CES 2019: I Got To Hold (But Not Use) The Pimax Knuckles-Like VR Controllers

by David Jagneaux • January 9th, 2019

CES is weird. As a journalist I walk through the doors of the Las Vegas Convention Center always ready to throw heavy amounts of doubt on whatever I’m about to see. The vast majority of products shown at CES never see the light of day and those that do eventually get released in a final form are often nothing like they were when they first appeared at trade shows like this. As a result, there are lots of empty promises and unfulfilled dreams. The VR and AR spaces are no different.

Pimax is a company with a tumultuous past and a history of over-promising and under-delivering. According to the new Head of U.S. Operations, Kevin Henderson, that’s all changing soon. Not only are they apologizing for past issues and opening a U.S. center to focus on manufacturing headsets on this side of the planet, they’ll also aim for localized customer support teams as well. Those things can help address existing problems with the 8K and 5K+ headsets, but a whole new slate of problems might arise soon with the promise of custom Pimax controllers just over the horizon.

The Pimax controllers look strikingly similar to Valve’s currently in-development Knuckles controllers. From what we’ve seen, the idea is to offer similar capability to what you can accomplish on current VR controllers like those with Rift, Vive, and Windows VR, with the added benefit of being able to open your palm and experience the sensation of grasping and picking up things realistically.

Rather than attaching a strap around your wrist, like a Wii remote, you’ll instead slide your hands into a strap while grasping the base which will let you open your hand and still hold the controller. Similar to the capacity sensors on Oculus Touch, the controller can tell when your hand is opened or closed and will animate your hand accurately inside the headset.

At least, that’s the idea. You see, even though the Pimax controllers were physically present at CES 2019, they weren’t connected to anything. They were just there, sitting on a table. Like a tease.

Pimax allowed me to pick up, hold, and play around with the controllers, but I didn’t get to actually try them in a meaningful way while immersed in VR. Henderson claimed it was a driver issue and that none of the setups at their booth were prepped to run apps using the controllers — even though they could and even though the controllers did work, supposedly. I guess this is still technically a “hands-on” article then? In their defense, that’s still far more than Valve has allowed press to do with the Knuckles controllers.

These controllers are interesting because they’re semi-customizable. This means a user can choose whether they want trackpads or analog sticks and Pimax said some customers have even ordered one of each to mix and match.

Since the sample units we held weren’t actually connected to any VR experiences I can’t report on how they feel inside VR, but I can say that ergonomically it’s a great design. I haven’t tried Valve’s actual Knuckles controllers personally (only very few devs have access to those thus far) but I can say that these Pimax versions feel really nice. The strap is snug and when I open my palm it feels extremely natural.

The grip button and trigger feel very similar to Touch, but the trackpad and face buttons were extremely squishy and stuck a lot. That’d be a major issue in an actual VR app, but I’m hoping that gets sorted before launch.

According to Henderson, Pimax is expecting to ship the first 100 or so controller sets to initial pre-orders in mid-April, then take a break to focus on manufacturing a bunch of them, and then shipping more out a few months after that in summer. Right now they’re still trying to catch up with shipping and manufacturing headsets for backers (currently making around 200 per day reportedly) and anticipate being fully caught up by the end of Februrary and probably shipping out nearly immediately to new orders shortly after that.

Again, this is what Pimax claims. As stated earlier, what Pimax claims and what actually happens are often not the same thing, but maybe they’ll actually do better in 2019.

I find it hard to believe that the Pimax controllers, a set that has clearly been inspired directly by Valve’s in-development prototype, is so close to shipping out to users when we still know so very little about Valve’s actual design. But here we are.

As the Pimax slogan says, emblazoned on the side of their CES 2019 booth (shown above), “In Dreams We Live” so hopefully these controllers can stay on schedule and become a reality.

For more on CES 2019 in the world of VR and AR, check out our landing page of news and impressions here, as well as more details on Pimax and its controllers here. Let us know what you think down in the comments below!

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