After years in development and constant reassurances that no, really, it’s going to happen, virtual reality is finally a practical reality.
The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are here, not to mention all of the mobile VR to get stuck into. But the headset alone isn’t enough to totally set it apart. Devices like Oculus Touch and Vive wands provide more intuitive VR controls, but they still have their limitations.
Must read: The ultimate Oculus Rift home setup
That’s a problem peripheral makers across the world are trying to solve, with new controllers and accessories that make virtual reality even more immersive. While a few are still in the middle of development, others are nearly ready for prime time. Here are the VR peripherals we think you should check out.
After much delay, the Touch controllers are here – and they were worth the wait. Sure there’s an Xbox One controller you can use, but Touch is the famed missing piece to the popular VR headset, and it makes such a difference.
Touch isn’t quite like having a pair of VR gloves, but these are still more immersive than using a gamepad. The little half moon controllers that you stick your hands in have haptic feedback, sensors, a thumbstick each, four buttons and a trigger.
With them, you’ll be able to play a lot more games in the Oculus library and finally get a sense of the ‘hand presence’ the company has long been touting.
£189, oculus.com | Amazon
Vive’s new Tracker might not look like much, but stick it on something and that “thing” becomes a controller. Yes, HTC is redefining how we think of mixed reality with its new accessory, which will be available to buy in Q2 this year.
Developers are busily finding exciting ways to use the Tracker in games, which will require mounts for certain props, like guns and baseball bats. We’ve already tested it out, and the potential here is pretty exciting – it’s up to the developers to realise it.
PS VR Aim
San Francisco studio Impulse Gear, which also developed the VR game Farpoint, created a Sony approved peripheral for the Move controller so you can play the shooter more naturally.
Called the PS VR Aim Controller, the device offers direct 1 to 1 tracking, letting you aim in Farpoint just as you would in real life. It looks and works similarly to another Move peripheral from the past with its thumbstick, directional pad and bumper buttons. Though the design is sleeker, more futuristic and feels better to hold.
Leap Motion has been around for a while but now it’s got a new lease of life as a VR peripheral.
It’s compatible with the OSVR platform and can be added to a VR headset via a redesigned mount add-on, which works with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, to add hand gesture controls to your virtual reality gaming. It’s super precise, tracking each finger – the question is, how precise are your dumb human hands?
€69.99 leapmotion.com | Amazon
TPCast wireless adapter for Vive
Yes, wireless VR – good wireless VR – is already here, and made possible on the Vive with an adapter called TPCast. Launched quietly in China last year, the accessory will be rolling out to the rest of the world in Q2 2017, giving the Vive a new level of freedom – and thus immersion.
It adds less than two milliseconds of latency, meaning it’s unnoticeably different to the tethered experience, but you’ll only get between 90 and 120 minutes of gameplay before needing a recharge. However, there will be a longer-lasting version of the battery available too, should you prefer to cough up a little more for it.
As VR seeks to become more immersive with each new hardware upgrade, peripheral designers are making a serious effort to disguise the fact that you’re holding a controller. There are several gloves that want you to ‘feel’ VR with your hands but Manus VR wants to immerse your whole arm.
Like Hands Omni, GloveOne and Manus are still in the early phases of development, but the teams are getting very close.
There’s still work to be done getting the gloves out to developers but once that happens, you’re one step closer to using your actual hands in VR. For now, you can pre-order on the site.
Being able to articulate your fingers without the need of a plastic controller would make the whole VR experience much more immersive.
The omni-directional treadmill may not entirely take off, but it’s still one of the few pieces of hardware that lets you roam around in VR. It’s a great premise that makes you get you up off your lazy bum while in VR. The Omni is able to connect with both the Vive and Rift letting you spin, run and walk in various games.
It’s not without issues though. We’ve already discussed VR exercise equipment as a promising concept let down by being such an expensive, bulky and sweaty process.
But if you really want to ‘get in’ the game, and you have space, hopping into an Omni could be pretty neat. We’ve tried it since it’s early days at CES and it’s been able to stick it out through the years, improving the base, harness and shoes to ensure the best possible experience.
