Dig a bit deeper into the Index's design, and you'll see that Valve paid extra attention to comfort. The microfiber cushioning around the eyepiece and headband are much more breathable than the simple foam we saw on the Vive. And there's a helpful eye relief dial that lets you adjust how far the lenses are from your eyes or glasses. You won't find any headphones on the Index. Those large saucers on the sides of the headset are actually near-field speakers, which deliver immersive sound without touching you. So sure, they won't seal off external noise, but they'll let you stay in VR longer since there's zero ear fatigue.
The Index also marks the debut of Valve's finger tracking "Knuckles" controllers. While the company first announced them way back in 2016, they've only been available to select developers until now. It's easy to see why Valve waited a bit: they look and feel nothing like the Vive and Oculus Rift's. You don't just grab the Index's controllers: you have to slip your fingers under a micro-fiber strap, which secures them to your hands. You tighten them by pulling a small elastic band at the bottom, while a nearby button releases the grip.
Once you have them strapped on, the Index's remotes rely on 87 sensors to track every bit of your finger movement. At best, other VR remotes could only tell if your thumb was up or down, they relied on grip buttons to open and close your hands. But the Index lets you naturally make any sort of hand gesture, like waving at an NPC, or pointing at a specific object. But of course, they also feature traditional VR controls: a joystick, face buttons, trackpad and trigger. The Index's controllers work best for gamer optimized for finger tracking, but they're also backwards compatible with earlier VR titles.
I won't go too deeply into the Index's setup process yet, since Valve promises plenty of improvements ahead of its June 28th release. But I won't lie, it's a bit disappointing to deal with installing room sensors when other modern desktop VR headsets, like the Rift S and Windows Mixed Reality offerings, all have theirs built-in. My review unit came with two Index base stations, which offer better range and a larger field of view than the original Vive's. The Index is also an easy upgrade over the Vive Pro, since it's compatible with that headset's base stations.