Microsoft Reveals Motion Controllers For Windows VR Headsets

by Ian Hamilton • May 11th, 2017
$400 bundle planned for later this year includes an Acer VR headset and motion controllers.

In a keynote today Microsoft is revealing a long-awaited missing piece of its Windows mixed reality platform – motion controllers.

We still don’t have many details on the new controllers beyond the fact that they are said to offer full six degrees of freedom  — like Oculus Touch and Vive’s wands — but that they need to be in sight of the headset’s outward-facing cameras and sensors to be fully tracked. According to Microsoft, the controllers would be shown on stage at its keynote but wouldn’t be available for hands-on demos at its Build developer conference this week.


The controllers will be bundled with an Acer mixed reality headset later this year for around $400. This brings the bundle $200 under the price of the Oculus Rift and its Touch controllers. While this price difference is significant, the Acer headset uses LCD panels which may result in significant differences to the overall experience when compared with the panels used in Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

We obviously don’t have any hands-on experience with the new controllers — we aren’t even sure whether the lights depicted in the images supplied by Microsoft are visible during use — but it is likely the hand controllers will differ significantly from the current controllers on the market because of the different tracking technologies employed.

Inside-Out versus Outside-In

Microsoft’s HoloLens is a $3,000 entirely self-contained wearable computer that delivers augmented reality (AR) rather than virtual reality (VR). It augments your view by letting you see the world around you with digital elements layered into it. While packing an entire computer into the headset raises its price, HoloLens was also first to market with a breakthrough technology called inside-out tracking. Google, Facebook and others have yet to match this technology but are working hard at it.

Inside-out tracking means no external cameras (as used by Oculus Rift) or laser-emitting boxes (as used by HTC Vive) are needed. These current solutions on the market are called outside-in tracking because they essentially track an object’s precise location from the outside-in.

Microsoft is bringing its inside-out tracking pioneered on HoloLens to a whole line of VR headsets being produced by partners. The approach decreases the setup complexity of a system — making it easier to get in and out of VR — and should also decrease the cost of hardware because fewer parts are needed.

A Beautiful Moment With Outside-In Tracking

In a game called Longbow made by Valve Software you wield a bow and arrow and defend a castle from incoming minions. Behind you atop the castle wall there’s a fire burning. One of my favorite moments in VR is when I realized I could hold an arrow in one hand and, without looking, move the tip of the arrow over the fire to give myself a flaming arrow that can do more damage to the incoming minions.

The first time I did this with an HTC Vive I didn’t know if it would work. When I realized it did work, I found it incredibly empowering. I could survey the incoming wave of enemies like Legolas and, while calculating my next shot, catch my arrow on fire without looking away from the battlefield.

This may not be possible with Microsoft’s controllers, though. According to Microsoft the controllers have an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and use inverse kinematics to allow for some tracking when they’re not in the camera’s view.

What Will These Controllers Be Good For?

The scenario described above is not a common one . We are so often looking at our hands when we grab or move something. Still, the design of these controllers might not allow it, meaning at the very least developers will need to take into account whether or not someone is looking at an object to interact with it.

Overall, the question of what applications will be best suited for these controllers is top of mind. We can’t wait to get our hands on a pair so we can get a better picture of how they might be used.

Clarification: Post updated with additional information  about how the controllers track.

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  • Outside-in tracking for VR needs to be able to track the full 360 degrees around the player to be of any genuinely good use imo. I mean, sure, you’ll be able to do lots of stuff even as it exists now, but I personally wouldn’t have released any outside-in product until we were at a point where the full 360 around the player is trackable. My personal off-the-top-of-my-head solution would be to have four cameras on the headset, one on each of the N.S.E.W directions around the players heads; this way, no matter what direction you’re pointing the controllers in, at least one of the cameras would be able to pick them up (as long as you’re not holding them too high or low).

    • Jack H

      Non line-of-sight tracking like magnetic (Polhemus/ Ascension/ Sixense) or radio tracking is probably what’s needed.

      …or SLAM systems in the controllers :0

      • Yeah, it might need something like that combined with the cameras. So, the cameras could be used for fully 3D mapping the environment around you, which is great for constantly checking relative position of the player in the real-world room and stuff like that, as well as letting them know/see if they are going to bump into anything around them, and the radio tracking, in combination with the controller’s in-built gyroscopes and accelerometers, can be used mainly to track the position of the controllers in 3D space at all times (along with the 3D cameras giving even more precise positioning information of the controllers when they are in view). Something like that could work really well.

    • Adderstone VR

      You mean Inside-Out tracking. Outside-In is what we have with Oculus and Vive at the moment.

