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Oculus Touch Review: The World’s Best VR Controller

by Joe Durbin • December 5th, 2016

Oculus Touch officially launches tomorrow and when it does it will make the Oculus Rift a more viable and powerful virtual reality platform than ever before.

There’s a lot of pressure on Touch to be a success. The Rift’s biggest competitor, the HTC Vive, was able to enjoy the better part of  a year as the only  PC-powered VR system to boast hand-tracked controllers. Now, Touch has the chance to level the playing field between rivals in an attempt to make Oculus the most compelling VR ecosystem on the planet.

We’ve spent the past few weeks putting Touch through its paces and we’re ready to make the call: is this add-on enough to give Oculus parity, and perhaps even an edge, in the market? Or is it just an expensive lesson for the company in the importance of being first to market? Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

Set-Up

Tutorial

Functionality

Ergonomics

Performance

Software

Final Verdict

Set-Up

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Set up has always been an area in which Oculus shines. A few clicks in the settings menu gets you to the “add Touch” dropdown option. Once you launch that you’re walked through a very helpful, animated setup tutorial. Syncing the wireless Touch controllers with your PC is as simple as holding two buttons on each controller for less than 30 seconds. The trickier bit is getting the new dual-sensor setup appropriately placed.

Unlike the Oculus headset, Touch requires two sensors to function properly. This means that you’ll need to prepare a bit more space than you did before and be extra mindful of sensor placement. For example, putting the cameras too close together or too far apart will trigger an error during setup and getting the exact right configuration can take several attempts. However, the setup guide’s job is to get you as close to an optimal setup as possible. You can skip any steps at any time if you ever think the guide itself is being a bit too overprotective.

In most cases you can go from opening your controllers to using them in less than five minutes, assuming you already have your Rift ready to go. Even if you don’t, the entire system can be good-to go in under ten. Not bad at all. If you’re going to try experimental 360-degree or room-scale tracking, however, it is a bit more involved. Here’s our breakdown of that process.

 

Tutorial

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After you’ve finished setup you’ll be taken through the tutorial for Oculus Touch itself. This is triggered automatically whenever you enact the “add touch” process in settings. The tutorial is made up of two brief experiences, each designed to get you used to the varied capabilities of your new controllers.

The first space you’ll find yourself in is an ethereal white-grey environment where a silky female voice walks you through the most basic features of Touch. This unseen narrator will guide you through the unique buttons, analog sticks, and gesture controls on each device. Once you’ve proven to your all-seeing guide that you can manipulate each controller, you’ll be teleported into the next experience in the tutorial and that is where things get truly interesting.

First Contact is, as the name suggests, the first real VR experience in which you’ll utilize your new Touch controllers. It’s the “World 1-1” of Oculus Touch and, just as the famous Super Mario Bros. level did decades ago, it teaches you what you’re capable of in this new digital world without ever stating too directly what it is you’re supposed to do.

First Contact only takes about five minutes to complete if your goal is just to blaze through it, but first timers will likely spend longer enjoying all that the brilliantly crafted demo has in store.

A helpful robot companion hands you a variety of cartridges inside of a tinkerer’s trailer. Each unlocks a new tool that can be manipulated using Touch and each drops a different use case for the controllers into your mind for later use. Physics based inputs, gunplay, picking things up, throwing, waving etc. It’s all covered in this brief walk through.

Overall, First Contact is a well-crafted tutorial that does a good job getting even the most inexperienced VR novice up to speed. And it does so with style and personality.

 

Functionality

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Functionality and ergonomics are the two areas where Oculus Touch really puts its competition to shame. Touch can simply do everything that an HTC Vive or PlayStation Move controller can do with even more thrown in on top.

Just like a Vive wand, Touch lets you pick up virtual objects with a side grip button, fire virtual firearms with a trigger, and it eschews the click/touch pad of the Vive wand for a pair of classic, clickable analog sticks. This gives Touch all of the viability of the Vive wands, and quite a bit more than the PS Move controller, which lacks a dedicated analog stick facsimile, but it doesn’t stop there.

