It's only been 2 months since Valve unveiled their first in-house developed VR kit, but it looks like folks who pre-ordered the minute it was announced are already receiving their beloved headsets. Many expected the release to be a little further out than this, but a number of lucky users on Reddit are coming home to be greeted by a fancy black box on their doorsteps. Folks that shelled out the $999 price for the full kit aren't the only ones receiving boxes of joy today either, as Valve Index Controllers are also fast arriving at doorsteps in a few countries.
Valve's website still shows a "pre-order" button rather than an "order" button, so it appears that this is just a limited rollout at this time instead of a full-fledged release to market.
The Valve Index was rumored for quite some time, beginning with Valve's Knuckles controllers, which have been available to developers for well over a year now. While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both offer compelling controller designs for their systems, Valve's Index Controllers represent a massive generational leap in virtual hand sensing, allowing players to use their hands as if they weren't tethered to a controller at all.
Each controller packs 87 sensors that can detect touch and pressure, making the virtual world feel significantly more real than the mostly button-driven controllers of the past. The straps on the controllers hold on to your hands and allow users to fully grab and let go of objects without restriction; something that's readily obvious in games like Boneworks – Stress Level Zero, where players can grab objects, throw them into the air, grab a bat and swing just as they could in real life.
The Index Controllers can be used with any existing VR headset as well, which makes their appeal all the wider.
The Valve Index VR kit ships with two Index Controllers, the Index HMD, and SteamVR 2.0 Base Stations for advanced room-scale VR tracking. Some were surprised to see that Valve didn't include inside-out tracking on the Index, or that it didn't ship as a wireless unit, but there seem to be a few good reasons for at least one of these decisions.
As we've seen from a few Windows Mixed Reality headsets and, notably, the recently released Oculus Rift S, inside-out tracking can deliver a less-than-stellar experience if not designed properly. SteamVR 2.0 Base Stations launched with last year's HTC Vive Pro and enable up to 10×10 meter (33x33ft) play areas, in addition to a considerable boost in tracking accuracy and fidelity when compared to headsets with inside-out tracking.
Valve has also focused on liquid smooth displays to deliver even more believable visuals in VR, deliver a refresh rate up to 144Hz; a massive upgrade from existing VR HMDs which often feature 90Hz refresh rates. While wireless solutions like Intel's WiGig technology offers plenty of bandwidth and excellent response times for close-range wireless concepts like VR, it's likely that testing didn't meet the experience expectations that Valve set for its headset.
If you pre-ordered a Valve Index in any of the configurations offered, be sure to check your inbox and your mailbox for a special delivery in the very near future.