What Will VR Users Do With Their Hands?

Oculus Touch Controllers

Examining the controllers consumers will be using in VR.

How do you want to interact with virtual reality?

2016 is turning out to be a big year for VR. Major headset systems like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are set to release their own version of hand input devices. Even Samsung has been experimenting with hand controllers for their mobile Gear VR headset.

So how will consumers interact in virtual reality this year?  Will it be through traditional methods we have grown comfortable with like the keyboard, mouse, or game console controller?  Or will we have the full haptic glove experience that lets you thread a needle or play a guitar?

So as a consumer, what will your options be for VR input over the next 12 months and what will each option bring to the table?

image05Steam recently updated its VR listings to include supported input devices.  They’ve divided the field into three categories based on the inputs that will be compatible with VR; tracked hand controllers, gamepads and keyboard/mouse.

Tracked Motion Controllers

Tracked motion controllers build on the model of Wii controllers and integrate the concept with VR headsets and tracking systems.  In VR experiences, they add a realistic layer of interaction via the representation of the users’ hands.  The three major headsets (Rift, Vive, PSVR) are each set to all have their own motion controllers as well as external tracking systems.

E3 VR Virtual Reality Oculus Touch Controllers

Oculus Touch hand controllers.

Oculus Rift – Oculus’ answer to motion control is their Oculus Touch. The Oculus Touch will ship with two controllers and an additional tracking camera that will bring the most accuracy and precision from their Constellation tracking system; increasing the total Oculus bundle to two tracking cameras.  Included on each controller are two action buttons, an analog trigger, and an integrated grip button allowing for interaction with the virtual world.  The Oculus Rift begins shipping in late March but the Touch motion controllers are set to be shipped later in the year.


HTC Vive hand controllers.

HTC Vive – The Vive is shipping with their own motion controllers. Vive’s Lighthouse tracking system will track both of these controllers as well as their headset. Each controller has a trigger, touchpad and grip buttons. You can preorder your Vive with controllers as of February 29th and they’ll be the first VR specific motion controllers in the consumer market when they ship on April 1st.

Operation Smile Virtual Reality Playstation VR

Sony PlayStation VR move controllers.

Playstation VR – Sony is hosting an exclusive press event at GDC 2016 where they are assumed to announce the launch date of their Playstation VR headset. Their own solution relies on the already established Playstation Move controllers, which are a Wiimote competitor that relies on its own tracking camera. The Playstation Move uses the standard 4 input buttons of Playstation console controllers as well a trigger and Move button for game interaction. The Move bundle can be purchased in stores now while you wait to purchase your PS VR headset.


Oculus Rift bundle with XBOX One controller.

From the knob and button used in the original Tennis For Two controller to customizable Xbox One controllers, gamepads have been an integral part of the growth of gaming consoles over the past several decades. Broken down to their most basic form, they incorporate a method of movement and interaction, typically seen through joysticks and buttons/triggers/bumpers respectively.  With VR being a new medium of gaming, developers have kept a good amount of their games, across all three primary headsets, using gamepads as controllers since they keep a familiar control and enables the user to fully navigate and interact in VR.  However, this familiar control only applies to gamers and could slow VR adoption outside of the gaming community.

  • Oculus – with their Touch motion controllers not shipping until late 2016, the Oculus Rift consumer edition is shipping bundled with an Xbox One controller.
  • HTC Vive – being a PC based system, Vive demos built around gamepads will work with any PC compatible gamepad that can be bought off of the shelf today.
  • Playstation VR – Playstation VR is built for the Playstation 4 console, meaning that any gamepad compatible with that system will allow interaction with the appropriate PS VR games.
Keyboard & Mouse


The keyboard and mouse controllers have been a staple of computer control and input since nearly the beginning of computing itself.  The keyboard, adapted to its digital format from the typewriter, is most often used in gaming for movement (arrow or WASD keys) and various levels of interaction via different buttons.  Likewise, the mouse provides the same interaction as you would have with your computer in front of you.

  • Oculus Rift – being a PC based system, developers have been creating VR experiences using the keyboard and mouse since the original developer’s kits and have continued to do so today.  However, most focus is now shifting toward hand tracking and gamepad controller input devices.
  • HTC Vive – being another PC based system, developers have been able to develop experiences around the Vive.  Due to HTC’s emphasis on room-scale VR, using a keyboard and mouse doesn’t lend itself to being its main form of interaction.
  • Playstation VR – these consoles have not traditionally used the keyboard and mouse for input and there are no known plans of using them for interaction with PS VR.

Since the Oculus Kickstarter back in 2012, developers started with the keyboard and mouse as the primary input controller, which later grew into gamepads, and is now moving towards motion controllers since they’re becoming the standard with these 1st generation consumer headsets.


Leap Motion hand tracking with Oculus Rift.

Looking forward, we’ll be seeing companies tackle problems like adding full hand and finger motions, as well as haptic feedback for a sense of touch. Recently, LEAP Motion released an update to their light field hand tracker that showed significant steps towards realistic finger and hand tracking.  Whether it’s LEAP Motion, Oculus, HTC, Sony, or experiments like Manus and Contact CI, the world should be looking forward to everything they can get their hands on.

About the Scout

Tom Buchanan

Tom is a cofounder and hardware engineer for Contact CI, a company developing VR input gloves. In his spare time he can be found playing ice hockey, rugby, or reading Ready Player One for the nth time.

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