Guidemaster: Is Valve Index the best virtual reality system to buy in 2019?

Guidemaster: Is Valve Index the best virtual reality system to buy in 2019?

Enlarge / Front row: PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest, Valve Index, Oculus Rift S. Back row: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive Pro. (Only headsets from the front row made our recommended-in-2019 list.) (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Virtual reality as a consumer-grade tech isn’t going anywhere if the PC gaming titans at Valve Corporation have anything to say about it.

Today marks the company’s launch of its own VR system, the Valve Index, and it’s easily the company’s biggest hardware launch ever. Valve has previously sold $50 controllers and set-top boxes, and they’ve partnered with other hardware makers to launch things like computers. But the Valve Index is another level entirely—it’s priced at $999 for a full kit, built top to bottom at Valve’s Seattle-area headquarters.

What’s more, its launch day allocation sold out even before I’d written my lengthy hands-on impressions article last month. Not bad for a gadget

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One week with the Valve Index: A VR game-changer with a few question marks

One week with the Valve Index: A VR game-changer with a few question marks

My introduction to the Index, Valve’s first-ever top-to-bottom PC virtual reality system, was a whirlwind of numbers and demos. Valve’s three-hour hands-on event in April came with a considerable blast of specs, claims, and pre-release software, but while those ranged from puzzling to impressive, none of them stayed with me like one off-hand comment from the day.

During an informal Valve Q&A after my tests, I talked about how impressed I’d already been by the Oculus Quest’s “good enough” performance as a wireless, standalone VR headset. How would the pricier, wired, more demanding Valve Index fit into that kind of marketplace, I asked?

“I don’t use VR for 30 minutes a day,” one Valve engineer said in response. “I use VR hours a day. What’s good enough for 20 minutes, 30

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A tale of two “inside-out” VR headsets: The $400 Oculus Rift S, $600 HP Reverb

A tale of two “inside-out” VR headsets: The $400 Oculus Rift S, $600 HP Reverb

Enlarge / The $600 HP Reverb (left) and $400 Oculus Rift S (right).

By the end of 2019, many major VR headset manufacturers seem poised to launch a new “statement” product for PCs. This month sees two such headsets reach store shelves: the Oculus Rift S (coming May 21, priced at $400) and the HP Reverb (out now, starting at $600).

In both companies’ cases, the statement from each headset is a mix of upgrade and compromise. Rift S sees Oculus take two steps forward, two steps back, from its three-year-old Rift headset to establish a new “baseline” PC-VR experience, particularly with active hand tracking in mind. Meanwhile, Reverb aims to deliver the most affordable “high-res” VR headset ever made—which, as you might expect, includes a few imperfections, ranging from the obvious to the surprising.

After living with both headsets, I can report that each headset’s sales pitch is

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Oculus Quest review: 2019’s best new gaming system is wireless, affordable VR

Oculus Quest review: 2019’s best new gaming system is wireless, affordable VR

Enlarge / The Oculus Quest, as enjoyed by an invisible model. (credit: Oculus)

I can take the Oculus Quest with me practically anywhere, pull it over my eyes, map out a VR space with my hands, and quickly start playing some of the best VR games currently on the market. That “anywhere” includes, for instance, the bathroom in the food court beneath Valve Software’s headquarters.

Today is a big news day for Oculus, the Facebook-owned virtual reality headset manufacturer. The company’s two recently announced VR headsets, the $400 Oculus Quest and the $400 Oculus Rift S, now have release dates (May 21), pre-order announcements (right meowright here), and a review embargo lifted after nearly two weeks of hands-on time.

But as you may have seen, there’s other VR news today: preview embargoes for the Valve Index, which you can also read about on Ars today,

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