Touch is the first commercially available VR controller to enable gesture-based controls through the movement of your fingers. These are mostly limited to raising your thumb and forefinger, but the use cases for these natural gestures in different gaming and social experiences are surprisingly varied. For example, rather than simply mashing a full hand into an elevator button you can now extend your index finger to select a specific button just like in real life. Or, you can raise a quick thumbs up to a friend while you battle zombies together, or even once you’ve vanquished her in some multiplayer experience.

The ability to execute such nuanced inputs may sound simple, but they actually go quite a long way toward making Oculus’ VR experiences feel like the most interactive and immersive in the industry thus far.

 

Ergonomics

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Oh boy you’re in for a treat here. The Touch controllers’ ergonomic design is nothing short of a masterpiece. These little beauties are so impossibly light and well designed that they simply melt away in your hands. This is exactly what you want for VR which is all about limiting any reminders of the outside world once you put on that headset.

Because of the intentionally crafted shape and design of Touch, squeezing the grip button or the triggers to pick up a gun and fire it feels realistic and natural. Other VR controllers feel like you’re holding sticks that become virtual objects, Touch feels like you’re picking up that virtual object itself.

The action on the triggers, buttons, and analog sticks are all just right. There’s just enough resistance to give you some nice tactile feedback, but not enough to fatigue your fingers when you’re gripping or shooting for extended periods.

The haptic feedback from inside Touch is impressive as well. The vibration motors in each controller feel mighty, capable of providing subtle jolts when you pick a machine gun up or letting loose a real kick when you fire it. The one drawback here is that they are also almost shockingly loud for controllers their size. This is never a problem once your ears are nestled between the built-in Oculus headphones, but it is something to be aware of when it comes to spouses, roommates, and coworkers.

 

Performance

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This is the trickiest category to quantify when it comes to Touch. The performance of these controllers is directly related to the performance of the Oculus positional tracking system itself. The Oculus sensors detect and map infrared lights placed on the headset, and now on the Touch controllers as well. As long as the sensors can “see” the controller’s lights they work absolutely perfectly. The problem, however, is that the sensors sometimes forget their glasses. When we didn’t set up the sensors properly for full coverage, the virtual hands just sort of floated away and then disappeared when tracking is lost. This didn’t happen when we strictly followed the Oculus recommended setup, so your mileage may vary quite a bit if you don’t set up the sensors right.

The long and short of it is this: if you have the space and resources to run an ideal setup with the sensors positioned the way Oculus recommends then you’ll likely have no troubles with your hands or desk occluding the lights and causing your virtual hands to fail. If you can spring for a three camera, roomscale setup then even better. However, if you’re trying to make due with a smaller space or an irregular area, then it may take some trial and error to find the sweet spot without any dead zones.

When you don’t set up the sensors properly for full coverage, the virtual hands just sort of floated away and then disappear when tracking is lost. For us, this didn’t happen when we strictly followed the Oculus recommended setup, even when reaching all the way to the ground, so your mileage may vary quite a bit if you don’t set up the sensors the way they were intended.

Software

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As always, Oculus and its Facebook dollars have done an incredible job fleshing out the launch library for Touch. Dead and Buried, Ripcoil and The Unspoken are some of the best multiplayer VR games we’ve seen thus far. Quill and Medium are set to give Tilt Brush a run for its money as king of immersive, 3D artwork. And the multi-platform titles like Arizona Sunshine, I Expect You to Die, and Job Simulator feel fantastic on Touch.

There are over 50 games to play with Touch right away from within the Oculus Home Store, which is a huge library by any standard, several of which are free. With millions of dollars to play with and visionaries like Jason Rubin driving content at every opportunity, this lengthy list of awesome experiences is just the beginning. Not to mention all of the Steam VR titles that should work with little issue.

 

Final Verdict

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Oculus Touch is the best VR controller made to date. Period.

