It’s been a little under a year since Oculus VRs consumer release of the Rift started to ship to Kickstarter backers and preorders alike in that time we’ve seen a fairly shambolic shipping process as well as competition arise in the form of the HTC Vive, a device that many have lauded as superior due to the fact it supports room scale VR and has dedicated control inputs, thankfully for Oculus they have taken a huge step towards changing this with the release of the Oculus Touch and what a hell of a step it is.
Unboxing and Setup
Much like the Rift itself, the Touch ships in a well-presented package, though this feels a little less premium than the box the Rift was supplied with, again, we see a white outer sleeve extolling the virtues of the hardware, under this is a matte black box with the Oculus logo.
The general presentation is simple and neat, with a small black card box attached to the box lid, the Touch controllers taking the main stage and the additional camera sensor secured with plastic clips, much like in the Rifts box. The black box mounted to the lid contains the paperwork, certification notices a pair of batteries for the controllers and an attachment for the Touch controllers to allow them to be used in Rock Band VR. Battery installation is performed via the sliding of a magnetised compartment cover, which can be opened with minimal effort, but is secure enough to withstand the rigors of a prolonged, heavy gaming session.
Set up is a little more involved than that of the rift, but is again a simple, guided affair taking no more than about half an hour – I opted to completely reset up my Rift from scratch, rather than just adding on the Touch controllers, so you may find that if you have been using the Rift for a while that setup is much faster for you. One thing that did throw me was that the camera sensors need to be aligned in parallel, rather than angled towards each other like you would expect, the software is also a little fussy on making sure this is lined up right. Once the sensors are in place you are guided through setting up what Oculus are calling the Guardian System, essentially a virtual barrier to your play space when using room scale, to prevent you walking into walls and similar. This is ‘painted’ in place using the controllers, with any shape being allowed – though the software will straighten out edges and make a cuboid shape based around the rough shape you have drawn in, Oculus recommend a play space of around 7 feet by 5 feet in total, meaning I’m going to have to investigate other options for using VR going forwards, since I’m lucky if my office will accommodate anything larger than a 2 x 2 foot square, something which I have found does impact my ability to play some games in VR sadly.
Once the Guardian system is configured, you are instructed to put on your headset and continue set up in VR, essentially setting up lens spacing and so on, finally you are dropped into a small VR experience, where you get to learn how to interact with your controllers and use them to manipulate objects within VR, assisted by a cute floating robot who instructs you to 3D print a variety of things such as butterflies, noise makers, guns and similar.
Getting a grip on things
The Touch itself is a device that honestly Oculus should have had out at day one and should have included with the Rift by default, having used VR without a dedicated input device and moving to having one is like night and day, while you can enjoy gaming on the rift without the Touch it adds so much more to the experience that I honestly don’t think I’d ever want to use VR without some method of having my hands mapped to the virtual world at this stage. The sheer sense of presence it grants you over the default headset only experience is staggering. Oculus have done well to take the approach of trying to map your hands over having a controller mapped in VR like HTC have with the Vive, while the wands the Vive has are a capable bit of kit, there is something a little less personal to having a Vive wand show in VR as opposed to a mapping of your hand. The Touch controllers are configured to be used in a specific hand, unlike the Vive’s wands, while this can be disconcerting and a tad annoying if you pick them up after donning the headset you can easily tell the difference once the units are in hand. This handedness goes some way to aiding how they operate and how they generate a feel of connection between the real and virtual worlds. Each controller has a trigger and a grip button, as well as an array of three buttons and an analogue stick on flat, top of the device. In addition, Oculus have also slipped in a couple of capacitive touch sensors on both the top of the controller and the trigger, allowing the device to recognise when your thumb and forefinger are touching the controller fully. This combination of buttons and sensors allows the VR representation of your hands to grip, point and give thumbs up with an amazing amount of ease, by default Oculus have chosen to represent your hands in a relaxed position, fingers slightly curved into an open fist and thumb down. Pressing the grip button with your middle finger closes this fist, but leaves your thumb and forefinger in their relaxed states, pressing the trigger when the grip button is pressed make a fist, lifting your forefinger off the trigger or your thumb off the top of the controller at any time will cause you to point or give a thumbs up, respectively. The combination of buttons and sensors, combined with the hand position in VR being set up as it is creates a very natural feeling sense of control and allows you to pick up how to use the Touch with almost no prior tips on how to use the device.
