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It is time! I finally have a Valve Index with thanks to supporter Scaine and it has genuinely blown a few braincells away with just how incredible an experience it actually is.

Unlike some, I wasn't originally sold on VR — at all. Partly because of the price factor, which is a genuine issue to adoption, especially with the more limited VR options on Linux with just the HTC Vive and the Valve Index. The big point was the idea of having a weighty device strapped to my face did not appeal to me. I stayed mostly away from it and didn't follow much - oh how wrong I have been all this time. It's simply like nothing else.

The Setup

I was expecting to come across lots of issues getting it all setup. Being much more than pleasantly surprised, it was click and play. Seriously, it can't get any easier than this. Read the instructions, plug everything in correctly and load the VR settings to calibrate things. After that, headset on and away you go. Okay, that's a slight lie. I did have one issue, which is audio not auto-switching to the headset but adjusting that quickly with PulseAudio Volume Control that makes it really easy to switch things around. Now that's all sorted and no problem.

Updating firmware for the Headset and both Controllers also worked perfectly. It tells you when an update is available, you click a button and it just does it. No fuss at all. Honestly, on an up to date Linux distribution - the SteamVR setup is ridiculously easy. You don't even have to opt into any Beta, or resort to anything on the command line, everything is nicely in the Steam UI.

System Specifications

  • Distribution: EndeavourOS (Arch Linux)
  • Kernel: 5.11.16
  • Desktop Environment: GNOME
  • RAM: 16GB
  • CPU Model: Intel i7 5960x
  • GPU Model: NVIDIA 1080 (v465.24.02 driver)

Technically, according to Valve's GitHub SteamVR is still a development release for Linux. So even though they don't seem to consider it properly stable for Linux yet, the situation is still technically extremely impressive. Whoever has been working on the Linux side of SteamVR at Valve - keep it up, you're doing awesome. VR overall is still pretty much in its infancy really and to have Valve support it like this on Linux is again amazing - when you think about the small user share of the operating system for the desktop.

I only have quite a small space to do my VR in too, and even here it works very well. Initially trying out the room scale, where you need to map out your area by walking around while holding down a controller trigger, it only just gave me the okay with a few gentle area tweaks. You don't actually need a space that big which was something of a surprise. That said, I nearly punched out a window and walked into a wall and a door - so standing-only it is with not too much movement. Even so, the standing option still has quite a bit of leeway on foot movement.

Don't have much more to say on the setup, because there's really not much to it. Plug it in, install SteamVR and some games and that's pretty much it overall. No fancy steps needed, because Steam handles everything rather gracefully for you it's just so damn impressive.

Notes for streamers and video content creators

If you're going to capture footage with OBS Studio, ensure you have unchecked the option to capture your mouse cursor. I found that out the hard way with ruined footage due to a nice big cursor in the middle of it. See also: our first VR livestream VOD.

Additionally, it's better to capture the VR View, rather than the game window as you can set it to capture both eyes to give viewers a much wider angle and it just looks better. For both eyes it does give a slight transparency bar towards the centre where it merges the two but it's still fine.

To access it, open the menu from the SteamVR Status box and hit Display VR View. This window seems to have some weird non-standard behaviour and doesn't correctly fill the screen for capturing, so you can force it to adjust with a simple command like this (thanks Corben!):

WIN=$(wmctrl -lG | grep VR\ View | awk '{ print $1 }'); wmctrl -i -r $WIN -e 2,0,0,1920,1110

Weirdly, you need to move the VR View window around, at least once, for that to actually work first.

Side-note: during all this I finally found a workaround for when OBS Studio decides to give a black screen when capturing some windows. ALT+F2 and enter "r" to reload GNOME Shell, magically then OBS can capture the window it previously showed as just a black screen.

The Feels

As someone who doesn't have the best vision and has to wear glasses, that was something I was concerned about. As it turns out, not an issue. You really can wear glasses quite comfortably with the Index headset squeezed on tight. Valve clearly though about many types of people and faces when designing it which is quite a big relief. Thankfully it means playing for longer periods is possible without major eye-strain. Although, you can also get special lens cover inserts through VR Optician to match the strength of your glasses which is certainly interesting.

You're absolutely going to want some lens protection though! The Valve Index can be easily scratched, so get some covers on it. I went with the Valve Index Lens Protector from Prettygood3d on etsy, along with a simple silicone cover for the Face Gasket so it can be kept clean and fresh a little easier.

