By now you’ll have all heard about the Valve Index. Teased late last month, today saw the official announcement of the forthcoming head-mounted display (HMD) as well as the first-hands on impressions from respected virtual reality (VR) journalists going live. But as varied as the opinions are of the spec-heavy, price-heavy device, what exactly does it all mean for developers producing VR content – specifically, those of you developing for the HTC Vive?
As a quick recap, the Valve Index is Valve’s own consumer product based on the same reference design that lead to the development of the HTC Vive. Thus, the Valve Index is completely compatible with all existing and future HTC Vive titles. Furthermore, it’s compatible with the roomscale tracking devices, Lighthouses, that came bundled with the HTC Vive, positioning it as an upgrade HMD as well as an entry point (with consumer bundles designed to match). With that in mind, what would stop you from developing for it?
Well, nothing, frankly. The Valve Index joins the Steam VR platform as yet another HMD compatibility option. If you’re already developing an experience for the HTC Vive there’s no obvious reason as to why you wouldn’t want to support the Valve Index also. There’s a number of additional features and the newly designed Index Controllers that will require implementation of a different SDK, of course, but Valve has made it very clear that the step from HTC Vive to Valve Index development is as thin as could be.
The high-end technical specifications of the Valve Index (which you can read about in detail over at VRFocus) along with the pricetag put the Valve Index at the higher-end of the market, alongside the HTC Vive Pro. From my personal hands-on experience with the Valve Index, I can say that it is a more comfortable HMD to wear and the near-field audio certainly has great potential, but aside from that it’s hard to pick between the two HMDs. And this, perhaps, is because of Valve’s intention to keep the accessibility to both developers and the existing VR consumer base open.
With the Valve Index set to launch by late June 2019, it’s clear that a war is being waged for the highest-end of VR. Oculus seem committed to expanding VR’s userbase with mid-tier, ease-of-use products such as the Oculus Quest and a redesigned Oculus Rift in the form of the Rift S, while Valve has made a clear play for those already enamoured with VR. Despite the ease of jumping ship from HTC Vive to Valve Index, whether or not the HMD is a convincing argument for consumers to upgrade remains to be seen. But for VR developers it’s a very good idea to begin planning for that potential eventuality right now.