Valve, the famed game development studio best known for the online game marketplace Steam — but also for classic titles like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Portal — is reportedly jumping into the virtual reality hardware industry. Its virtual reality headset, the Valve Index will soon be available for pre-order.
The company confirmed the existence of the the Valve Index after a batch of uncharacteristic leaks. On March 29, the typically secretive company accidentally posted the unfinished landing page for the headset. This mother leak detailed a launch date, some basic specs, and even the accessories that may come with the gadget. The site has since been wiped of any leaked information, but Valve was still forced to confirm the published information was accurate.
A company spokesperson told Road to VR on April 1 that the leaked page “while not comprehensive, is accurate.” They also confirmed the pre-order date, teased the release date, and confirmed the name for the VR system’s controllers.
Valve’s VR ventures date at least to 2015, when it partnered with HTC to develop the HTC Vive, a VR headset with motion tracking controllers. The following year, the company showed off prototypes of its unreleased “SteamVR Knuckles,” for which it later launched developer kits in 2018. That same year, leaked images of an unfinished Valve-branded VR headset surfaced, whose authenticity was subsequently confirmed on March 31.
The company’s years of work on a proprietary VR system will soon come to fruition.
Valve Index: Release Date
The Valve spokesperson told RoadtoVR that the company planned to reveal the device May 1. At this time, the spokesperson also indicated that Valve will open the pre-order window. After that, it will be a few more weeks at least before the devices begin to ship “some time in June.”
The leaked Steam landing page stated “May 2019,” under the tagline “Upgrade your experience.” We now know that this refers to the pre-order date and not the release. While Valve declined to elaborate to Inverse on the exact release date, it might have been caught by a fan.
Twitter user Wario64 snagged screenshots of Steam’s product page for the Valve Index headset before Valve had a chance to take it down. The leaked page was sparsely populated put it did include, “Ships June 15.” The existence of this page was verified by SteamDB, a third-party database that tracks everything Steam publishes online.
Valve’s gaming marketplace is one of the premier online platforms to buy online games, so giving gamers an option to buy both software and hardware under one roof makes sense. That could come to fruition in just one month.
Valve Index: Price
Nothing has been said about the Valve Index’s retail price. But the company’s collaboration on the HTC Vive, plus the pricing on some competing products could offer some insight.
Currently, the Vive can be purchased for $500 while its biggest competitor — the newly announced, Oculus Rift S — will be priced at $400. Both of these headsets come with their own motion-sensing controllers, which the Valve Index is also expected to have. This suggests that the Valve could price its new headset somewhere in that range.
The screenshots taken by Wario64 also noted a line reading that “Controllers, Base Stations, and PC required” which suggests that Valve will sell these parts separately. This will probably bring down the cost of the headset overall, but require users that don’t have these components to make further purchases. This could also mean that the headset will be compatible with third-party hardware, but that remains unclear.
Seeing how Steam is a crucial part of Valve’s business, it makes sense that the Index will act as an accessory for PC gamers who already enjoy access to a library of thousands of games from the service.
But unbundling the components in this way also creates a drawback for users who are looking to get into VR for the first time: To get started on the Valve, you might need to factor in the cost of a new PC.
Valve Index: Hardware Accessories
The Valve spokesperson said that the Valve Index’s controllers will no longer be called “SteamVR Knuckles” and will instead be called “Valve Index Controllers” and that they’ll be sold separately from the headset. That’s all the company had to say about the controllers, but Wario64’s tweets offered further clues.
The screen shots included a list of hardware that will come with the Valve Index. This list includes: the headset, integrated headphones, a tether with DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.0 connection, a power adapter, regionalized power adapter plugs, two face gaskets, and a cleaning cloth.
The leaks didn’t mention the Valve Index Controllers, which turned out to be a sign that they would be sold alongside the headset. This unbundling could indicate that the Valve Index will be compatible with other hardware, for example the HTC Vive’s controllers.
Based on the posts from developers who got their hands on them, the Valve Index Controllers appear to have many improvements from prior prototypes: Users will be able to strap them around their hand so they can move their fingers around instead of being forced to grasp two controllers, a step that will enable more natural, virtual interactions. Valve also included a force sensor to detect grip force, a joystick, a trackpad, and a few buttons for game inputs.
Side-by-side images of the original controller prototype and the upgraded version were also tweeted by the developer Colin North in 2018, and which also indicated the aforementioned improvements. That said, even the updated controller still looks a lot like what originally shipped with the HTC Vive in 2018, so we should expect some further refinements.
As for the headset, we have only gotten a glimpse so far, thanks to a post on Imgur from November of last year. In the post, the circuit board was still visible on the front-side of the device, but the front-facing sensors in the leaked images line up perfectly with the teaser image on Steam.
The Valve Index could be ready to ship very soon.
Valve Index: Specs and Features
Wario64’s screenshots also contain some of the best hints that we have gotten about the Valve Index’s capabilities.
The site’s ad copy mentioned only “Displays. Optics. Audio. Ergo. Experience the infinite virtual worlds of Valve Index,” which really doesn’t offer any concrete details. But if you look more closely at the specs list, you’ll note that a Nvidia GTX 1070 graphical processing unit (GPU) is “recommended,” and a GTX 970 is the “minimum” requirement. The GTX 970 sells for $460 on Amazon, so users will likely need some beefy computers to run the Valve Index.
Previously, UploadVR reported that the Valve Index would have a field of view of 135-degrees and include “Vive Pro resolution,” which clocks in at 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (2880 x 1600 pixels combined). That field of view would be a notable improvement over the Vive Pro, which only offers 110-degrees of vision. Rendering that much immersive VR content will undoubtedly be graphically intensive.
The leak also mentions the presence of cameras, which would explain the sensors on the front on the headset, but it’s still unclear of how they could be used. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long for clarity on these final details.