After years in development and constant reassurances that no, really, it's going to happen, virtual reality is finally becoming a practical reality.
The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are now available, and PlayStation VR finally has a release date set for October of this year and the public will finally get to see that VR isn't just an elaborate prank by the tech industry. Soon it'll be common knowledge what separates VR from traditional gaming.
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But the headset alone isn't enough to totally set it apart. When you're playing VR games with standard devices like Oculus Touch, the Xbox One controller, Vive controllers and PS VR Move, chances are you still won't be fully immersed in the experience. They're great devices but your hands are still only controlling digital hands.
That's a problem peripheral makers across the world are trying to solve, with controllers that add to VR gaming in different ways. While a few are still in the middle of development, others are nearly ready for prime time. Here are the VR peripherals we've checked out.
This is one you should be familiar with if you've heard of Oculus Rift before. The Touch controllers are the famed missing pieces to the popular VR headset. Sure there's an Xbox One controller you can use, but Touch feels like the key to a real Rift success.
Touch isn't a pair of gloves you pull on, but they're still more immersive than a gamepad. The little half moon controllers that you stick your hands in have haptic feedback, sensors, thumbstick, four buttons and a trigger.
With the tech, 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 been touting.
PS VR Aim
San Francisco based studio Impulse Gear, who 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?
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, likely some time later this year or next, you're one step closer to using your actual hands in VR.
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 at length as a promising concept if it all wasn't so expensive, bulky and a 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.
Untethered PC VR is still a longs ways off but maybe not with these crazy contraptions. 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.
However they're all basically prototypes right now without solid prices or release dates. We were able to look at Alienware's during E3 but couldn't try it on for myself. Computex attendees were a bit more lucky and were able to strap on the Zotac and MSI packs to try out but for the most part they're still a work in progress.
Whenever the PCs decide to launch, it could very well change how you hop into VR. Gone will be the hassle of cables and it could solve the problem of being tethered - 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 thoroughly examined before we can say it's a solid VR accessory.
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.
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.
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