Oculus Touch Review: Two Thumbs Up

Shacknews has spent the last few weeks testing out the brand new Oculus Touch controllers for Oculus Rift. Oculus may have the best solution for hand presence in virtual reality. Our review.

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I first tried out the Oculus Touch controller prototypes at E3 2015 at a behind closed door meeting with a few Oculus executives. Shacknews has covered Oculus since the Development Kit 1 was on Kickstarter and a constant question that I have asked over that time is, “What is the Oculus vision for human interface devices for VR?” It was clear even back in 2013 that the future of VR was not going to be a seated experience with an Xbox 360 controller as your primary means of input. Oculus Touch is the company's great first attempt at merging hand presence in virtual reality with the ease of use and feel of a traditional video game controller.

Design

Oculus acquired Carbon Design, the Seattle-based design firm behind the Xbox 360 controller and the original Kinect, in the Summer of 2014. It was clear that they had ambitions for creating a new human interface device for VR. The Oculus Touch controllers are a near perfect balance of form, function, attention to detail, and simplicity. The controllers are clearly an input solution for VR that was built by Oculus from scratch.

Touch controllers feature gyroscope and accelerometer sensors as well as Oculus Rift Outside-In Tracking. Each controller uses a single AA battery and feature 1 index finger trigger, 1 grip trigger, 2 action buttons, 1 home/menu button, and 1 clickable thumbstick. A single Oculus Touch controller measures in at 110mm wide, 100mm tall, and 98mm long. It also weighs 136 grams without a battery.

The controllers are perfectly symmetrical with the only difference being the names of the buttons, with the left hand Touch controller sporting the X, Y and Menu buttons while the right hand Touch controller home to the A, B, and Oculus buttons. The Oculus button functions much like the Xbox Home button while the Menu button resembles the start or pause button on many video game controllers.

At the front of each controller is a Sensor Ring that communicates with the Oculus Sensors. It looks slightly odd at first, but the decision to surround the front of the controller allows for solid tracking without getting in the way. It has also protected my hands. I was trying to catch a tipped pass during a VR Sports Challenge football demo at E3 2016 and the Sensor Ring prevented my hands from smashing into the ceiling. It is that kind of design mindset that truly make the Oculus Touch controllers a delightful marriage of form and function.

Hand Presence

Oculus Touch controllers are a well thought out solution for hand presence in virtual reality. The controllers are able to detect when the user is resting their finger on top of the analog joysticks, allowing for another means of input outside of clicking in the button and moving the joystick. This creates a whole world of finger based gestures for developers to explore. Touch lets you make social gestures like pointing, waving, or giving a thumbs-up in VR. This shines in multiplayer experiences as it allows for new forms of social communication in VR. Something as minimal as being able to accurately point wuth your index finger truly increases the sense of presence and immersion in virtual reality.

One of the best examples of finger presence that I have experienced was during a demo of Wilson's Heart, an upcoming Oculus Touch title by Twisted Pixel, at E3 2016. Turning the pages of a book with your index finger was a minimal detail in the demo, but the sense of presence created by the one to one nature of how your hand is oriented in the real and virtual worlds is exactly what most players are looking for when they step into the Rift. 

The triggers are intuitively placed on the Oculus Touch controllers allowing for a great feeling of immersion. The middle finger trigger is used to grab onto things, while the index finger trigger is used for actions like pulling a trigger or throwing something. Oculus really did a great job of creating a one to one feel of grabbing or throwing an object. A game that is a great example of this highly detailed hand presence is Lone Echo by Ready at Dawn Studios in which players navigate through a space station by grasping and pulling themselves around using the environment of the level. 

The most important feature of the Oculus Touch controllers is that they are visible in VR. This creates continuity between VR and the real world once more as the controllers appear in VR when needed and transform into whatever object the developer desires at the drop of a hat. Being able to see the controllers also makes tutorials way easier to develop and lowers the barrier to entry for newcomers to the platform.

