Oculus Touch VR motion controller review

I’ve been waiting months to wave, point, and give you a thumbs-up in the Oculus Rift. And now, I can finally do it. Motion controls are one of the big things that makes virtual reality a totally new format, not just a fancy screen. But when Oculus shipped its Rift headset this spring, its motion controllers weren’t ready. It came with an Xbox One controller, which wasn’t outright bad, but felt limiting — like the Rift was incomplete. But just before the holidays, Oculus has fixed that. Let’s go back to reality and take a look. Unlike PlayStation VR or Vive controllers, the Oculus Touch controllers are molded for each hand, powered by disposable batteries. On each one, you’ll find a trigger for your forefinger and a grip button that you’ll squeeze by making a fist. Like the Xbox One controller, it has a total of four face buttons and two analog sticks, plus little buttons for menu options.

Oculus Touch reflects your hand motion in a way that feels surprisingly close to just, you know, using your hand. For one thing, there are sensors all over each controller, so it can tell where your hands are resting, whether or not you’re pushing a button. It can’t articulate every finger, but it can guess that you’re giving somebody a thumbs-up, or pointing your finger to poke something in VR. Even when it’s not serving a gameplay purpose, this is one of the little things that makes Touch intuitive. VR experiences still have to vastly simplify your hand gestures, but it turns out that one of the constants is just picking things up and holding them, and Touch does this really well.

Closing your fingers around the grip button really feels like grabbing something, in a way that squeezing the Vive’s slightly awkward grip doesn’t. It’s a consistent standard that works across almost everything, and it leaves one finger — the one on the upper trigger — free for other interactions. The analog sticks can be used for anything from choosing a teleportation spot to beaming objects around, and as with other motion controllers, you can wave Touch to simulate throwing a fireball, waving to a robot, shooting a gun, or just about any other interaction. The Touch controllers use a band of LEDs and an external tracking camera that the oculus rift uses. The box includes a second camera in order to widen your range, and Oculus suggests you stagger them 3 to 7 feet apart in front of you. After you set them up, you draw a line around your available space to create what Oculus calls the guardian boundary.

It’s similar to the Vive’s chaperone, except that instead of snapping into a square, the guardian system directly follows the shape of your line. So… try to draw straight! This isn’t the only possible configuration, or the best one for everything. The cameras track a decent amount of space with excellent precision, but they can’t track what they can’t see, so Touch is less reliable when you turn all the way around. For true “room-scale” VR like you’d get on the Vive, Oculus tells you to use a third camera, which it’s selling separately for $79.

If you stick with games on the Oculus store, this isn’t much of an issue. They’re subtly designed so you’re almost always facing forward, even if you’re teleporting all around a map in a wizard duel or doing slow-motion firefights. And this gives you a pretty good catalog. The best games we’ve seen aren’t really long, but they’re very replayable, and they’re polished in the way a lot of Vive games aren’t, even if Oculus doesn’t have some of the big names Sony will with PSVR. Oculus also has a great overall user interface, including things like its avatars — these slick, stylized personas that any Rift developer can let you take into their experience. But motion controls got a big head start on the Vive, so there are already a lot of games designed around 360-degree tracking. We’ve seen some that work great on Touch, but they feel specifically Rift-friendly, so others might set your controller drifting in the default camera setup. And that’s too bad, because SteamVR actually supports Oculus Touch, which makes the Rift into a pretty good substitute for many Vive games. The games are just definitely a little more awkward, unless they’re optimized for Touch controls, especially without the third camera for room-scale VR.

That said, I’ve been able to make 360-degree tracking better by arranging the cameras diagonally, but only with an extension cable. Oculus Touch gives me confidence that we’re not necessarily going to have a VR platform war — or, at least, that I can enjoy just about every PC virtual reality game without having to buy both a Rift and a Vive. So the biggest question isn’t which one of these systems is better. It’s whether there will be enough development on all platforms to make motion-controlled virtual reality a thing. Oculus’ enthusiasm for funding games is a good sign on this front, but especially while we wait to see how the rest of the catalog shapes up, it’s still an early, niche product.

But if you’re interested in the Oculus Rift, Touch is an absolutely integral element, even if it’s sold separately. I’m sure we’ll still see games that use a standard Xbox controller or the simple Oculus Remote, but Touch is where Oculus’ most interesting experiences, and some of the best VR experiences, period, are shaping up. It took years of development to get it, but this is the Oculus Rift as it was meant to be – at least, this generation.

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