With the release of Half-Life Alyx, Valve´s signature VR headset exploded in popularity and became sold out, despite its price tag. One of the defining features of the Index is its controllers, which boast the capability to track the movement and grip of each of your fingers individually, something that it´s competitors can´t do.
With this in mind, do they only work on the Index or can you use them with other headsets?
Do the Index controllers work with other VR headsets?
Valve index´s controllers do work with other headsets, but not all of them. The controllers will work with the HTC Vive and any other headset that also uses the Vive base stations to track your movements, like the Primax. Sadly, they will not work on any headset of the Oculus family or the Vive Cosmos.
To be more precise, the Index´s controllers track their position and movement using the Lighthouse system, which uses the famous Vive base stations. If your headset of choice also uses these base stations with its default controllers, then they will work.
If the VR headset you want to use uses internal tracking, like Oculus Quest or Rift S, then it will not be able to detect the Index´s Controllers. Even if you did somehow find a way to make them connect, it would be practically impossible to play, as the headset would have no way to track your movements.
What is the Lighthouse positional tracking system?
Lighthouse is the name of the system that Valve and Vive developed to track your movements when you play VR.
It works thanks to its use of the rectangular base stations that comes with each headset, how many you need can vary between each system, but the Index uses two. These stations scan the room with 2 laser emitters that spin at around 60 rotations per second. This means that your room is constantly being canvassed by lasers every instant the Index is on.
Both the controllers and the Index itself are covered with photosensors that detect this laser barrage and in turn, use it to determine where the device is and how is it moving. This is what allows the headset to track your movements in VR.
But why would Valve and Vive use this system instead of internal tracking devices like the ones Oculus uses? Well, the advantage of the Lighthouse is that it helps the headset have an easier time detecting and tracking your movements, which gives it an ever-so-slight-edge over its peers when it comes to accuracy and latency.
Now, this is not to say that Valve´s competition, namely the Oculus, has a bad tracking system. If you are not a VR expert, you are probably not going to notice much difference in the responsiveness and accuracy between each controller and/or headset. Each company simply decided on a different approach to solving a common problem, which is better is still up in the air.
The base stations and the Lighthouse system do have a couple of limitations, the first of which is space, you need to have it to use it properly. If your desktop is cluttered and back against a wall, you might not have the necessary empty space for the Lighthouse to work properly.
Keep in mind that space must be completely empty, having objects between you and the base stations might block the laser and prevent them from working properly.
With all that said, you might be thinking;
Why would you want to use the Index Controllers? Are they better?
The main difference between the Index controllers and those that the Vive use or the Oculus Touch is that they allow tracking of each finger´s individually, letting you be more expressive with your hands.
Unfortunately, no VR games have (as of yet) taken advantage of this feature in their gameplay, meaning that for now, the only advantage that it brings is helping with immersion.
This might not seem like a lot, but immersion is the whole reason to be of the VR market in the first place, so it does carry some weight.
The Index´s controllers work with most of the Vive platforms and any VR headset that uses its base stations to track your movements. It is unfortunately not compatible with the Oculus line of products.
This is because it uses the Lighthouse system to detect your movements. This system has a couple of base stations that track the position of your controllers with a laser. If your VR headset isn´t compatible with the base stations or uses internal trackers, it will not work with the Index's controllers.
Now, you might want to buy the whole system and not just the controllers. The Index is a good VR platform, but if you want to know if it´s the right one for you and you should not buy a Quest, for example, check out our infographic comparing the Oculus Quest and the Index.
If you want to browse more VR headsets, check out our collection on our page over here. If you are going to buy an index, I don´t recommend using Amazon to do it, as it´s usually more expensive over there. Try Steam´s official store or eBay if it´s sold out over there.