’d wager if you were one to soak your Vive masks and let them dry overnight, you might not want to do that here, and should adopt a towel-wipe approach. I always used the narrow gasket on my Vive, instead of the wide one, but the Index only ships with one size. I don’t really consider this a deficiet over the Vive, simply because everyone and their mother prefered the narrow face mask to prevent light leakage. If you got a huge head, and/or knows… I mean…who nose? I think the one size fits all approach is going to work because of the overall adjustability of the headset. I don’t have a small head, nor a small nose, and my IPD is something like 62-64, and everything fits, and nary a photon is leaking from down below. Bottom line, if you NEEDED the larger fask gasket and/or a differant nose gasket, or otherwise were required to use any kind of aftermarket replacement for the faceial/nose interface, you might want to get your IPD checked and check with other big headed users. Someone will sell you a fix for Index, I’m sure, but overall the ‘face fit’ is prolly going to be tigther and more in need of SOMETHING to achieve the FOV promise. 
Moving on to the fabrics, they are infact quite new and nice. They feel remarkably smooth and soft, dare I say silky. As I understand, the Index fabric is anti bacterial so that’s good. You or I might wish it was more thicker on the face, however, but that would likely make it harder to achieve the FOV gains. The thinner provision also makes it easier to hone in on your comfort zone, and dial in your sweet spot. So it seems like it’s too thin, and maybe it is, but generally, it’s because you’re wearing the headset far too tight. 
Finding your sweet spot and your comfort zone is crucial with the Index, and it might take a few days to get to the point where you can just plop the headset on your head and just twist the knob. In order to realize the full FOV gains you’ll need the lenses slammed as close to your eyeballs a possible, Hopefully, not more than 2 clicks away from maximum. you need a good sense of your IPD, and hope that it is not small enough to have the lenses press on the bridge of your nose. I thought this was going to be the case for me, but I’ve relieved the tension in this area even with the lenses pushed all the way to my eyes. 
I’ve never had a Rift on my head, and will defer to the overall judement that they are very comfortable, and the Oculus GO surely is for me. If you’re coming from these headsets or (maybe) a Vive Pro/Das (as I did), and do well with them in terms of easily obtainable comfort, there might not be a huge extra margin of comfort to be gained for you, but keep in mind this doesnt take into account the close proximity of the hmd to your face and all the work valve did into actually making that extreme proxmimity a goal. Comfort is so subjective and variable, but for me I can say that my old Vive isnt really considerably MORE uncomfortable than the Index, but you can always sense it on your head. It’s bulky. The Index isn’t wildly softer or some kind of magic cushion, but rather, it makes itself much easier to ignore. 
Many users are complaining about the heat generated from the HMD. This thing ships right as the heat waves are starting for many, yours truly included. I’m never much of a sweater, never in any kind of capacity to affect my HMD, but I know this is not the case for others. Someone may eventually record temperature differences between headsets but I doubt it will be of much use, and heat can be distributed in many ways. It’s hard for me to say, but I would like to claim that the Valve Index distributes heat as much as possible to the front of the HMD, instead of having it escape into the back of the headset and onto the user’s face – even if it generates more heat overall and is scary to touch at the front. Hell, the trident connector itself is quite warm. Also, since the leness are (hopefully) as close to your eyeballs are possible, you will find minidroplets of sweat on hot days on the lens, which wasn’t the case with the Vive for most people. Good luck, perspirators. 


The best audio solution in VR, bar none. You already knew this. I’m not an audiophile, so I can only really tell if something is good based on the bass they bump, and they do! Everyone is saying they are great, so they are. The jury is still out on whether or not they can get loud enough for certain games or experiences, but in that case, the app is surely too quiet, or maybe even the user’s software/mixer configuration is off. I’m inclined to believe its the latter, and that human error is too blame for that — people install all the crap on their driver discs, eh?. Mine are plently loud. The off ear aspect is something I’m going to subtly appreiceate more and more, and it beats the Das ear pillows, even if you disregard heat/sweat. Finally, I like how they fold upwards, which makes me less concerned about laying the headset on the ground — with the Vive+Das I would want to fold the headphone upwards so the headset wouldn’t rest on them. They are as convienet and ‘invisible’ as they are wonderful providers of positional sound. If you’re one of those weirdos who spent too much on a pair of green light up headphones, and you feel compelled to use them, there is an audio jack underneath the facial mask. 

[Display and Optics]

Bees Kness. Type words here. 

[Cameras and Modibility]

Dual cameras on both the Index and Vive Pro are enticing. At the moment the cameras just provide the same functionality they did with the Vive yet provide a stereo view of the real world that I find more disorienting the the monoscopic display of the single Vive camera. What can and should these eventually do? In my wildest dreams they will support the Leap Motion api for hand tracking, but I doubt they would do it, or an free wrapper could be made. I’d cross my fingers but I can’t because they aren’t being tracked. They are too low res for photgrammatery, I would have to assume. Someone might eventually be able to write some code and use them for tracking without the lighthouses, and hell if it works as good as two cameras can do, that’s cool I quess – but this is nothing Valve would ever support. What else is there? Any ideas? Pass. 
The frunk seems cool, people are gonna mod the hell out of this. Hopefully it will house some portion of a future wireless addition. A fan kit to cool sweaty brows is likely coming for this. Led blinkers? Maybe bunch of buttons for no reason or developer functions? Hmm. Taking more suggestions. Right off the bat you can stuff the lense cloth in there, that’s a pretty cool hack. I might have been the first to suggest this on reddit. 