Another large VR periperhal, like Omni, VirZoom is basically a VR exercise bike that has seen a few different iterations. Its definitely shrunken down in size and revamped its games as well.
VirZoom features wireless sensors that are integrated into the bike pedals so when you pedal faster in real life, you’ll speed up in the game. You can use it with all three of the major virtual reality headsets and mobile VR support is coming soon.
To gamify it further, there are also action buttons on the handlebars so you can throw a lasso or shoot bad guys while on the move. Our time with it has always been a sweaty mess – but in a good way. You can really get your heart pumping and it’s actually fun doing so. Just be warned it’s another piece of hardware you’ll have to deal with. It’s shipping in January this year.
$399.95, virzoom.com | Amazon
MSI, Zotac, HP and Alienware have all announced portable backpacks that let you carry around a powerful PC to run VR – and to literally run while in VR. The Void is also a big champion of taking VR with you rather than sitting in front a screen.
The MSI and Zotac ones are on sale right now, but neither come cheap, edging up towards the £2k mark. You’ll still be wired in, but at least the PC will be on your back. However, the weight, heat and battery life are still questionable points that still need to be weighed up before you splash the cash.
$1,999 Zotac.com | Amazon
$1,899, MSI.com | Amazon
This unassuming little device might be the most unique and slightly terrifying VR peripheral coming to market. The UnlimitedHand, a forearm band programmed with haptic feedback technology that interfaces with the Oculus and HTC Vive via Bluetooth, can both detect and influence your movements while playing a VR game. Move your fingers in real life, and the UnlimitedHand will convert that information, making your digital, in-game version do the same; form a gun shape with your hand, and the UnlimitedHand will detect that too, letting you use your new finger-gun in a familiar FPS match.
CEO Kenichiro Iwasaki demonstrated the functionality himself, showing how the UnlimitedHand was able to independently move his wrist for him. Effectively, this allows you to ‘feel’ objects in the game, as the band simulates the feeling of touching an object in the real world and meeting with resistance. Coupled with VR, it creates an extra layer of immersion by making the effects of the game world on you feel real, rather than something your mind invents to fill in gaps.
$319.99, unlimitedhand.com | Amazon
When it comes to moving your feet, most peripherals are stuck in traditional gaming mode: You jump with ‘A’ or use a joystick to walk, ignoring immersive motion from the waist down. Believing VR should have some more mobility options, the folks at 3DRudder created a VR footpad that allows the user to control all movement – horizontal, vertical and turning – using only their feet. (No word on realistically jerky jumping as of yet, though.)
According to CEO Stanislas Chesnais, the 3DRudder was designed for “existing games where two hands aren’t enough [or] VR, where you don’t actually have any solutions today to move in a nice way while sitting.” A circular device that you control with both feet by tilting in the direction you want to move, the 3DRudder’s latency-free design means that response to your movements is instant and requires little thought. “It’s like in real life,” says Chesnais. “When you do something [like] set the table…you don’t think about your feet moving around. Your hands are what matter.”
Reactive Grip Motion Controller
Haptic feedback is one of gaming’s oldest show ponies, kicking off with Sega Moto-Cross’ shaking handlebars in 1976 and living on in forty years’ worth of rumble technology. While the Reactive Grip Motion Controller from Tactical Haptics fits neatly into that same category of tactile peripherals, it represents a more precise evolution, one with all three major VR headsets firmly in mind.
As opposed to creating a general ‘rumble’ throughout the whole device, the Reactive Grip uses four thin plates inside the handle to apply pressure to the player’s palm consistent with the object they’re holding in-game. Hitting an object with a sword causes the front-facing panel to pull back, simulating resistance against the blade; swinging a mace, meanwhile, triggers all four panels to move up and down in sequence, so you can feel the pressure of the ball as it spins.
While the Reactive Grip has been under development and out in the public eye for several years, during GDC 2016 we got a good idea of how it would work with the current crop of VR headsets. According to Tactical Haptics’ VR demos, the team expects the Reactive Grip to work with everything from first-person shooters to sport-fishing games, and could create a truly satisfying control scheme for the oft-ignored first-person melee genre. Launch is still TBC, with Tactical Haptics having recently raised $2.2 million to build a dev kit.
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