Its design is as close to perfect as we’ve seen and Touch has enough software between Oculus Home and Steam to keep you captivated for months. It performs perfectly in recommended setup conditions, and its finger controls should be a standard-setting innovation for the rest of the industry.

Touch is a major step forward for VR hardware and we wouldn’t be surprised to see its basic construction and key features built upon by competitors and future Oculus iterations for years to come.

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  • David Hothersall

    I’ve had my notification from Amazon and after reading this I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. 😀

  • a247slacker

    oh yes Best Buy sent me my tracking number this morning!!!! put your sensors on the ceiling if you can opposite each other, you will be thankful you did!

    • Larry Taylor

      Opposing corners is good for SteamVR games, but you will have more occlusion problems for games designed for Touch.

      • David Dewis

        Nope, mine are set up opposite each other. Had no occlusion problems so far. The sensor FoV is pretty good.

    • Can I extend the link of my cables and still not lose any tracking?

      • a247slacker

        Yes just a standard 3 ft USB 3.0 but if your going to go longer need an active USB 3.0

  • UE

    Wait, if you set the sensors up incorrectly you may have troubles… and that was worth three paragraphs of text to point out even repeating your conclusion twice?

    Wow wee

    • Ian Hamilton

      We figure many people won’t make the effort to set up their sensors according to the recommendations, and thought it worth being as clear as we can about what effect that might have.

    • GodMk2

      There’s going to be Vive Vs Touch flame wars on this. I own [several of] both Vive and Rift so will be able to make an objective assesmemt, not defend the system I bought 😉 I think it is really a way of saying… dont expect perfection from a camera based system even if the ergonomics are good.

  • Mike

    Touch arrived this morning. Can’t wait to get home and play! Think I might have to put the kids to bed early tonight

    • Ozzy Labbe

      Mine are out for delivery right now! a day early! That’s a much better way to handle pre-order shipments…. UPS *JUST* pulled up

  • Khaled Al Faris

    I got my Touch Controllers but not the promised games like VR Sports and The Unspoken both for the preorder.

    • Ozzy Labbe

      with the rift pre-order, they sent a code for EVE through e-mail. Might be doing the same here? i’m running in to the same issue.

      • Robbie Cartwright

        Yeah, I’ve gotten mine. Maybe check email threads and see if it possible went under one of the other invoices or something.

    • Cherie Evans

      I got a code for mine in a seprate email to the delivery so take a look in your junkmail

    • David Dewis

      You should have got a code by email. Did you preorder from Oculus directly? If not, that may be your issue.

      • Khaled Al Faris

        Got finally the code after request from the merchant (not oculus).

  • GodMk2

    I’m actually not that excited. Some colleagues went to an oculus pop up demo on Friday, where one would assume they have an optimum setup. Tracking was drifting off all over the place apparently. 1 question… are all the touch games designed to be played facing the monitor? Seems a bit limiting. Especially if you want to lie down to snipe. And then spring up and punch someone. Ill update tomorrow… mine are in transit 😉

  • James Friedman

    Anyone receive a tracking number yet from Oculus?

    • Epxzz

      Not me. Minute 1 preorder. I pressed F5 very often when preorders went online. I hate it. Just like the rift which came 2 month late while you see it already in store…

      • James Friedman

        Yeah I am extremely pissed right now. I want to yell at someone but I can’t. They hide behind a support address. I checked my status and it says On hold – Payment not authorized. I used paypal so that’s complete BS. I called payal to find out if they even attempted a payment and nope they didn’t even attempt one. I even added the Oculus store as a pre-approved purchase months ago when I pre-ordered it in October. I should of just gone with another company that knows how to take peoples money and get the products they purchased into the customers hands. It should be here tomorrow, but once again they have dropped the ball.

        • Randy V.

          I am right there with you guys. I also ordered within seconds directly from Oculus on October 10th, they haven’t even processed my order yet. A friend of mine ordered his from Amazon 3 weeks ago and he has his already, has run the setup and is waiting for the codes to work so he can download his games. He did say that hover junkers was working on steam. I am a bit pissed off about this. I ended up canceling my preorder on the Rift headset from Oculus because I bought it at a Best Buy 3 months before it would have been delivered from Oculus, looks like the same story here again.

