CES is a big show, and there have been a tremendous number of announcements this week, so it’s no surprise when things slip through the cracks. Finch Shift could have been one of those things, but we're glad we spotted it before CES 2017 ended.
Finch is an upstart company, but it’s hoping to make a big splash in the VR accessories market this year. The company developed a camera-free motion controller system designed to bring mobile VR closer to par with PC-connected VR.
It’s no secret that hand controls make a tremendous difference in virtual reality. A VR HMD is impressive by itself, but basic VR experiences that lack input quickly grow old. Gamepads work well for some games, but with a gamepad, your VR experience is limited to a somewhat more immersive standard gaming experience. Hand controls allow developers to get creative and build stuff that isn’t feasible with classic gamepad inputs. The ability to reach out and interact with the environment brings your VR experience to another level of immersion.
Today’s best VR games and experiences run on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and take advantage of the tracked motion controllers available for both platforms. Games like Space Pirate Trainer, Job Simulator, and Arizona Sunshine are prime examples of what a premium VR experience can be, and they are often the types of games that draw people’s attention. Finch Shift motion controllers allow you to experience those games with inexpensive mobile VR solutions, such as Google Cardboard headsets.
"We believe that Finch Shift VR Kit will accelerate consumers' interest to virtual reality in the near future,” said the company's CEO Alexey Kartashov. “The main reasons for slow market expansion have been limited functionality and low quality of content for mobile VR, and prohibitive costs of high-end hardware. With the Shift Kit, anyone who has a decent smartphone can play the best virtual reality games from SteamVR and mobile VR app stores."
The Finch Shift motion controller system offers comparable functionality to the Oculus Touch and HTC Vive wand controllers. Shift includes two trigger buttons: one each for your index and middle fingers. On the face of each Shift controller, you’ll find a joystick and five face buttons, which is more than enough input options to map the controls for Steam VR and Oculus games.
Each Shift controller pairs with an armband called an “upper arm module” that has sensors which track your hand position with “sub-centimeter accuracy.” Finch didn’t go into detail about the mechanics of the sensor system, but the company said the controllers and arm modules feature “modified IMU sensors” to keep track of your hand motion and provide 6-DoF tracking. Shift doesn’t have an external tracking system, so it doesn’t offer room-scale tracking, but Finch said the controllers have full 360-degree range. The company has plans to add room-scale tracking to the package by the end of the year, though, and said it's working on an inside-out tracking system that uses your phone’s internal camera.
Finch Shift communicates wirelessly over Bluetooth, so you can easily sync it to your smartphone. It also includes a USB Bluetooth adaptor so you can use Shift controllers with your PC, which could be a great option for OSVR owners who wish to play standing-scale Steam VR content. Finch also promotes the idea of streaming Steam and Oculus content from a gaming PC to your headset over WiFi or USB tether. The company uses Dive2vr PC-to-mobile streaming software to achieve this feat and claimed that any Oculus or Steam VR game would work with Shift controller and any Android-based mobile VR headset.
The Finch Shift controllers are also compatible with mobile VR content. Finch created an SDK that allows developers to quickly add support for Shift controller to their mobile VR games. The controllers also work for non-VR games. Finch said that you could use the Shift controllers as a joystick.
Finch is currently taking pre-orders for Finch Shift developer kits, which it plans to ship in February. The developer kit includes two controllers, a Bluetooth adapter for PC use, two charging cables, three demo games, and the software developer kit. You can order a dev kit through the company’s website for $179.
Finch plans to run a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in the spring for consumers who wish to get their hands on Shift first. The controllers will hit the market in the second half of 2017.