VIRTUAL REALITY still isn't properly mainstream but that hasn't stopped Valve from revealing its own high-end VR headset, priced at a hefty £919.
Rumours had been swirling that Valve was going to make its own set of VR goggles rather than work with HTC like it did on the Vive headsets, and now we have our first official glimpse at the Index headset and platform.
We use the term platform as Valve is not just offering a headset for just under a grand of Blighty bullion as it's also throwing in some slick-looking controllers and external tracking sensors. That being said, you can buy all the bits separately; the headset for £459, the controllers for £259 and the base station for £139.
The Index controllers look like more refined and higher-end takes on the Vive motion controllers, featuring 87 sensors for hand position tracking to go alongside the normal suite of buttons and joysticks.
But the headset seems to be where the real action is at, with a design that looks more slick and compact than the original Vive headset.
Featuring dual LCD displays with a resolution of 1,440x1,600 for each eye, rather than a combined resolution of 2,160x1,200, the Index goggles promise to present some sharp images. A 120Hz refresh rate should also help reduce nausea some folks can feel when using a VR headset, and there's even a 144Hz experimental mode. Valve also noted the Index offers 20-degrees more field of view than the Vive.
While the Index might be positioned to beat the Vive in tech specs, it will still be backwards compatible with games and software that are configured for the Vive's 90Hz refresh rate.
Other neat touches include the ability to adjust the inter-pupillary distance (how far the screen sits from your eyes) physically rather than through software, and the use of "off-ear" headphones, whereby the headphone speakers don't touch the ears which Valve claims makes audio sound more natural.
There are also cameras on the headset that not only help with motion tracking but also support computer vision tech, which should give developers the scope to create some smart VR applications.
Interestingly, Valve has eschewed putting all the movement tracking tech into the headset itself like other recent VR goggles. But sticking with external sensors is probably a move by Valve to ensure that movement tracking is as accurate as possible.
Given the price of the Index kit, it's likely to be a product for diehard VR fans and developers, but at least it shows there's still interest around VR and a high-end headset could pave the way for some seriously immersive and realistic VR experiences. µ
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