Something else that's been really freeing for me are the controllers. I have a permanent injury in my right wrist, which is painful often and using a mouse or a gamepad can really aggravate it. The Index controllers though? No problem, there's no pain at all. It's strapped to you and moves with you, it's been so freeing.

Game Selection

Right now, the selection of games is limited — for Linux especially. Currently there's around 2% of people on Steam that have a VR set hooked up (Steam Hardware Survey), so we're clearly talking about a niche within a niche here so it's not exactly surprising. Thankfully, Proton exists which saves the day here pretty much. Without it, there wouldn't be much VR at all on Linux and considering how it's a small market inside the clear niche, it's going to stay that way for a while to come.

Games tested and working well so far include:

  • Half-Life: Alyx - native
  • Groove Gunner - native
  • Beat Saber - Proton
  • Pavlov VR - Proton, although that I refunded because frankly it felt poor. Guns vanishing all the time made it a nuisance to play and so just wasn't fun. Seems to be by design too, quite a lot of complaints about it around.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home Virtual Reality - wonderful for kids.

Pictured - Groove Gunner

Initial Gaming Thoughts

Where to even begin on how it feels to play? I now understand why people suddenly started asking for VR versions of games. I have joined the ranks of people wanting more full VR experiences. VR is something you truly cannot appreciate unless you have actually tried it for a few hours - there's no really good way to describe it, it just transforms everything.

Movement is the worst part to get used to as a newer user. Thankfully, when you buy the Valve Index they kindly throw in a copy of Half-Life: Alyx, which has different movement modes built in. For new VR users, starting with the Blink movement mode is a must, allowing you to quickly teleport to a location. The first time I tried the traditional stick-based push to walk movement mode, I nearly puked everywhere, it was really quite horrible to see everything moving like that so close to my face without me actually doing the walking. Like most things though, you do eventually get used to it and quicker than expected but it still makes me feel a little dizzy when used too much. So, Blink is the best to avoid sickness.

It's such a convincing experience in fact, that I often get vertigo when looking down from a height in VR. The experience is certainly an impressive one. Overwhelmingly impressive when you first start that is. I've bumped into many things, nearly punched through a window and more, it's an experience that simply cannot be compared with when it comes to gaming - but you do need the right games for it.

Half-Life: Alyx, for example, is the gold standard on a full VR story experience. Not surprising though, if it was anything less people would be seriously questioning why they got the Valve Index. The graphics are simply fantastic and the gameplay is brilliant. It's very much a Half-Life game down to the core too, everything about it reminds me of Half-Life 2 but turned up to 11. At times it's so tense you might pop, other times it's just wondrous to walk around a bit and interact with various parts of the environment. An absolutely extraordinary game, and it's pretty darn scary too. There's been numerous times I've completely forgotten how to reload in a total mad panic.

Enjoy a few minutes of me failing in the below video:

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The tenseness of gaming in VR can be quite a strain too. Stretching first is a must, as is trying to remember not to stiffen up. Playing faster paced-games like Groove Gunner, Beat Saber and the likes can easily make you sort-of lock up. Keep moving a little otherwise, you're going to ache. Bending your knees a little is a must. I forgot once or twice and felt the pain after a session.

What I am most surprised by is the performance. With my NVIDIA 1080 (as our 2080 is in a different machine), it's been very smooth with the titles I've put some time into. I was fully expecting to need to pull out the 2080 for this but so far it hasn't been needed.

Technical Issues

There are some technical issues to be aware of though. The situation is far from perfect. For starters, sometimes SteamVR as a whole just dies on you. You might be trying to load a game, and find yourself stuck in the loading area limbo and - nothing happens. On top of that, the in-game SteamVR overlay often just doesn't work so you have to restart SteamVR until it does. Thankfully, restarting SteamVR is a pretty quick experience so it's not too much trouble but definitely still very very annoying.

Out of the box the microphone will also not work, this is an issue with Pulse Audio it seems. Opening this file:

/etc/pulse/daemon.conf

And setting this:

default-sample-rate = 48000

Will fix it and then you have the working microphone. However, some times the microphone seems to just fail to initialize or be picked up by Pulse Audio. Restarting SteamVR and the headset seems to fix that. Doesn't happen often but it does happen.

Like taking screenshots? Well, here's another problem, you can't take them with the controllers. F12 on the keyboard works but it seems still years later it's not working as it should be and that's not helpful when you have a headset on. Want to adjust your volume in the SteamVR Overlay? That doesn't work either, also hasn't for years.