Ergonomics

The Oculus Touch controllers are incredibly refined from an ergonomic standpoint. They feel absolutely amazing in your hands and they are light enough that you forget they are there at times. They sit naturally in the hand and provide 6 buttons that can be easily pressed. The refinement of the Xbox 360 design definitely inspired these controllers. The handles sit perfectly in the hand and the spacing of the face buttons is extremely comfortable. As I mentioned above, the Sensor Ring provides a shield of sorts that can protect overly excited players from smashing their hands into dangerous objects. The magic of the Oculus Touch controllers is how they are able to transform into whatever a developer desires while being able to instantly disappear into an understated minimal role. Oculus has created a truly diverse controller that doesn't distract the player, but instead enhances the feeling of immersion with its subdued appreciation of the balance of form and function.

Gameplay

The most comfortabe controller in the world is worthless to a gamer if they can't have fun. Luckily, Oculus Touch is a blast to use. Check out this gameplay footage of The Unspoken by Insomniac Games.

A standout demo from Oculus Connect 3 was Robo Recall by Epic Games. Check out this fast-paced shooter that takes the Unreal Engine to VR like never before.

Oculus Medium shows just how versatile the Oculus Touch platform can be with its in depth menu systems and intuitive sculpting tools. Please take a look.

Performance and Battery Life

Besides occlusion brought on by Oculus' sensor limitations, the performance of Oculus Touch is outstanding. The battery life is over 8 hours per battery as I didn't have to change the batteries once during the multiple weeks in which I reviewed the controllers. It is nice that the Oculus Touch controllers are powered by AA batteries because you can always swap them out and keep playing as opposed to some competitors who require USB charging.

Sensors

The weakest part of the Oculus Touch user experience is undoubtedly Oculus' sensor technology. My review was done with two sensors configured in front of me. Sadly, this opens the door of occlusion when a player is facing away from the camera sensors with their body blocking line of sight to the controllers. This will cause the controllers to jump around or float in VR and breaks immersion almost instantaneously. Much of this problem can be alleviated by purchasing yet another sensor for $79. Oculus Sensors require USB 3.0 and setting up 3 sensors may be a challenge for some users. Many games are mindful of occlusion and take steps to prevent bad user experiences, but it is bound to happen when a player spins around in a shooter or is looking behind themselves in an advernture game. 

Conclusion

Oculus Touch is a must buy for anyone who owns an Oculus Rift. I have stated before that I believe tethered VR head mounted displays are going to remain a niche market for enthusiasts for some time. As novel and intuitive as the Oculus Touch controllers are, I don't think that they alone will be a demand driver for Oculus Rift. Software needs to continue to be developed that knocks players socks off and the price of the devices will have to come down over time. That being said, Oculus Touch is a must-own if you already own an Oculus Rift and a PC that is VR ready.

Asif Khan is the CEO and majority shareholder of Shacknews. He began his career in video game journalism as a freelancer in 2001 for Tendobox.com. Asif is a CPA and was formerly an investment adviser representative. After much success in his own personal investments, he retired from his day job in financial services and is currently focused on new private investments. His favorite PC game of all time is Duke Nukem 3D, and he is an unapologetic fan of most things Nintendo. Asif first frequented the Shack when it was sCary's Shugashack to find all things Quake. When he is not immersed in investments or gaming he is a purveyor of fine electronic music. Asif also has an irrational love of Cleveland sports.

From The Chatty

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    December 5, 2016 7:00 AM

    Asif Khan posted a new article, Oculus Touch Review: Two Thumbs Up

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      December 5, 2016 7:08 AM

      Thanks! Reviews all around are extremely positive. Hope all you Oculus folks have your boxes arriving soon. I am SO jealous of your thumbsticks.

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        December 5, 2016 7:20 AM

        Getting mine a day early, I will have it today! I am probably gonna just mess around with SteamVR games because all the Oculus games aren't out until tomorrow I think.

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      December 5, 2016 7:24 AM

      MWTBC - what is your opinion on the oculus controllers vs the vive controllers?

      In the review it mentioned it was cool they are battery powered - but I haaaaaaaaaate batteries in this stuff, and much prefer the usb charged ones. I guess this is a personal preference thing though!

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        December 5, 2016 7:36 AM

        They are two different takes on VR input, both have their merits. I will have a piece on which is better later this week.

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          December 5, 2016 7:44 AM

          Awesome I look forward to seeing it, will be picking up the Rift for my VR project soon and have been very interested in the controllers

          I really like the Vive ones, but there are some annoying things on there for me (such as the grip button, I cant use those damn buttons, so uncomfortable!)

