Valve Index - review of the new VR set
A week ago, Valve finally officially announced its new Valve Index VR set. Some time ago we already saw photos of the helmet prototype merged into the network, as well as a teaser from Valve showing the IPD regulator on the helmet, but now more complete information is available, based on which you can finally make an informed decision about purchasing the Index set.
Price tag in the USA:
- $ 499 for a helmet only (if you already have emitters from Vive or Vive Pro)
- $ 749 for a helmet + controllers (if you already have emitters from Vive or Vive Pro)
- $ 999 for a complete set
- $ 149 for one base station (emitter required for tracking)
First of all, Index is a High-end device aimed primarily at virtual reality “veterans” and enthusiasts. The main feature of the set according to Valve is “high fidelity” - the most accurate and fast response. Pre-order started in early May, and deliveries are currently expected in September for US and EU. This time, the company creates its own product under its own name, and does not enter into collaborations, as, for example, in the case of HTC Vive.
The focus of the Valve Index helmet is on displays. These will be two LCD panels with a resolution of 1440 x 1600 (the same resolution as, for example, Vive Pro or Oculus Quest, but about 50% more subpixels due to the nature of the LCD) and a screen refresh rate (attention) of 144 Hz!
In recent years, the standard for virtual reality was considered a frame rate of 90 frames per second. This is the frequency at which Vive and Rift worked. And Oculus recently recently generally claim that 80 or 72 hertz is already enough for a comfortable viar. Valve went in the opposite direction and introduced a new standard for their helmet - 120 Hz (and 144 Hz in test mode) Is there a difference between 90 and 120 FPS in virtual reality? Testers say yes. And the difference is felt not so much in the quality of the picture, but in the sensations. Now this is not a matter of comfort and not a matter of motion sickness, but a deeper immersion and realistic perception of virtual reality, especially in highly dynamic scenes.
Will the Valve Index support 90 Hz? Yes. Many parameters in this VR set are mutable to support old standards. And therefore, if you think that the power of your computer should not be spent on an additional 30 FPS, but put into a higher resolution - all this can be configured in Steam VR without any difficulties.
The next intriguing feature of the helmet is FOV (viewing angle). A slightly larger viewing angle compared to its predecessors (Valve reports that this figure is 20 degrees higher than that of Vive, that is, about 130 degrees horizontally) is achieved thanks to two components. The first is the ability to move the lenses as close to the eyes as possible (as is implemented in Vive helmets), and the second is the arrangement of the displays not in parallel, but at a small angle, which gives an additional increase in the viewing angle. This arrangement slightly reduces the size of the binocular vision, but this change will affect people with different face shapes in different ways.
If you look at the photos of the Valve Index helmet, it may seem that it uses headphones that are similar in design to the Vive Pro or Oculus Rift, which “snap”, clinging to your ears. But the audio on the index is not headphones at all, but rather “speakers” that are held at some distance from the user's ears.
Testers claim that the bass is not lost, and the volume at the maximum level is even higher than necessary. The disadvantages of this arrangement of speakers are, of course, a sound leak. You will not only hear loud sounds of the surroundings, but also people nearby will be able to hear the sound coming from your speakers.
However, sound immersion reaches a new level. Now the physiology and geometry of your ears will work as expected, and you will be able to perceive audio more realistically and more accurately understand the direction of the sound source. An additional bonus - now the ears will not get so tired during long sessions, as from the wear of ordinary headphones.
However, if you still prefer standard headphones, you can use the standard 3.5 mm port on the inside of the helmet's faceplate.
The front panel is mounted on four magnets and created with emphasis on the possibility of using alternatives from third-party developers (for example, VR Cover) in the future. To do this, Valve will share the necessary CAD materials with everyone.
On the front panel of the Valve Index helmet, under a translucent overlay, you can notice a special free space - a “glove compartment” with a USB A slot.
Valve positions this as a feature for craftsmen in the future and does not offer any ready-made solutions, except, perhaps, a decorative panel with LEDs. For me, it looks like the perfect place for Leap Motion to track your hands.
Two front cameras, contrary to popular belief, are not designed for tracking. For tracking in space, you still need Valve Lighthouses with all the consequences. The cameras will be used for stereoscopic imaging of the outside world with subsequent processing of the received information for use in applications. For now, Valve's demo applications will be available, showing some possible applications of the technology, but the main focus is again on third-party developers in the future.
Complete with a helmet in the Valve Index set will be controllers known to enthusiasts under the name Knuckles.
In short, these are the most high-tech controllers of all that are on the market and are crammed with a huge number (87) of various kinds of sensors that track as accurately as possible not only the position of each finger, but also the compression force. The controller is firmly “attached” to the hand and is configured individually for each user. Therefore, if you are preparing to show your VR set to a large number of people, be prepared to spend considerable time on calibration.
Unfortunately, few developers have fully understood the functions of the new controllers and no one has implemented them at the highest possible level. However, at the end of the year, a special game from Valve awaits us, demonstrating the various capabilities of the controllers and how to use them.
If for some reason you do not need Knuckles, then you can use any other controllers for Steam VR (for example, from Vive or Pimax)
There is no wireless helmet solution from Valve yet. The kit comes with a standard 5 meter cable with USB and DP connectors for connecting to a PC via linkbox (1 additional meter cable).
Depend on the content. Some developers claim that they run their games in 120 FPS without problems on the GTX 1080 (for example, Beat Saber). But owners of weaker computers can simply lower the screen refresh rate or resolution in the settings.
For the normal development of virtual reality, there must be many different options on the market. Budget options, easy to install and use options, and, of course, high-tech high end options. Valve Index refers to the latter. If you are considering buying a Vive Pro, HP Reverb or Pimax 5k / 8k, then pay attention to the Valve Index. Especially if you already have Vive - you can upgrade with "parts" (buy a helmet first, and then controllers, or vice versa). You will find a significant leap forward in terms of technology (higher gertzovka, less SDE and higher FOV), but newcomers will have to spend a lot of time setting up the game zone and explaining it. And many people want to get rid of wires. In fact, this helmet is the opposite of what Oculus is releasing now.
The second generation of VR devices has not come yet, but the era of the first generation is really nearing completion, and the Valve Index is what the HTC Vive Pro was once supposed to be - VR experience on the verge of today's capabilities, but at the same time accessible to ordinary mortal enthusiasts .
Valve's flagship virtual reality title from AAA will be released in 2019. What kind of game will it be? No details so far. But the game will work on both the Valve Index and other first-generation VR platforms running on SteamVR.
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