[Software and Experiences]

Yeah this is where the ball was dropped. With the Vive you recieved Job Simulator, freakin’ Tilt Brush, and the other one, umm Fantastic Contraption. That’s solid, but I quess we can ignore it. Let’s also ignore the incredible amount of free stuff, with countless gems you don’t need to pay for, of which 3 more years of it exist now. With the Vive we got The Lab! In terms of polish, execution, and audio-visual fidelity, The Lab still reigns supreme. Valve fan boy here of course, but I think we can agree there was more than sufficient content for a mini-game grab bag. With the Index we get a 5 minute portal hand shake demo and a few, very simple, Lab-like demos on the moon in a seperate app without an library icon. 
Like, finally finding our old pal Gordon Freeman somewhere in the metaverse sometime in early 2020 aside, this is ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥. Moondust should have been The Lab 2 with triple the activities, and all love to Cloudhead games, but that’s all you got? Rock paper scissors then it fades to black? No finger guns anyone? Why wasn’t I picking up portal cores and ripping off components with my fingers? All those assets exist from the Portal demo in the lab. Do your job. 

[Price-Upgrading-Entry] [Other Alternatives]

Are you a deep pockettd user with a 2080 Ti, a set of base stations, and controllers who is curious about alternatives? Well, first off, there is the Vive Pro (HMD only). It’s basically the Vive, with a Das, at a higher resolution, for 300 dollars MORE than the price of the Index, and a couple of bugs with audio and firmware that let’s just assume were fixed. It was a laughable alternative up until now, because of the price, but as it exists as an upgrade path for those who absolutely cannot handle the LCD vs OLED difference, it is a consideration. I’d like to see what it looks like a higher resolution OLED, but I’d be suprised if it could really compete with the Index in clarity. The other benefit of the Vive pro is that the experience, the optics, fov, etc are all identical to the vive, so while unexciting in this regard, so there are no new trade offs contend with. 
PiMax has offerings, the 5k+ ($700), the 8k (LCD), and the 5k XR (OLED) (both $900). I used to think they were silly looking products that wouldn’t be around for long, and were overpriced, but they compete very well with the Vive pro, yet are all tailored to more preferred use cases. They all sport a monster FOV, and pixel count, and therefore require a much stronger PC to run, and this time, it’s serioius. This widde FOV creates distortion around the edges that wouldn’t be considered in other headsets. I’ll bet it’s not a big deal and worth the increased FOV, but there is a perspective incorrect warping of your vision at the edges of your vision and for many (like those at Oculus and Valve) it is not acceptable to do this. 
All the PiMax offerings not just require a powerful PC, but the users willingness to configure the various aspects of the display for each game to get acceptable performance. Do you select wide, or normal FOV? What’s your super sampling rate? What quality setting did you select in PiTool? Hell, I mean, that all sounds like fun to me, but these surely are for ‘power’ users and sophiscated VR consumers with lots of money to burn. Additionally this makes the 8k not very useful as the user will (for now) have to reduce the quality of the image to get it to run well, so while they have sde smaller than an atom, the image behind it is blurry and undersampled. Some users still perfer the 8k for simulators and carefully tune it for those so they can read all the little dials and knobs on the console of their airplane. 
If I was the big spender in this 2080ti-based alternate universe, I’d likely select the PiMax 5k XR. I think I could stomach the increased SDE and go back to the old pentile pixel pattern in exchange for the vibrant colors, and I assume it would be high res enough for my tastes. This more niche product interests me, I wish it was a differant color than the other ones or something. In every other of the inifinit universes I’d have the steam hat instead, and in this one, I do! 

[ Conclusion and the Future ]

This is Gen 2 VR. Don’t let anyone tell you differant. The Valve Index rocks. The hype was insane. I remember one video of someone testing it at a trade show and then joking that it tracked a users feat with the cameras. It was thought it might includ brain stimulation, and that a user could feel sounds with the new spearers. Oh what fun. WHen it’s alll said and done, the totallity of changes and improvements ontop of the massive jump in clarity clearly push it over the line. Cmon. 
Many are holding out for integrated wireless, untethered PC VR to signify the second coming, but it’s not going to work that way. A high end PC VR HMD and a wireless solution for it are two seperate products, for numerous reasons. The technology essentially already works already, but it’s still a sufficient hassle to own and operate and bears a considerable cost. You’ll still need the tether for times when the battery is charging, and the charge won’t last for long. If the unit is already in tethered mode, you’ll also likely just keep it that was for more quick and casual play sessions. Ecetera, ecetera. I’d rather not talk much crap about wireless solutions as I’ve never experienced it. I’m sure it’s absolutely amazing, and probably is worth a couple hundo, and the hassle, and the battery in your pocket, but at the end of the day, we can’t use these ALL the time, and so you’d certainly want to have that component be seperate from the whole unit, right? Right. The best an HMD should do is somehow support the addition of a seperate module, and it looks like the frunk could do that, so, fingers crossed. Also, you can buy a VR pulley kit for 20 dollars that doesn’t require any drilling or screws. That’s a tip, you can keep that. 
What else would be needed to qualify this as generation 2? What more would you want? Someone is gonna say eye tracking and foveated rendering. That’s gen 3. Even if the hardware were cheap and intergrated into your headset, atm the application and engine support for it isn’t there. If you’re VR app isn’t hitting frames with a decent gpu at this resolution, you should be playing it in pancake mode, or not at all. 
tl;dr byteframe buys 800 of VR equipment from gaben with tf2 hat money. 

Hope you enjoy the Guide about SteamVR – Valve Index Review and VR Buyer’s Guide, if you think we should add extra information or forget something, please let us know via comment below, and we will do our best to fix or update as soon as possible!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.