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            December 5, 2016 7:47 AM

            I completely agree about the grip buttons.

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              December 5, 2016 12:37 PM

              I haven't tried the Touch controllers, but it looks like the design is better than the Vive wands.

              Did you see the prototype new Valve/Vive controllers that strap to your hand? Those look pretty good, I'm hoping those come out in the near future.


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            December 5, 2016 9:46 AM

            Don't press them like a button, squeeze. They are super easy.

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      December 5, 2016 7:30 AM

      I'm trying to force myself to wait before buying one but I want either an Oculus or Vive really bad.

      The Oculus controllers seem better but I have a real problem with the need for 3 USB3 sensors to get room scale and no occlusion. Asif mentions it was annoying for him seeing as he only had two sensors.

      I'm probably just going to have to keep waiting and maybe see but that controller revision for Vive.

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        December 5, 2016 7:41 AM

        From what I have seen, you can sort of get away with two sensors if you position them right. The key is to have both up high on the opposite sides. It definitely becomes a lot easier with three sensors though.

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        December 5, 2016 8:03 AM

        The dudes at UploadVR had similar complaints about getting the Rift set up for roomscale.

        http://uploadvr.com/vive-vs-oculus-rift-touch-roomscale/

        Seems it's totally do-able, but not nearly as elegant and unless positioned perfectly will have some tracking issues.

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          December 5, 2016 12:30 PM

          Thanks for the link thats an interesting article. I didn't realize that even with the third sensor the Oculus play space is quite a bit smaller than the Vive. I will have to measure how much room I have in my basement I would imagine I have more than enough.

          As much as it pains me it looks like I should wait for a revision of the VIve or maybe just the new controllers.

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          December 5, 2016 12:56 PM

          Just for everyone's information the lighthouses update over bluetooth. Having to pull them off the wall and connect to the pc for updates like the article says is necessary would be really annoying.

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        December 5, 2016 6:16 PM

        Yea, I only have 2 USB 3 ports, wtf

        Too many cables Jesus

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        December 5, 2016 11:16 PM

        For what it's worth I read they actually recommend the third (optional) sensor be on USB 2.0. Not sure why, something about overloading the 3.0? Are the 2.0 ports in parallel?

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      December 5, 2016 7:49 AM

      It's a shame VR didn't explode out of the gate. I really thought by this time nearly all of us would have headsets and be VR molesting each other in various games but I guess it's still enthusiast hardware up until video cards start catching up, the headset price comes down, and they figure out how locomotion is going to be handled in games.

      Maybe by the time I'm 40 in 4 years my dream will come true and you can all bask in the glory of JingleVR.

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        December 5, 2016 7:57 AM

        The hype was really off the charts for awhile. The lesson is that no matter how much consumer interest there is, the real thing to look out for is content provider interest. Right now there are very few companies taking it seriously enough, and the serious content takes a lot longer and a lot more money to make. That means the best stuff just could not be out at launch or a long time after, and when combined with stock shortages, it has kind of left consumer interest to dwindle.

        Now with PSVR and the Oculus Touch release, we will see a lot more of the serious content coming out. But it will still be a trickle, and of course not all of it will be good.

        So yeah, it is all just a slow grind while content and tech catches up. In a few years I think it will be what we want it to be, I definitely think it is sticking around for good.

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          December 5, 2016 9:11 AM

          It was a chicken/egg problem. Few people wanted to spend $600+ to play tech demos. Few content creators wanted to invest heavily in creating content for systems almost no one had using new SDKs and development practices when they could just continue their existing console and maybe PC development and still hit 99% of the non-mobile video gaming market.

          When price comes down by half or more, I think people will be a lot more willing to give it a shot. I know I will have a tough time spending more than $400 on anything VR related and I'd consider myself a gaming enthusiast.

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      December 5, 2016 7:55 AM

      Great review Asif!

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      December 5, 2016 8:04 AM

      I really don't have any major complaints about the Vive wands, but Touch does look more comfortable. I'm just hoping Revive is compatible with majority of Touch games tomorrow.

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      December 5, 2016 8:08 AM

      Are there any gloves or something similar that is in the works from the developers or actual decent 3rd party versions that will be supported? I think one of the biggest things that would help is actually being able to manipulate objects naturally. Not sure if it's viable at this time or not, but it's something I would really like to see.