Games played through Proton often seem to have audio crackling too. I'm not entirely sure yet on a good solution to properly solve it. Setting the commonly given "PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60 %command%" launch option does nothing, restarting Pulse Audio also does nothing. The only way I've found is having Pulse Audio Volume Control open. It would be good if the root cause of this issue could be found, as it's the single most annoying thing about SteamVR on Linux right now.

If you're a Twitch or YouTube livestreamer, getting the chat to show up in your HMD is not exactly click and play. Sadly, there's currently no really simple way to do it. I'm currently waiting on Collabora upgrading xrdesktop for GNOME 40, so I can bring over a transparent chat window overlay. Once that's working, I'll be testing and reporting on that.

Lastly, not a technical issue but something to know - the Base Stations give off quite an annoying high-pitched noise when turned on. Thankfully though it is quite quiet but I imagine for some it could give headaches but you don't hear it when you have even some quiet music on so it's not too bad. The Base Stations on Linux won't power down when you're done. Not a big problem but the sound is annoying, you can try something like the SteamVR Utils for Linux or just have them in a switchable power-socket which is faster than any powering up/down via software.

So, there's plenty of rough edges you need to be aware of when doing SteamVR on Linux. I've covered a few on the main annoying bits here.

More thoughts

Is VR like this the future of gaming? Originally, I would have laughed at anyone who said yes. Now though? I'm not so sure. It's so ridiculously immersive that you forget you're even wearing a headset. To the point that I've punched the headset a few times when bringing my hands up — woops. Still, a high price and wiring everywhere are two issues I hope are eventually solved to make it the future. More headsets are coming out at lower prices which is good and wireless is coming along so eventually they might be a much smaller issue. Hopefully something like Monado can be a standard for getting more headsets working on Linux.

Also, once you've got your full kit, that's not the end of your expenses. Oh no. You're going to want replacement face covers, or a cover to put over your existing one to protect it further. The previously mentioned lens covers to protect them too, the high of buying up all the VR games you can get your hands on to experience more of it, controller covers, perhaps even a pully system to hold up the wire from the floor and the list goes on. Prepare to splash out and get seriously broke.

Playing in VR definitely makes going back to flat/pancake (or whatever you want to call it) gaming feel…weird. Everything else now feels so far away and moving a mouse to turn a camera? What is this, the stone ages? I need more VR, MORE! That said, I can't imagine how sweaty and gross an experience it's going to be in the hotter months of the year, and in the UK we don't really have houses with air conditioning but we do have plenty of insulation so we're not exactly ever prepared for warmer times.

While my time with it is limited so far (SteamVR says ~33 hours clocked), it's already safe to say that VR on Linux with the Valve Index seems pretty fantastic. I do hope many more people get to experience it. It's a complete brain and senses overload, it's amazing.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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90 comments
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Corben 10 May
Nice writeup!

Yes, VR is nothing you can explain, it has to be experienced. Glad you had a good first impression and only little issues. Meanwhile I cannot restart SteamVR without rebooting. When I quit SteamVR and start it again, the vrmonitor window pops up, and renders on the monitor instead of the HMD. Only a reboot helps for me so far. In combination with the bug, that I cannot restart any game, it's very annoying. With current Beta 1.7.8 at least I can restart games again.

For getting twitch chat into VR, another option might be using the browser from the big picture mode. So you prepare the chat window (https://www.twitch.tv/popout/<channel>) first, and then bring it up via the SteamVR dashboard.

I had the same thoughts on VR, if I'd use it again in 6 months after purchase, and there has been a time, where I was too lazy to do the setup. As I'm playing roomscale, I need free the space for it, I have issues with reflection of TV and windows, so I have to cover that (as I'm also always streaming when playing VR, I can use my greenscreen for that). But in the meantime that process just needs 5 minutes, so it's still not like with pancake game that just needs booting up the game and I can start playing, but it's okay.

If you play those games in VR that don't have an ending, which includes all the rhythm based VR games, and get hooked by them, then yeah, you will play VR still in 6 months.

Especially Synth Riders and Beat Saber (which I can show in a mixed reality like view) with viewer interaction through song request can keep you going forever :)

Just recently I played GTFO in VR (there is a VR mod which brings full controller tracking now), and it's the first time I didn't get motion sickness due to locomotion. E.g. in Boneworks I get heavy motion sickness after 2h.

And yes, Proton is a VR saver here. Without Proton we would barely have any VR titles to play. Iirc so far, all games I tried worked in VR thanks to Proton, which is really impressive.

