Valve Index, the new high-powered VR hardware suite from the company behind Steam, is going up for pre-orders on May 1. The new virtual reality hardware is being designed and manufactured by Valve, who are calling it the new "best-in-class VR experience", fully compatible with the entire current library of VR titles on Steam while enabling more refined and flexible interaction in the (virtual) space. The full kit will cost you just under a grand - which sounds like a lot, but is still $400 less than the HTC Vive Pro starter kit. Also, its shiny front plate makes it look like those goggles from Ready Player One.
Valve is selling each part of Valve Index individually to support people who want to carry over some of their Vive hardware (Valve previously worked with the Taiwanese tech company on that line of VR hardware, but it seems that relationship may have run its course). If you're starting fresh, the whole kit of headset, controllers, and base stations will cost you $999 (UK price TBA), which is a $76 saving from buying all the same pieces individually. Keep in mind that Valve also puts the required specs to support Valve Index at a PC with at least 8GB of RAM, a dual core CPU, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970/AMD RX480 or better.
So what makes this headset different from all the others? Valve says its dual 1440x1600 RGB LCD panels significantly cut down on the "screen door" effect compared to OLED-based models, and that it natively runs at 120Hz (with experimental support for up to 144Hz) with super-low persistence for clear, moving images. It has its own built-in speakers, too, but you shouldn't call them headphones; they're actually built to rest just off of your ear for better comfort and so "audio feels like it comes from the environment around you". And yes, it's still wired with a 5-meter tether and 1-meter breakaway PC connector.
The wireless controllers look like a similar evolutionary step forward, with straps that allow for open-handed play and refined sensors that track each individual finger so you can make obscene gestures or crush virtual beer cans. New base stations allow for most room-scale VR setups to work with only two (though they support up to four for a 10x10 meter play area) and receive less interference from other infrared devices.
The Valve Index will start shipping out - in both full kit and piecemeal forms - by June 28, 2019. Valve says the initial launch will only be available in limited quantities, so if you're ready to sign up for the ground-up Valve VR experience, you'll probably want to get your order in ASAP.
Read our predictions about how VR and other big 2019 tech trends could affect the future of gaming. Or see what's big in games and entertainment this week with our latest Release Radar video.