If you’re new to VR, particularly PC VR gaming, and are looking for high-intensity, powerful VR gaming with games that require a high-end PC to run while tethered to make the most of the power from both devices, you will find yourself making the purchase decision between Valve Index vs Oculus Rift S.
These are two of the best VR gaming headsets for power users and serious VR gamers. If you’re in either (or both) of these categories, you’ve come to the right place. These headsets are perfect purchase options for enthusiastic VR gamers. The choice isn’t easy, however, as each of the headsets offers a lot of promising qualities and exclusive features that you would not be able to find on its counterpart. I’m going to help you fine-tune your decision to help you buy the exact headset you would want for your needs.
In this article, I will compare Valve Index vs Oculus Rift S through criteria such as technical specifications, software, controls and features, design, and pricing, amongst other things.
Let’s not keep you waiting and jump right in!
Bottom Line Up Front
Valve and Oculus are undoubtedly two of the best VR headset manufacturers in the VR. The Valve Index and the Oculus Rift S were both released within months of each other in 2019. These two headsets are simply two of the best in the market. There’s virtually no scenario in which you’d be disappointed with selecting one of these headsets as your power VR device of choice.
At the outset, let me state that both of these headsets offer PC-based VR experiences.
In this article, I will compare the Valve Index vs Oculus Rift S on paper. This will cover the specifications of the headsets, the user experience, the pricing, and the personal opinions I have regarding the respective ecosystems offered by Valve as well as by Oculus. This will include, but not be limited to, accessories, controllers, available titles, features, and other similar criteria.
Key Differences Between Valve Index and Oculus Rift S
There are many differences between the Valve system and the Oculus system as far as software is concerned. They’re more evenly matched on paper in terms of hardware and technical specifications.
- The Oculus Rift S has access to the Oculus Store including Oculus Home, along with the SteamVR library, whereas the Valve Index only has access to the SteamVR library of games.
- There are two displays on the Valve Index, canted at a 5-degree angle, with a 130-degree field of view, whereas the Oculus Rift S has only one screen with a 115-degree field of view.
- The Valve Index display is a 2880 x 1600p 144Hz LCD panel split over two screens (one for each eye), whereas the Oculus Rift S display is a singular 2560 x 1440p 80Hz LCD panel.
- The Valve Index comes in much heavier weighing in at about 800g with the straps, whereas the lighter Oculus Rift S weighs in at 500g with the straps.
- The controllers on the Valve Index and the environment are tracked largely through the base cameras which are two external cameras that track user movements and controller input, whereas the Oculus Rift S tracks movements through the use of cameras onboard the headset. There is also scope for finger and thumb tracking individually on the Valve Index, while the Oculus Rift S can only track gestures on the controller.
- The Valve Index and Oculus Rift S both have an audio jack for headphones as well as microphones built-in, whereas the Valve Index comes with detachable stereo speakers, while the Oculus Rift S speakers are not removable and are part of the headset design.
- The Valve Index is powered by a rechargeable 8-hour battery, whereas the Oculus Rift S powers itself through the use of AA cells which can last up to 20 hours.
- The Valve Index was released at $750 for the bundle with the headset and the controllers, whereas the Oculus Rift S came in much cheaper for $400 with the controller bundle.
Design and Comfort
Being the flagship variants released by the respective companies at the time, both headsets are high in build quality and provide a good level of comfort, especially considering the infancy of the market in which they were introduced. Both headsets are big, bulky, and fairly heavy, but that’s understandable, considering the year they were released and the type of games they are meant to support, with the devices they require to be attached to.
The Valve Index is comfortable enough, coming with a padded headband that is adjustable and can be tightened or loosened with the help of a rotating dial that falls somewhere at the base of your neck, just like in some crash helmets. The headband, as well as the straps, are padded, so the feeling is cushioned enough for the weight of the headset.
On the other hand, The Oculus Rift S is a lot more comfortable. Being the lighter of the two headsets, it sits a lot better on top of your head (and in front of it). The straps are adjusted by a similar ring at the back of your head to tighten or loosen them. The straps are padded at both ends with a small plastic bit in the middle that extends to help you adjust it, similar to spectacles or sunglasses.
Both the headsets have a minimal enough design. They’re from 2019, so I’m not going to claim they look futuristic. I’ll have to say that there are more bends and curves on the Valve Index compared to the Oculus Rift S, so if you want a more minimal look, the Oculus Rift S is the way to go.
This is what you’ll spend most hours looking at on any VR headset. It’s the displays and how the visors, screens, and viewing experiences stand out.
On the Valve Index, the displays come in at 2880 x 1600p divided amongst two screens for each eye. These displays are essentially curved at a 5-degree angle, which gives the wearer a much wider field of view. This provides a 130-degree field of view for users. The headset also clocks in a particularly high refresh rate of 120Hz, which can go as high as 144Hz when supported by the software. This is excellent for gamers that want the content they are viewing to match the response time they aim for in VR gaming.