So more noteworthy titles (which I haven't seen mentioned here before):
- Pistol Whip (rhythm VR game, shooter, unfortunately no custom songs)
- The Solus Project (sci-fi exploration game, VR is additional, has teleport)
- Portal Stories: VR
- Star Trek: Bridge Crew
- Subnautica (VR is also optional, I couldn't play it for too long)
- Super Hot VR (independent of the pancake version)

I heard of, but haven't tried them myself yet: Valheim VR mod and Minecraft VR mod

Also there is an upcoming VR title: Zenith: The Last City which could be eating up all free time.

So I think there is already a good variety of games playable on Linux in VR, that could keep you busy forever (Elite: Dangerous alone can eat up all your free time while in VR) :D
a0kami 10 May
I am very interested in what kind of new interfaces and desktop environment VR is bringing or might in the future.
The SteamVR lobby is lovely but I was thinking of a rather morebusable interface to browse files, watch content, design stuff, run commands, browse the web (or maybe someday some kind of evolution of the web specifically crafted for VR).
What is the Doctor's opinion for longtime use and it`s psychological effects, could this be good for Problems with the Brain, Mind and Soul, or could VR be dangerous to create or increase psychotic, schizophrenic or other symptoms/forms of Madness.


Last edited by tobias_newe@live.de on 10 May 2021 at 5:24 pm UTC
Liam Dawe 10 May
Quoting: tobias_newe@live.deWhat is the Doctor's opinion for longtime use and it`s psychological effects, could this be good for Problems with the Brain, Mind and Soul, or could VR be dangerous to create or increase psychotic, schizophrenic or other symptoms/forms of Madness.
Can't speak for much but as someone who suffers from Depression, it's actually helped quite a lot.
jens 10 May
  • Supporter
Quoting: CorbenNice writeup!

Yes, VR is nothing you can explain, it has to be experienced. Glad you had a good first impression and only little issues. Meanwhile I cannot restart SteamVR without rebooting. When I quit SteamVR and start it again, the vrmonitor window pops up, and renders on the monitor instead of the HMD. Only a reboot helps for me so far. In combination with the bug, that I cannot restart any game, it's very annoying. With current Beta 1.7.8 at least I can restart games again.

What colors are the LED's on the HMD when you experience that issue? If they are red, you could try the "restart headset" option in the vrmonitor menu. That always helps me when the HMD wont come up.
jens 10 May
  • Supporter
Overall I'm also still really happy with my Index. That said, I recently switched to AMD mostly because of async reprojection, but that turned out to be a disappointing experience. I'm suffering from https://github.com/ValveSoftware/SteamVR-for-Linux/issues/230 and https://github.com/ValveSoftware/SteamVR-for-Linux/issues/395 , both issues are related to async reprojection and didn't occur on my former NVidia card, though that one (GTX1080) was to weak. I really hope that someone from Valve will look at this. My hopes are limited. Saying it in a polite way: the recent SteamVR versions seem not very Linux focused.

Another thing to note, you'll need an X11 session, Wayland and compositors are still missing some bits and pieces needed for VR, though that will likely arrive at some point.


Last edited by jens on 10 May 2021 at 9:27 pm UTC
Corben 10 May
Quoting: jensWhat colors are the LED's on the HMD when you experience that issue? If they are red, you could try the "restart headset" option in the vrmonitor menu. That always helps me when the HMD wont come up.
Didn't really pay attention to that, will check next time.

I was pointed this issue, so it might be an Xorg issue: https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/xorg/xserver/-/issues/946
jens 10 May
  • Supporter
Regarding the VR experience itself, I read this somewhere here on GoL and I fully agree with this:
Experiencing a proper VR kit can (only) be compared to the first time playing anything with a 3DFX Voodoo card back in the days. You cannot describe it from pictures or videos, you have to experience it to really get the difference with what has been before.

;)


Last edited by jens on 10 May 2021 at 6:38 pm UTC
chrisq 10 May
Like some people above, I'm not interested in VR for flailing around in the room.
I'm very interested in using it for any kind of car, airplane, spaceship or similar which has static location or cockpit you sit in though. Preferably with a proper wheel or hotas setup.

Any experiences with VR in those sort of games?


Last edited by chrisq on 10 May 2021 at 7:02 pm UTC
ironhead 10 May
Beside HL:A I'm still impressed with how good Elite Dangerous feels in VR. Obviously you'll need some HOTAS but the view out of the cockpit is very much worth it. I needed half an hour to get used to rolling over the side, at first it feels very uncomfortable but it soon went away in difference to normal walking mode in other games that still gives me the creeps. And I can only play for some hours, then I need a break to avoid headaches.
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