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Why Oculus' radical, fantastic Touch VR controller should ship with the Rift

Hayden Dingman | July 20, 2015
Oculus Touch should not be an optional add-on. That's really the moral of this whole article. Ever since I went hands-on with Oculus's motion-tracked controllers, I've been preoccupied by the fear that nobody will ever buy them or use them.

Touch then "tracks" the positions of your fingers by figuring out whether you're in contact with certain areas. It's split into three distinct zones: The analog sticks for your thumbs, the upper triggers for your index fingers, and then the bottom trigger for your other three fingers. This means you cannot ahem show off your admittedly glorious middle fingers to an opponent. I tried.

To be honest, rarely did I use the finger-tracking for any real purpose. I mean, you can give a thumbs-up if you want, or point your index finger out and aim it like a fake gun.

The real magic of Touch however is just in grabbing objects. With Vive's wands, grabbing an object just meant pressing a button. With Touch, you feel like you are physically grabbing something--pressing three buttons for three times the haptics. It's a small but sophisticated distinction.

And like the Vive, it's completely intuitive. Our demo was less game and more toy box, but I had a ton of fun. I was networked in with an Oculus employee so we could "see" each other and he could talk me through each activity. I was put into a "room" with a table in front of me, upon which was spread a number of objects--a laser gun, a ping-pong paddle, a remote-controlled tank, a slingshot.

Want to interact with any of those objects? It's pretty much exactly as you'd expect. Pick up the laser gun, aim, and shoot. Pick up the slingshot in one hand and use the other to draw back the cup and fire. Pick up the paddle in one hand, a ball in the other, and then see how long you can keep it bouncing.

I did notice Touch lost my position more often than the Vive, and that's no surprise. Touch has a single point of failure--the Oculus camera--whereas the Vive's Lighthouse system has built-in redundancy.

I'll say this about Touch though: Never before have I laughed so much during a virtual reality demo. It's a mesmerizing bit of tech, albeit a bit less surprising since I've already used the Vive's wands.

Reach out and touch someone

And therein lies the real problem: Valve. Namely, "which will win over consumers?"

The HTC Vive's wands are (at least in their GDC incarnation) not as sophisticated as Touch. But they work, and they're--as far as we know--included by default with the Vive.

Do I worry the Vive will cost too much? Do I worry the Vive doesn't have the same name recognition as Oculus? Sure. These are valid fears. But by contrast I don't worry that developers will just fail to take advantage of the Vive's wands, because it's an integral part of the platform.


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