Almost a year ago I jumped into the virtual reality market by investing in the HTC Vive. As a technology enthusiast, I had no regrets. I was instantly attracted by the device’s capabilities and the fact that it was designed by Valve. Over time, I enjoyed my time with it, but when I moved into a new place just a few months later, my time of ownership effectively came to an end; I longer had the space necessary to make roomscale work, making it largely incompatible with my living situation.
I was saddened, and maybe even a little heartbroken. Thankfully, I soon learned of Oculus Rift’s goal of becoming a standing/sitting experience, something I could make work within my limited space. I made the painful transition, knowing that I would have to wait a few months before motion controls would even be possible with the device. In the meantime I spent hours addicted to Elite Dangerous, largely validating my purchase in the process.
I waited, and then waited some more. By the time Oculus Touch hit the market I was so distracted by 2016’s non-VR games that I didn’t even consider buying one. To my luck, there were known issues with the device at the time, most notably with its tracking; I dodged a bullet.
Just a few months later, those tracking issues have—supposedly—gone away, and with them the introduction of a huge price drop of the Oculus Touch to $99. Learning of this, yesterday I became the owner of Oculus Touch.
Introduction and Gestures
Setup of the Oculus Touch was a bit quirky. For one reason or another, the software wanted me to point both of my Sensors straight outward, resulting in a massive deadzone in the front center of my space. I was able to rectify this after a few minutes of experimentation by moving one of my sensors onto my office shelf, pointing it to look downward at me from a diagonal angle. Everything was set within moments.
The software soon launched me into an introduction sequence. It was here that I had my first thought-provoking experience with the Oculus Rift. It isn’t just that the tutorial did a good job of showcasing what virtual reality is capable of, but it also takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the Oculus Touch. It might be intentionally short-lived, but by the end of it I was once again convinced that virtual reality is here and even better than I hoped it would be when I was a kid.
Oculus Touch has all the buttons you would expect from a controller, including joysticks, triggers, face buttons, and a grip button. Beyond that, each controller also has two sensors that are dedicated to reading the positioning of your fingers. These effectively allow the controller to not only interpret your button presses, but also the positioning of your thumb and index finger. As a result, these two fingers have three modes of interaction, rather than the traditional two.
As I would come to learn, these simple gestures are incredibly beneficial for virtual reality, a space that exists to convincingly transport the user into virtual worlds. Gripping and pulling at items as well as pushing and poking are far more lifelike interactions with Oculus Touch than what its competitors offer, or at least in apps and software that support gestures. With that, there’s additional room for potential that developers have at their disposal.
Take for example the use of buttons in a game world. Using the HTC Vive or PSVR, this input would be you slamming your hand into the button as if you were slapping it. This isn’t how you push most buttons in real-life unless you’re angry. In the case of something like a car start button, pushing your pointed index finger is far more natural. There are a great number of applications for these index and thumb movements that the Oculus Touch allows, and the inclusion of the technology puts the Oculus Rift in a very strong position moving into the second year of virtual reality’s consumer availability.
The key here is precision. Early forecasts expected Oculus VR’s decision to go with USB stationary infrared sensor technology to result in it being second class. That simply isn’t the case. The level of precision I’ve experienced through more than eight pieces of software during testing is one-to-one as far as I can tell. I can’t distinguish that I’m using an Oculus Rift instead of an HTC Vive other than the much more comfortable headset and controllers. Frankly, I’m astonished.
As I completed the introduction, I also began to appreciate the shaping of the controllers. These are very well constructed controllers that have clearly spent a lot of time in development. When playing games for long periods of time, their ergonomics are much appreciated.
Made better, the controllers have surprisingly long-lasting battery life. Although each requires a AA battery, I haven’t even put a dent in their lifespan after more than five hours of use.
The State Of Software
I was expecting at this point for my experience to finally face reality, a place where software—or the lack thereof—challenges the long-term attractiveness of the device. This was only somewhat the case.
With the Oculus Touch controllers now in my possession, I gained access to dozens of new games. I didn’t waste any time with hopping into Epic Games’ Robo Recall after all I had been hearing about it. On this front I’m happy to report that Robo Recall is virtual reality’s first blockbuster hit. There are other good games to choose from, but I’d be hesitant to call any other game great. Robo Recall is great. This is the game many have been waiting for, the game that entertains at the level we previously only expected from non-VR games. It has an interesting story, exciting gameplay, and a lot of neat tricks to keep you coming back for more, a trait that’s hard to find with VR software.
I’ve also had great fun with Arizona Sunshine, Superhot VR, Affected: The Manor, and The Climb, although to a lesser degree. The Unspoken is okay, although a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Meanwhile, quite a number of social oriented games are now compatible with the Oculus Rift after months of HTC Vive exclusivity, such as Rec Room and Sports Bar VR. These games are where virtual reality is at its best, as chatting and having fun with other people within an immersive virtual space is simply impossible at this level without hardware like the Oculus Rift.
Lastly, the general user and ownership experience of the Oculus Rift is, as expected, a lot better now than it was a year ago. Many applications have been polished to a shine, bugs are seldom seen—I haven’t had any tracking issues yet—, there are way more people playing multiplayer games, and, well, motion is finally here. At this point it’s a much easier recommendation.
There was a period of time where I wasn’t necessarily considering investing in Oculus Touch. I was making a big mistake. Motion controls are instrumental to a proper virtual reality experience, and in the case of Oculus Touch they serve as a gateway into another realm where nuanced inputs such as giving a thumbs up or pointing a finger are taken into consideration.
I’m incredibly impressed by what Oculus VR has delivered here, especially considering this is a first generation device. Although software is still an area where the technology is most at risk of losing the interest of its install base, Robo Recall has recently arrived to put an end to the wait for something substantial. At this point, if you own an Oculus Rift or know you want to get one, make sure you get Oculus Touch. If not, the recent price drop might not make it a must-have, but at least worth putting on your wish list if you’re interested in witnessing what it’s like to be inside of a game, rather than just looking at one.