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With Arrival Of Touch Controllers, Oculus Rift Finally Reaches Its Potential

The $199 handheld controllers enable rich experiences that VR users have been craving. Were they worth the wait?

With Arrival Of Touch Controllers, Oculus Rift Finally Reaches Its Potential
Oculus Touch

For fans of the Oculus Rift, waiting has been very much the name of the game. And tomorrow, with the release of Oculus’s Touch Controllers, the final bit of waiting is over at last.

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First unveiled to the world in a now-famous 2012 Kickstarter and launched earlier this year, the Rift instantly became the standard-bearer for the promise of what a new generation of consumer virtual reality could deliver. Over the years, through a series of developer versions, a lot of people—though not the masses, who didn’t have access—were introduced to VR for the first time.

A funny thing happened, though, as VR became a mainstream technology that some analysts estimate will be worth as much as $38 billion a year by 2026. While the $599 Rift was the VR rig most people had heard of, another system, HTC’s Vive, emerged and became king of the hill.

While Rift and Vive both launched last spring, the latter system came standard with handheld controllers that allowed users a much deeper degree of immersion and reality because they could use their hands for all kinds of actions, including swinging a golf club, brandishing a sword, and guiding an airplane onto a landing strip. Not to mention that the incredible Google Earth VR is available only for Vive (unless you’re willing and able to do a small bit of non-Google-endorsed tweaking that makes it work—mostly—on Rift).

Those who were paying attention to the blossoming consumer VR industry knew that Oculus, which Facebook bought in 2014 for $2 billion, was developing its own controllers: the Touch, which it first announced in June, 2015. But outside of VR conferences, trade shows, and other exclusive events, few people have had a chance to play with the controllers, even though they supported some of the best tech demos ever created—among them, Oculus’s Toybox and Medium, both of which the company began to show off in 2015.

Oculus’s Medium, for the Touch Controllers, is one of the best VR art tools around.

Now, the Touch Controllers are here. At $199, they bring the total cost of a Rift setup to $798. Once you’ve tried the controllers, you’ll likely feel good about your investment. The Rift with Touch is a far superior experience, and very much on par with what the Vive offers on the highest end of the consumer VR spectrum, with one notable exception.

Both systems enable VR experiences that let users move around in physical space rather than standing in the center of a scene and only being able to look around 360 degrees, which has been a limitation of lower-end systems like Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Daydream View. But the Vive offers true “room-scale” coverage, meaning external sensors expand the space you can move around in to that of a full-sized room. With the Touch Controllers, Rift users can move around as well, only in a smaller amount of space. Oculus now also offers an additional sensor that expands coverage to room scale, but that runs an additional $79, bringing the cost of a fully kitted-out Rift to $877. The Vive runs $799.

Still, even without the extra sensor, the Rift with Touch is a joy to use, and there’s simply little rationale for buying the base system if you’re not going to spring for the controllers as well.

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At launch, there are 53 titles—games, artistic tools, and more—that support Touch, with many more coming. Among the very best, and the ones that will appeal to everyone—not just gamers—are Medium, Oculus’s own 3D sculpting tool, and Kingspray, a terrific spray-painting simulator.

Kingspray, for Oculus Rift with Touch.

There are also, of course, plenty of hard-core games among the launch title roster—big names like Dead and Buried, I Expect You To Die, The Unspoken, and others.

What’s great about the Touch Controllers is that they’re super simple to use, well designed, and totally different from Vive’s controllers. Small and shiny, the Touch is a nice counterpoint to the Vive’s longer, bulkier wands. It’s not to say that one is better than the other. But it is clear that Oculus wanted a sleeker design across the board with Rift—and may have paid for that in the slower release of Touch.

Whether to go with Vive or with Rift plus Touch is going to be a choice most people make based on available titles. Because when all is said and done, the actual user experience between the two is very similar, and both are head and shoulders above the rest of the VR field, with Sony’s $399 PlayStation VR the closest competition.

Oculus Touch controllers

Here at Fast Company, we’ve written numerous times over the last year that the era of consumer VR is finally here. In truth, though, it’s only now, with the arrival of Touch for Rift, that every major virtual reality system is fully realized and on the market. Now the race to see who will do the most with the first generation of consumer VR systems appears to have begun in earnest.

There are plenty of skeptics who question whether systems like the Rift, the Vive, and others are really just passing fads with no killer apps that to give them legs. This reporter isn’t one of them. Our advice: Get your hands on high-end VR—literally—and prepare to be amazed.

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.

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