Much like the Rift itself tracking is accurate and precise, allowing you to throw the controller and catch it with amazing ease considering you can’t physically see the device itself, unfortunately the fact that the cameras are used for tracking also presents the biggest weakness of the Touch, occlusion. By default, Oculus recommends setting up both camera sensors in a straight line in front of you, as such many games are designed with this set up in mind, with all the action tending to take place to your front, rather than your rear. Thanks to Valve Steam VR games are also playable on the Rift and these are often not quite so sympathetic to Oculus default sensor layout, if one or both of your Touch controllers ends up out of sight of the cameras things start to break down fast, I’ve had hands careen off into the distance or simply just vanish when I, or my desk, gets in the way of the cameras tracking of them. Of course, there are some beta setups that Oculus have allowed for which should help prevent this, one of which is placing one of the two cameras diagonally opposite to the other, allowing for the Touch and Oculus’s Constellation tracking system to be picked up regardless of which way you are facing, the other is to simply purchase a third sensor and place it in one of the far corners of your play space. Lacking the room to really try large scale VR play I have yet to attempt either of these configurations. However, both of them will likely require a USB extension cable, since the cables connected to the camera sensors aren’t really long enough to allow for this kind of placement out of the box.
A Touch Less Nauseous
An interesting side effect I have noticed is that I’m generally feeling more comfortable within VR, while the basic experience hasn’t changed too much and movement can still be a bit lurching in some titles, the fact I can see representations of my hands in games does seem to help ground me a little better than just simply being a head in space, thus limiting the levels of sickness I had felt previously. I still have slight dizzy moments when moving, particularly when I move in game, but not in person or move in a direction I cannot replicate in person, such as vertically in the case of Cryteks ‘The Climb’ but its much less of an issue as I found it when just using the gamepad to control my interactions.
Overall, as I intimated earlier, Oculus should have released the Rift with the Touch, it would have instantly changed both public and media reception to the Rift itself, since it was competing at a significant disadvantage at launch. The reliance on cameras still leaves it at a potential disadvantage over the Vive for room scale purely due to the difference in tech, with the IR LEDs in the Rift and Touch potentially becoming harder to accurately track over distance due to the Cameras Sensor resolution, where as the lasers emitted by the basestations for the Vive being consistently accurate regardless of distance, provided the Vive headset can detect them. Of course, throwing more sensors into the mix can fix this, but then price becomes a concern, with the Rift itself costing $599, the Touch controllers costing $199 and another camera coming in at $79 each, vs the Vive’s price of $799 for something that can do full room scale and Touch out of the box. Of course, Oculus’ more modular approach means that users who will want it for a more limited experience are better catered for in terms of pricing.
So, the question asked with my review of the Rift remains, should you buy it? Honestly, the Touch makes for a much more compelling experience provided you have the room to manoeuvre in the location you are planning to use it. This said, its still a very much niche product at the moment and despite having a pretty robust launch catalogue for the Touch (and the Rift itself to be fair) with some stellar titles included in it their has yet to be a truly killer app that would push VR, even with the Oculus Touch controls to the top of my ‘must buy’ list if I were a casual shopper, or even a hardcore gamer who was on the fence about it. Touch brings a whole new way of experiencing VR to the table and believe me, the ‘Iron Man’ moment when you start manipulating objects in 3D space in programs like Oculus Medium, the ability to throw fireballs and cast various spells just by moving around your hands in The Unspoken is pretty damned awesome and finally the sense of presence it creates for VR shooters like SuperHot VR is completely unparalleled by any other experience I have had to date both within VR and in gaming in general, but the price and need for significant room to make full use of the device, plus the fact that this is still very early days in terms of modern VR and indeed VR in the home do make it quite hard to recommend unless you have the cash to burn or you are deeply committed to VR and want it now. Of course, if you already own a Rift headset and want to make the most of it, then the best thing you can do right now is grab the Touch controllers, while room scale is still very much a beta for Oculus and they are still working to overcome the limitations of having just two cameras tracking you, the overall sense of being in the game is heightened to a ridiculous level by having your hands present with you and even for sitting experiences that support the Touch the overall experience is much better for having them.
- Adds a much needed feture to the Oculus Eco system
- Oculus' guided set up is a doddle
- Well designed with a very natural feel when used
- Unfortunate loss of tracking when leaving the camera line of site
- Roomscale support is currently inferior to its competitor
- Costly for a controller