      • Yeah, I meant inside-out. I’ve updated the comment to have the correct term. Cheers.

  • OkinKun

    Their controller looks like what would happen if a Touch controller and a Vive controller had babies.. <_< They put a LOT of effort into making it look like both.. why 2 thumb inputs like that?

    • Robbie Cartwright

      Totally agree, it looks like a Vivenstein or something like that. xD

    • polysix

      I assume to allow easy porting of both vive and rift titles in future, seems like excellent forward planning if you ask me, MOAN if they left one out not include both. THIS is a good thing!

    • Get Schwifty!

      To me they just look like scaled down Vive wands, as they lack the Touch’s ergonomic grips whatsoever. A natural relaxed half-grasp on these and they would easily fall out of your hands.

  • Wildattorney

    Hands on demos are being held until E3, when Microsoft will announce the Xbox Scorpio Minecraft VR Bundle for $849.99.

    • Robbie Cartwright

      Yes please! xD I can’t update to the Anniversary edition of 10 for some reason, so another way to play it would be hilarious but awesome!

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Awesome, that’s the one thing I’ve been very curious about, Can’t wait to find out more at E3.

  • Mo Last

    Why don’t they just put the inside out tracking cameras on all sides of the headset instead of just the front of it…….? I mean, logic FFS

    • unreal_ed

      More cameras means more data to analyse which means needs for faster processors. You can’t just add more data to make stuff magically better, data needs to be treated. Maybe in time this will be the solution however

  • unreal_ed

    This is good news overall but controllers NEED to be extremely precise, otherwise they’re not that useable. A developer can’t really work on interactions that will only work SOME of the time, that’s unacceptable. That’s essentially what was the problem for the Wii and why it had almost no good games that used motion controls (except very lightly, like Twilight Princess or slowly, like Skyward Sword). So for games they could be very limiting compared to Oculus/Valve’s offerings. I could potentially see an add-on sensor that would track the controllers completely from the outside-in, like Oculus’ tracking, with some games requiring said sensor.

    Where it IS (most likely) very good is for interacting with floating menus, which is admittedly the big goal of these headsets as they’re meant to use Windows VR. Any other sorts of productivity tools would probably have you doing precise hand movements that stay in your field of view (think Tilt Brush, Medium, Soundstage). I think they’re hoping to create the ecosystem that will be at the center of VR in the workplace, like Windows was for computers in the workplace. They want the Autodesks, Adobes, etc of the world to make software for THEIR headset. So, of course, the cheaper the better the adoption, and these controllers might work pretty good for that.

  • Alex Coulombe

    So… are these available for pre-order anywhere?

  • Xron

    Hmz… the presentation was quite uninspiring…, they should hire some other guys to make demos.
    400$ not a bad price, hope these hmds will work with steam games atleast, not even hoping with oculus…

  • JDawg

    HTC Vive is Inside-out tracking. If you think the Lighthouses are doing any “tracking” then wow… just wow 🙁

    • Andrew Hally

      I keep seeing this over ad over as though the lighthouses don’t do anything, try turning them off and see how good the ‘inside out’ tracking is.

      • Alorwin

        Technically they don’t do tracking, though. They shoot IR lasers that the controllers detect to know their relative position in the space. The controllers do the tracking.

        • Andrew Hally

          The fact is it requires the IR lasers in order to track the device, it is a 2 part solution whereas any true inside out solution does all of this from the headset itself. To be honest it is not a major issue, I’m just tired of posts saying the Vive uses inside out tracking like the lighthouses don’t do anything and these new headsets do not offer anything new when they clearly do.

          • G-man

            and other inside out tracking systems using cameras need the room to be well lit enough for the cameras to see things. inside out means the tracking devices are inside the device. thats it.

  • towblerone

    Analog sticks for “natural” movement. *gag*

  • koenshaku

    Color me impressed

  • I think that these controllers are coherent with the headsets: they’re cheap and they offer a good-enough experiences for most cases. I agree that this is not what we want VR to be… it is so cool to get shotguns from your back in Robo Recall… but if these prices will help VR to spread, well, they’re welcome.

  • care package

    So I’m finally seeing a motion control solution for inside out tracking. Using the HMD cameras was obviously one of the ways to do it, but I questioned it’s use considering you need to face your hands. It sounds like every other sensory method will still ‘try’ and measure motion control placement while looking away. It’s not perfect, but I could see it working…well enough. Inside out tracking is obviously the direction VR is going so really, this puts MS ahead of the game. I’m sure this will work with Scorpio too.