While this is great for an immersive VR experience, the displays are, unfortunately, LCD, which in 2022 feels somewhat outdated. Considering that most mobile displays, the Oculus Quest series headsets, and many other headsets have moved to the OLED panels, the LCD panels can feel a little bleak. They have a lesser contrast ratio and are also not as good at power management since they light up the blacks on the screen as well. This can feel particularly annoying in VR environments that are dark or while viewing visual media on the headset.
You can also adjust the interpupillary distance (IPD) on this headset. This is particularly useful for players who wear glasses and wish not to wear them during VR gaming sessions. They can adjust this accordingly to suit their spectacles’ power. You may have some issues if you wear glasses while VR gaming, though. The Valve Index claims to be glasses friendly. You may have to play around with the strap and headset adjustments to make sure you have just the right fit and that your glasses do not clash with the lenses on the headset.
On the other hand, the Oculus Rift S comes in with a display resolution of 2560 x 1440p LCD. This is lower in resolution than the Valve index. More importantly, this is a single panel, and that means a less immersive experience. I think the knowledge of the fact that it’s just one panel makes it feel closer to something like the older headsets that used your phone as a screen. Not exactly as makeshift a feel as the Google Cardboard, but not exactly what you’d expect from the premium flagship PC VR headset offered by Oculus.
Similar to the Valve Index, the panels on the Oculus Rift S are also LCD type. Neither of the headsets offers an OLED or AMOLED panel, unfortunately. This means brighter blacks, a lower contrast ratio, and poorer power management.
As far as IPD is concerned, it is software-managed and does not support a physical adjustment like in the Valve index. However, players with glasses will find it easier to go about using the Oculus headset as compared to the Valve Index. There is more room in most Oculus headsets to accommodate glasses, and the Rift S is no exception. You may face the inevitable issue of the glasses clashing with the lenses, which is an issue for most headsets, especially those of the PC-VR variety.
Connectivity and Audio
Both the Valve Index and Oculus Rift S headsets are PC tethered and ideally require a high-end PC to run the type of games you’d be looking to play on these headsets. Both of these setups rely on wired tethering.
On the Valve Index, the cable is what I consider a stroke of genius for the connectivity that was released at the time. It’s a 3-way split for the ends which go into your PC. There’s a normal USB 3.0 cable, a DisplayPort 1.2 (which is supposed to go into your graphics card. If you can’t access it directly, as in the case of a laptop, you can find an adapter easily), and a 12V power connector that links to the power adapter and powers the headset as you play. On the other end is the proprietary connector, which goes directly into the headset. The icing on the cake: there’s a safety breakaway point in the middle, just before the area where the cable breaks off into 3. This ensures you don’t accidentally damage your laptop or headset. More importantly, it also ensures you don’t injure yourself when playing VR games on the Valve Index. This is what I like most about this cable. The safety outlook here is very well thought out, and it’s surprising to see Oculus didn’t opt for this as well.
Contrastingly, the Oculus Rift S does little to complicate the connectivity to your PC and offers a simple cable that connects to the headset on one end and then splits into two on the other end, which connects to your PC. This two-way split includes a USB 3.0 cable and an HDMI cable. Much simpler to a plugin, this headset powers itself through the laptop and doesn’t need to draw separate power with an AC adapter like the Valve Index. You may find this much easier to set up as you won’t need to find an additional power outlet to power your Oculus Rift S headset. In the ease of connectivity, the Oculus Rift S wins out, but the cable safety of the Valve Index is unmatched.
There are detachable stereo speakers mounded on the Valve Index with the option to plug in a 3.5mm Audio Jack should you wish to make the sound more exclusive.
On the other hand, the Oculus Rift S comes with in-built stereo speakers with the option to add headphones via a similar 3.5mm, Audio Jack.
Both headsets come with microphones built-in, so you don’t need to worry about having gaming-specific headphones with microphones built into them.
Cameras, Tracking, and Sensors
As headsets of the PC-VR variety, both headsets naturally have cameras and sensors of various types on their body. The Valve Index comes equipped with two downward pointing cameras. They also allow for a feature called Passthrough which maps the environment around you to give you a mixed reality representation of your gaming environment on the Valve Index display. You can set this up through Steam and customize things such as the color of the brightly highlighted room around you. I didn’t like this feature too much. It’s a cool gimmick to check out a couple of times, but after that, it loses its charm and novelty. Apart from the onboard cameras, the Valve Index also comes with two cameras that are externally placed around your play area. This is a definite win in my book since they can track movement and register inputs much better as they’re stable and can cover a larger space since the placement options are so versatile.
On the other hand, the Oculus Rift S has a total of 5 cameras that act as sensors to track and serve similar purposes as the Passthrough when you need it. These five cameras are spread out with two in the front, one on either side and one camera pointing upwards. They are used for Passthrough, environment mapping when needed, as well as to track the controllers more accurately while in the VR experience. As you move in the VR space, the headset tracks your movement through these cameras and registers controller inputs similarly. The only downside is that it suffers when there is controller input if you have the controllers behind you since there are no cameras to cover for that.
