Using Touch Controllers And Conclusion
One of the first things you notice when you pick up the Touch controllers is how comfortably they fit in your hand. Oculus spent a lot of time designing the controllers to fit ergonomically. The trigger and grip button are positioned for easy access without moving your fingers to search for them. It's hard to imagine a more comfortable design. But that doesn't mean everyone's body will respond to Touch the same.
Oculus' Touch controllers are light enough, but they frankly aren’t as comfortable as I personally expected. Over time, I discovered that the handle is a little too small. The controllers are designed to accommodate a natural resting position, which feels great at first. But Oculus' hand gesture system puts a lot of strain on your pinky and ring fingers as you clamp down harder with them.
You see, the index finger, middle finger, and thumb are used for gestures, leaving most of the controller's mass balanced between those remaining two fingers, which are holding on tight. Despite their light weight, the controllers' handles are a lot to bear during an extended gaming session. In my experience, the grips are too small; my hands and fingers started cramping after 30-40 minutes. If the base of the handle had a bit more girth, my pinky and ring fingers might have fared better.
The shape of the Touch controller is great for a theoretical dainty grip. However, that's less practical in an intense VR experience. After all, when you hold a gun, a firm grip is more natural than a neutral hand pose.
The Touch evolved quickly. We tried engineering samples this past January at CES and noticed occasional occlusion problems. These were fixed, apparently. Throughout our testing, we only lost tracking when line-of-sight with the sensors was broken.
This is a difficult observation to quantify, but the Touch controllers seem to track more accurately than the Vive's. Occasionally, HTC's hardware will "jitter" a bit; we didn't see anything like that from Oculus. The tracking is almost too sensitive, though. The controllers translate every subtle movement of your hand, which is good if your hand is steady; not so good when your arms get tired and become shaky.
The Rift's tracking system also appears to work better in rooms with reflective surfaces. There is a glass display cabinet in the room I use for testing VR equipment, and it often interferes with the Vive wands when I'm close to it. Touch doesn't have any issues tracking when I'm close to the glass.
Do You Need A Third Sensor?
In the default tracking sensor configuration, you're supposed to put two sensors in front of you and play your games while facing the sensors. At first, we thought this configuration worked perfectly fine. Our early game testing selection included Medium, VR Sports Challenge, and The Unspoken. We had no tracking issues.
But those three games share one important common denominator: none give you any incentive to turn around. In Medium, your canvas is in front of you, and unless you draw something extremely large, you likely won’t feel the need to turn around while you sculpt. VR Sports Challenge puts you in the shoes of competitive athletes from various professional sports, but each experience is short and tailored to a specific task that never requires turning around. The Unspoken places you head to head against a single opponent, always in front of you.
Once we fired up Arizona Sunshine, we ran into trouble. Arizona Sunshine is an open world zombie survival shooter that lets you roam. Zombies attack from all directions, so it’s easy to get caught off guard. Although Blink teleportation lets you change orientation while moving around the map, when the undead creep up behind you, your natural reaction is to spin your body around. And because of that, the two sensors would lose line of sight with the Touch controllers often.
We’d recommend one of the alternative experimental setups for this kind of experience. Once we plugged in a third sensor, our tracking woes were gone, and the room-scale setup is ideal for games that exploit your natural reactive tendencies. The optional dual-sensor, 360° setup works well for these games also, just with a smaller tracked area. Officially Oculus doesn't yet support 360° and room-scale configurations beyond "experimental support," but we recommend spending the extra $79 on that third sensor for the full experience.
When a new piece of technology comes out, especially something as innovative as Oculus Touch, it’s natural to expect hiccups in the setup and use of the device. I really don't have any of that to report here; the configuration process is straightforward, and once the controllers are set up they work as expected, other than the aforementioned tracking hiccups with games like Arizona Sunshine.
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The Oculus Touch controllers successfully complement a platform that was noticeably missing an element of virtual reality interactivity. Functionally, the Touch controllers put the Oculus Rift on par with the HTC Vive. Both now have room-scale VR and purpose-built controller input.
Until now, our recommendation was the HTC Vive, without much hesitation. But the situation just changed. From a hardware perspective, the Rift edges out HTC's Vive. From the HMD to the controllers, Oculus put a great deal of thought, design, and manufacturing into the entire package. Furthermore, the controllers, with their analog input buttons, capacitive buttons for intuitive gesture tracking, and robust tracking accuracy, really help the Rift turn the corner on what VR can be.
Of course, the Touch controllers and Vive wands are different enough that some content won't map to both platforms in the same way. And yet, many Vive-only titles are now coming to the Rift as part of this week's Touch launch. We suspect most developers are building for the commonalities.
It's worth noting that although the extra features of Touch controllers seems advantageous, the variety of input options is a double-edged sword. Some users may find it a bit intimidating. HTC's simpler Vive wands are easier for newcomers to use, and in my early experience, Touch wasn't perfectly comfortable. But I’m a sample size of one. With all VR systems, I’ve made a point of introducing dozens of others to the hardware to gather more points of view, and I will do so with Touch as well. Look to our Best PC VR HMDs page, which we will be updating later this month, along with our original Oculus Rift review, and we’ll provide even more updates over time.
Ultimately, the choice between HTC and Oculus (or even Sony’s PSVR), goes beyond the hardware. It must also factor in the entire experience, including the software environment and the trove of content. But simply put, the Touch controllers are a fantastic, if not necessary addition to Oculus' platform. An extra $200 is a bit steep, but if you already own a Rift, find room in your budget.