After pairing with HTC to create the Vive line of headsets for several years, Valve finally decided to make their own: the Valve Index. This top-of-the-line VR headset pulls out all the stops and is jam-packed with plenty of features that VR enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy. It has an almost unparalleled resolution and field of view, with exceptionally ergonomic and intuitive controllers that are tracked even when you move them behind your back. However, it also is exceptionally expensive and isn't our top recommendation for everyone.
Valve Index Review
Pros: Very immersive, highly interactive
Cons: Not the most comfortable, could be easier to set up
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Index is designed with true VR enthusiasts in mind, offering an experimental 144 Hz refresh rate — if you have a top-of-the-line PC that is. You also can purchase additional 2.0 base stations to expand the playable area considerably. However, this does add quite a bit of cost to an already pricey headset and most people probably aren't going to take advantage of that feature anyways.
Our most important set of tests for the Valve Index dealt with how interactive of an experience it provides, which accounts for 35% of its final score. In this metric, we compared the different interfaces with each headset, the various room limitations imposed, and the quality and accuracy of the motion tracking — both for the hand controllers and for the headset itself. The Index offers an incredibly interactive experience, earning it one of the top scores of the entire group.
The Index can be used with two handheld motion controllers. This design is one of our absolute favorites, resting much more naturally in your hand and feeling considerably more ergonomic than the majority of the competition. We thought the motion tracking of the controllers is fantastic — even when using a pair of the version 1.0 base stations. We never had any issues with the controllers jumping around and have no reason to think it wouldn't be equivalent or even better when using version 2.0 or the Valve Index base stations.
The older base station supports a play area of just over 16' (5 meters) on the diagonal, with the newer base stations allowing a play area of 33'x33' if you have four of them. The motion tracking on the headset itself is also phenomenal. It tracks your movements smoothly and easily, without any jarring lags or jumps, and we never ran into any issues with the Index in terms of tracking when playing higher quality games. We did have the occasional hiccup with some low-quality games, but we are quite sure the fault doesn't lie with the Index.
Next, we rated and scored how immersive of an environment the Index creates for the wearer, focusing on the overall viewing quality, the image sharpness and resolution, and field of view, as well as the amount of ambient light blocked out. Together, these assessments account for 20% of the total score for each VR headset. The Valve Index delivered another fantastic set of results, finishing right at the forefront of the overall group.
The Index does an exceptionally good job at preventing ambient light from entering the headset — there isn't even a gap around your nose.
The overall image quality is great, easily matching the best of the best that we have seen from these products. The Index uses a pair of LCD panels, each with a 1440 x 1600 resolution. These LCD panels have more subpixels than typical OLED displays, giving you clearer imagery, according to Valve. We can't necessarily speak to that but we can say the image produced by the Index is exceptionally clear, with the vast majority of text shown easily read.
The Index also has one of the largest fields of view of any headset that we have tested, with Valve stating that it measures a full 130º. We found that you could see more without moving your head when playing the same game as some of the other top-tier headsets we have tested.
Identical to our Visual Immersiveness metric, our Comfort metric is also responsible for 20% of the final score for each wearable. In this metric, we graded and scored how comfortable the Index is to wear for extended gaming sessions, how much it weighed, and if there is sufficient room to wear glasses while in use. Unfortunately, we weren't overly impressed with the Index, earning it a relatively lackluster score.
Testers with petite faces found the Index to weigh heavily on the front of their faces — especially on their cheekbones. However, other testers with larger visages didn't find this to be too problematic.
The Index has decent amounts of padding, though we felt it could be a little thicker around the visor, but should be enough for most people for longer gaming sessions. It's pretty cramped to wear with glasses and the strap tends to put pressure on the arms of the glasses, no matter how much we tried to adjust it to prevent this. The Index also felt fairly warm when in use, which can get your face decently sweaty in relatively short amounts of time — especially on a hot day.
The scores for this metric, worth 15% of the total, are based on the amount of work it took to get each headset ready to use each time you want to play a game once the initial installation is completed, how easy the audio hookup is to use, and if you are prone to accidentally hitting buttons while in use. The Index is fairly easy and intuitive to use on a day-to-day basis but not quite the best, putting it just behind the top-notch headsets in terms of overall scores.
The Index has integrated headphones, which are by far the easiest when it comes to audio hookups, but we did wish that there was a more convenient way to quickly adjust the volume. Once it's set up, you just need to put the headset on and hold the controllers are you are all set when the PC is up and running. However, we did find it a little more finicky to get the Valve Index into focus and adjusted to rest comfortably compared to some of the other products.
The only buttons on the Index are on the underside of the headset, making them virtually impossible to press accidentally when playing normally.
Ease of Setup
Responsible for the remaining tenth of the total score for each product, this metric compared the amount of work it took from unboxing each headset to playing. Specifically, we looked at the difficulty in setting up both the Index's software and hardware, as well as the level of required hardware it took to run properly. It isn't the most difficult product to set up but is not the easiest, earning it a score in the middle of the group.
The software setup is about average in difficulty. It's a fairly straightforward process to download Steam VR and get the room set up but we wished there was a bit more in terms of guided prompts telling you exactly what to do. The hardware setup can be a bit more involved, especially if you mount the base stations to the wall, which requires some basic tools (drill, drill bits, screwdriver). Each base station, as well as the headset, requires an outlet to plug into, with the headset also requiring a connection to a USB 3.0 and a display port on your PC.
Speaking of the PC, you need a relatively high-end model to run the Index, which can set you back almost as much as the headset if you don't already have one.
The Index is an incredibly bad bargain buy, having one of the highest price tags of the group and an overall performance that we thought made it hard to justify such a high cost.
If you spend hours a day playing VR games and enjoying other experiences and have the money for it, then the Valve Index is a good bet. It's packed with features that true enthusiasts will appreciate but more casual users will have a hard time differentiating it from other products that cost significantly less.
— Austin Palmer, David Wise, and Jenna Ammerman