The controllers on both these devices are fairly smart in their own right. However, with the help of the more advanced technology for finger and thumb mapping, as well as the two base cameras that track controller movements after being placed in your gaming environment, the Valve Index Controllers are a class apart. They get strapped onto your hands and don’t need to be held, though they do offer buttons and analogs on each controller that you can press while you’re strapped in. This tracking of all fingers individually is some futuristic technology that other headsets have failed to match. The only downside to being so far ahead of the competition is that developers who wish to release games on SteamVR that are compatible with most other headsets as well will choose not to take advantage of the finger tracking since other headsets don’t support it.
Contrastingly, the Oculus Rift S controllers do not have finger and thumb tracking. However, they do use cameras on the headset as well as the controller’s sensors themselves to smartly track gestures and movements. They’re some of the most user-friendly controllers in the PC-VR space. The only downside I’ve noticed is the constant need to hold the controllers to be able to use them.
There is quite a rift between the prices of these two headsets (pun intended).
The Valve Index was released in early May 2019 at a price point of $500 for the standalone headset and about $750 with the controllers. This is fairly high for most users and costs as much as a current-gen iPhone 13.
On the other hand, the Oculus Rift S came in late May 2019 at a price point of $400 with the controllers. This bundle, with the features it offers made it undercut the sales and popularity of the Valve Index to quite some extent.
Think of it like an iPhone taking away sales from something like an Asus ROG Phone. The Valve Index ranks better on paper and uses in most aspects. The price point, however, is a bit much to ask the average user to pay. On the other hand, the Oculus Rift S is a solid headset that offers all features is a VR experience that is well above average while maintaining a sub-$500 price point. This makes it easier to recommend to the average VR user or buyer looking to decide between the two headsets. In my honest opinion, the Valve Index is a much better device, but it’s priced how it should be. The Oculus Rift S is a fantastic device that’s a deal that is too good to miss for the price it comes at. It offers a ton of features, great performance, and the same library of games as well as some exclusive features at a price that is almost half of its competitor.
If you’re on a budget, or even if you can afford both but want to save some money, then go for the Oculus Rift S. But if your budget is essentially unlimited and you don’t think money is an object in this instance, then the Valve Index is a more promising device if you ignore the price.
Let me state at the outset that there is one great alternative to both of these and then a couple more that qualify as alternatives due to newly added features.
The HTC Vive Pro wins out in departments such as the display with its sharp, crisp, and high-contrast 2880 x 1600 dual AMOLED setup. It runs at 90Hz too. Though the refresh rate is lower than the Valve Index, it is a better display, no doubt. The controllers don’t offer much interaction with the trackpad control, but the cameras onboard the headset track hand and finger movements to some extent. The headset is similar to the Valve Index and Oculus Rift in most other features. It’s the closest in standing to those two, and the displays make a really convincing argument for it. It was more on the expensive side, accounting for the more famous company at the time, as well as build quality and those displays. It was released at $600.
Another alternative is the Oculus Quest. The Oculus Quest is originally a standalone headset meant for lighter VR gaming and media uses. However, Oculus introduced the Oculus Link feature through a USB C to USB 3.0/C cable, and now users can connect their Oculus Quest headset to their PC and play the SteamVR library of games that previously only Rift series users had access to. It was released for $399.
Naturally, the next alternative on the list is the Oculus Quest 2 series of headsets. A minor upgrade on the original Quest, it does everything its predecessor did, just a bit better. It comes in for $300.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Do Both Devices Have Access to the Same Library of Games?
Answer: Yes. Sort of. The main library of content for both headsets comes from the SteamVR store, which offers a great variety of games. The Oculus Rift comes with the added Oculus Rift store that gives you access to some cool apps and features like Oculus Home.
Question: Do Both the Headsets Just Need a USB Cable to Plug and Play?
Answer: No. The Oculus Quest comes with a cable that splits into USB 3.0 and HDMI, while the Valve Index needs to be set up in a more complicated way, with USB 3.0, a Display Port, and an AC adapter connection.
Question: Do Both Headsets Support 3D Audio?
Answer: No. Only the Valve Index has support for 3D audio. It sues the trackers, the base cameras, and the surroundings to create a more immersive audio experience. You won’t find this on the Oculus Rift S.
The two headsets are evenly matched in a lot of areas, with the Valve Index winning out in some and the Oculus Rift S taking the win in other criteria.
If you had to ask me to sum it all up, I’d say the Valve Index is a better package overall, but the Oculus Rift is user-friendly and priced far more competitively. It may not be as advanced as the Valve Index in most of the specifications or criteria, but it is by no means lacking in performance and delivers a solid package for its value.
To any users caught in the decision of Valve Index vs Oculus Rift S, I have to say that you will not be disappointed with either. If you can afford to splurge, get the bigger, better, and more powerful Valve Index. If you want to save up and still end up with a solid VR gaming package that offers everything more than adequately, then go for the Oculus Rift S.
Whatever your decision maybe, you’ll see that you will have an immersive experience nonetheless!