          • James Friedman

            I got my purchase straightened out, but as I told them I am not very happy that I am being pushed to the back of line. I had to switch to the trusty old credit card. I guess either they aren’t officially able to take transactions from paypal even though they give the option during checkout. That, or since my purchase was made too soon it got messed up somehow and they don’t say anything. They will never admit the actual answer. All I know is that paypal said no attempt was made to make payment and now I must wait for them to ship it. I swear if I don’t get it before this weekend I am going to lose it.

          • Randy V.

            seriously.. I need to contact them then since I used paypal also wtf they didnt say anything.

          • James Friedman

            Yeah I bet your order is on hold like mine was. I wanted to use paypal because it’s safer but oh well.

          • Epxzz

            I payed with paypal too.

    • digitaldeity

      I ordered from Oculus. Received processing letter Saturday. Today I received an email from ups stating that it will arrive tomorrow.

  • David Dewis

    Got mine this morning. I’ve set mine up in 360 set up with 2 cameras opposite each other. I’ve had no issue with tracking except when I actually blocked the line of site to both sensors.

    I have however ordered a third sensor. This isn’t so much for roomscale as having a camera set up permanently for tracking when I’m seated at my desk playing racing or flying sims.

  • Mike Young

    My daughter has down syndrome and where’s glasses, would this be a good gift for her?

    • Nathan Gaydhani

      Start with a Carboard VR device with a phone or a GearVR if you have a Samsung phone, then move up to a Rift if no problems.

    • Joe Durbin

      I would try a Samsung Gear VR for her first. Much cheaper and a bit less intense. Let us know what she thinks!

  • Had this idea even before reading this article… can’t wait to have my Touch!

  • Nathan Gaydhani

    Recently I have been a bit worried for Oculus, dealing with upset over Palmer’s link to Trump, not room-scale and no hand controllers that come with it. We have a few Vives in the office and to be honest, we rarely ever get the consumer rift out the cupboard.
    Today we plugged in our new touch controllers and all I can say is that as long as current Rift owners can stump up the money to buy some, then it’s definitely ‘game on’.
    From the moment you put them on, you forget they are there. All you see are hands/fingers that move almost as if you were looking at your own hands. Very natural very intuitive.

  • ummm…

    it is unbelievable. this article is so misleading, contains so many lies by omission, that i will never come here again. ill stick to roadtovr etc. You guys dont need me anyway.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Pray tell, what “lies of omission” are you referring to? So it doesn’t cater to the Vive-fanboy world-view therefore it is misleading and full of lies… *rolls eyes*…

      About the only point one could seriously quibble about it is the question of Steam software which is currently Vive-centric, wherein mapping of buttons needs to be tweaked in some cases.

    • Yes. My sensors barely track even when standing directly in fron ot them. I use the Vive too and it just works and only with two sensors. Three USB3 ports required for 360? That’s insane.

      • ummm…

        thats not right. If the majority of rifters are happy with it, which is a testament to vr in general, then who cares – there are other options on the market in the worst case. If they rifters arent, then hopefully speak up and facebook hears them.

  • Romulo de Castro

    After trying Vive at Microsoft Store, Rift + Touch and PSVR at Best Buy, I have chosen to purchase the Oculus system, because right now it has the best content, easier setup, very smart design of the headset, and DEFINITELY the greatest controller. I’ll would be happy with the Vive also, but for my actual gaming space (6,5 x 8,2 feet or 2×2,5 meters) set in Guardian System and actual games, it is perfect. The cable length is suficient, the tracking with two foward sensors is precise, when you set them right you get about 300 degrees rotation, unless you hide the controllers behind your body.

  • I knew from the moment I saw it that the overall design would be superior to the Vive’s controllers. It is, however, a little sad to hear of the issues with the tracker sensing, but hopefully the upcoming update fully addresses this to everyone’s satisfaction.