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        December 5, 2016 8:18 AM

        I think it is more likely that future sensor technology will capture your hands without gloves required.

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          December 5, 2016 8:44 AM

          Ah, that would be even better. With all the different movement devices out, what do you think will end up panning out as being the overall winner? Do you think it's going to be an important move forward for immersion or do you think we'll see more of an adjustment of how things work in vr, such as:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO_JGtub5T8

          I can also see a problem with people getting so involved in the VR that they start trying to step on things, lean on things, etc. and falling on their ass. We've seen it in the roller coaster demos countless times.

          Are these things that are considered in development? Do you think it limits what can be done?

          This whole direction really interests me, so curious about these sorts of things.

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          December 5, 2016 12:01 PM

          Hahah, I will read this later, but that image of the glove just made me laugh. I just had this vision of it malfunctioning and pulling your finger back. :D I know it's out of it's range of motion... but...hah

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      December 5, 2016 8:15 AM

      Are these usable without a Rift? I have no desire to wear a headset, so VR isn't happening for me. but the controllers themselves look pretty awesome.

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        December 5, 2016 8:17 AM

        I don't think so, but I agree. I would like all gamepad games on Rift to support Touch.

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        December 5, 2016 9:18 AM

        It wouldn't be possible - the controllers communicate with the headset, which sends the signals down it's cable to the pc, there's no controller specific dongle or any other way to read the controller inputs.

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      December 5, 2016 8:48 AM

      One step closer to the future https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I60BhhL9H30

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      December 5, 2016 12:29 PM

      So are all launch games basically 180deg experiences Asif? Coming from the Vive I think I would have a hard time losing ability to turn around without seeing it as a big downgrade regardless of the ergonomics.

      What was your favorite game in the lineup?

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        December 5, 2016 3:50 PM

        You can turn around, but without the third sensor (or experimental 360° 2-sensor) setup you will be unable to track the Touch controllers since they would be occluded by your body.

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          December 5, 2016 3:54 PM

          To be clear, the head tracking works just fine for 360° regardless of the amount of sensors.

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          December 5, 2016 3:56 PM

          Yeah that's what I was getting at. Just kinda surprised everyone is okay with this limitation.

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            December 5, 2016 4:37 PM

            most people don't have a VR room yet and most games aren't room scale as a result

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              December 5, 2016 4:51 PM

              You're assuming. Most games actually are designed for roomscale.
              I suppose you'll just not count most of the indie efforts but if you do that, you'll be done playing in a month. I recommend you don't! I recommend you get that 3rd camera.

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              December 5, 2016 8:09 PM

              I'm referring to standing 360deg rug-scale or whatever. I would be fine with teleporting in some games as long as I could turn around without fear of losing tracking, I found myself doing that in their little first contact demo and wondering how that worked for others.

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            December 5, 2016 4:37 PM

            It depends on the game really. I think it is definitely a limitation but it impacts each game differently. There is no doubt that 360° room scale is the best way to go, but not everyone has the space, and this is a good middle ground.

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            December 5, 2016 4:44 PM

            Honestly people don't know better. They're not thinking about limitations or what the consequences are for game design.

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      December 5, 2016 1:45 PM

      Got my touch :). Leaving work now...

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      December 5, 2016 3:52 PM

      I just finished setting mine up, took a few times to get the optimal play space since I didn't want to move my PC yet.

      Is there any way to get back to the mini-tutorial that they have you play once you set it up? I am installing toy box so maybe it is there, but it is odd they didn't have it stand alone like Dreamdeck.

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      December 5, 2016 3:53 PM

      TOYBOX MULTIPLAYER!!!

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      December 5, 2016 10:00 PM

      The revive developer has had touch support for awhile, will be testing it shortly with superhot.

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        December 5, 2016 10:44 PM

        Verdict: Superhot does not like revive... yet. It crashes consistently after the intro level.

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      December 5, 2016 11:20 PM

      Awesome review, thanks for all the work on the VR stuff lately, you are on fire today.

      Also keep up the vids they are cool, thanks for those as well.

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      December 7, 2016 3:15 PM

      Just a heads up. For the 3rd sensor, USB 2.0 is fine, in fact the included extension cable is only USB 2.0