Ever since the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive debuted, the Vive has had one significant feature that the Rift lacked: handheld controls. While not technically necessary for VR gaming, as many games default to an Xbox controller, the Vive’s support for touch controls was a critical difference that led some sites to endorse it over the Rift — despite the Vive’s $ 800 price, as opposed to Oculus’ $ 600. Oculus has been working on its own touch controls for some time, and the company finally debuted them at Oculus Connect this week, along with an expected $ 200 price tag.
Early feedback from reviewers who have spent time with the controls has been quite positive. The new system comes with a second sensor for detecting the environment around you. If you want a room-scale VR experience like the Vive offers, you’ll need to pony up an additional $ 79 for a third camera, which does make the Oculus + Touch + third sensor more expensive than the Vive’s base price ($ 879 versus $ 800). It’s not yet clear if the third sensor offers Oculus more flexibility in room-scale VR than HTC can offer, or if Oculus will create a bundled SKU that matches the Vive’s $ 800 price point. Both CNET and Ars Technica have published detailed reports on the various Touch-compatible games and the overall experience of using the hardware.
The Touch controllers can sense how hard you push a button, not just whether you push it, and can tailor what happens in-game accordingly. The controllers are designed to stay balanced in the space between your thumb and index finger, Ars reports, rather than requiring you to grip them with most of your fingers at any given time. This allows for a great deal of input flexibility and allows the entire hand to be used for game control, while still offering an array of buttons and switches for complex controls. Overall, the new controllers seem to be more flexible and capable than the hardware shipping with the Vive today, though that’s a preliminary conclusion. Ars notes that the device wasn’t perfect and that they had a few instances where the controllers either lagged or stuttered, but that this wasn’t very common.
The general consensus across the nascent VR industry is handheld motion controls that give the user an intuitive way to interact with games, while simultaneously offering flexible inputs, is the way to both deepen realism and create new types of experiences. If putting on the headset creates a feeling of “being there,” being able to interact with objects through hand gestures cements and improves that feeling. Touch and sight are two of the most important ways we engage with our environments. Incorporating gestures makes intuitive sense in this context.
There’s no word if Oculus or Vive intend to follow a yearly product cadence. If the Rift’s touch solution is markedly better than HTC’s, we can see HTC bringing its own updates to market. But there’s been little talk at this point of how such solutions will fit with first-generation peripherals.