Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift review: Touch puts the Rift back in control

Oculus Rift review: Touch puts...
New Atlas reviews the Oculus Rift with excellent Touch controllers 
New Atlas reviews the Oculus Rift with excellent Touch controllers 
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Oculus Rift, flanked by its trusty Touch controls
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Oculus Rift, flanked by its trusty Touch controls
Rift + Touch will cost you $798, and that doesn't include the requisite gaming PC
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Rift + Touch will cost you $798, and that doesn't include the requisite gaming PC
The Rift with Touch is our pick for today's best virtual reality
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The Rift with Touch is our pick for today's best virtual reality
The $199 pair of Oculus Touch controllers
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The $199 pair of Oculus Touch controllers
Oculus Touch is highly ergonomic, better contoured for hands than any of its rivals
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Oculus Touch is highly ergonomic, better contoured for hands than any of its rivals
The result of adding Oculus Touch to the Rift? Highly immersive first-person experiences
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The result of adding Oculus Touch to the Rift? Highly immersive first-person experiences
Robo Recall, a free game for a Oculus Touch owners
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Robo Recall, a free game for a Oculus Touch owners
Tracking for Touch controllers is pinpoint accurate, but if you want to turn your back completely away from the sensors, you'll want to buy a third sensor for $79
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Tracking for Touch controllers is pinpoint accurate, but if you want to turn your back completely away from the sensors, you'll want to buy a third sensor for $79
New Atlas reviews the Oculus Rift with excellent Touch controllers 
9/12
New Atlas reviews the Oculus Rift with excellent Touch controllers 
The Oculus Touch controls, which "give you hands" in virtual reality
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The Oculus Touch controls, which "give you hands" in virtual reality
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Pros and cons of the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers
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Pros and cons of the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers

Buzz has surrounded VR since the Oculus Rift Kickstarter in 2012, attracting companies big and small. The competition heated up enough that when the consumer Rift launched early this year, we didn't think it was the best system. But with Oculus' excellent new Touch controllers, combined with some strategic pivots, the Rift has reclaimed the VR throne that once seemed its birthright. The Oculus Rift is finally complete and consumer virtual reality has its champion.

Oculus Touch is the most ergonomic, comfortable and fun-to-use motion control setup in VR. While the tracked controllers of its only true rival, the HTC Vive, are also very good, it's clear when you jump straight from one to the other – as we have for the last couple weeks – that Touch's smaller size and comfortable contours better capture what Oculus calls "hand presence" (being able to use your hands inside virtual worlds).

It isn't, however, just the palm-hugging ergonomics of Oculus Touch that put it ahead. It's also little details like being able to lift your index finger to point at something in VR or raising your real thumb to give a virtual thumbs-up. The Rift isn't tracking those fingers with its external sensors (we aren't quite at the level of true "finger presence" yet), but Oculus cleverly put capacitive touch sensors on the controllers' surfaces so they know when you lift these digits. It's pseudo-finger-tracking, something the Vive doesn't offer.

Oculus Touch is highly ergonomic, better contoured for hands than any of its rivals
Oculus Touch is highly ergonomic, better contoured for hands than any of its rivals

The controllers include a second sensor in the box, in addition to the first that ships with the Rift headset. While the tracking has been pinpoint accurate, there are caveats. Oculus Touch's late-2016 launch games were designed to track in 180°, so they only encourage you to face forward or sideways – never to turn your back and block the sightlines between hands and sensors. If you do turn completely away with the standard two-sensor setup, you will likely run into some blind spots where hand-tracking gets wonky.

Fortunately Oculus offers the option of ordering a third sensor, including a long extension cord, for US$59. It does what it's supposed to do: sits behind you, enabling 360° tracking and eliminating blind spots.

The Oculus Touch controls, which "give you hands" in virtual reality
The Oculus Touch controls, which "give you hands" in virtual reality

The Rift's three-sensor setup is terrific for standing VR games where you don't move around much, but it doesn't quite match the Vive's tracking for room-scale VR in larger spaces. With that said, we recently previewed upcoming 2017 Oculus Touch content, and found that standing VR, when it's physical and lets you move in all directions, is every bit as immersive as room-scale.

With 360° tracking now an option for Rift owners, the company also added a visual boundary system that prevents you from leaving your space and smacking into things. Equivalent to the Vive's Chaperone bounds, Oculus' version is dubbed "Guardian."

The $199 pair of Oculus Touch controllers
The $199 pair of Oculus Touch controllers

Oculus' Guardian is better than Chaperone, though, in that you can trace the entire edge of your playing space, including irregular sections that jut in and out. Vive's Chaperone only supports straight lines forming a rectangle; Guardian better captures the subtler nuances of an imperfect playing space.

Otherwise Guardian works exactly like Chaperone: The virtual wall stays invisible until you get near the edge of your designated space, at which point it pops into view. It triggers your don't-smack-into-walls instinct, startling you into putting on the brakes.

The result of adding Oculus Touch to the Rift? Highly immersive first-person experiences
The result of adding Oculus Touch to the Rift? Highly immersive first-person experiences

So Oculus Touch is a big ergonomic advantage for the Rift, and the additions of 360° tracking, room-scale and Guardian help. But it's content that seals the deal for the Oculus Rift as our pick for best VR headset.

Oculus Touch has a deep, refined and varied lineup, dwarfing what we've seen so far from the Vive. Add that to the Rift's already-superior selection of gamepad-based games, and Oculus' aggressive funding of VR projects is proving to be a big tipping point.

While we've enjoyed playing Vive games in our offices since its early-2016 launch, all but a small handful have felt more like rough drafts than finished products. Back when the Rift was gamepad-only and we (incorrectly) assumed more polished Vive content wasn't far away, that unfinished nature was more forgivable. But with Oculus Touch showing off its refined launch library, it makes for a starker contrast.

Robo Recall, a free game for a Oculus Touch owners
Robo Recall, a free game for a Oculus Touch owners

Highlights among early Oculus Touch games include:

  • Robo Recall: a furiously-paced, highly-physical funfest
  • Superhot: manipulate time to thwart would-be assassins
  • Dead & Buried: online wild-west shootouts
  • I Expect You to Die: escape-the-room puzzles set in a James Bond parody world
  • The Unspoken: gesture-based, online-multiplayer spell-casting
  • VR Sports Challenge: caricatured athletic mini-games
  • Viral EX: on-rails shooter ported from Gear VR, now using Touch controls for guns
  • Job Simulator: hilarious workplace sandbox
  • Final Approach: use your hands to trace flight patterns for air traffic

There are also three art-creation apps: Medium, where you sculpt 3D designs with the Touch controls (you can then export your creations into traditional 3D-design software) and Quills, a 3D paint/drawing app that's very similar to Tilt Brush, a SteamVR launch app that recently released in the Oculus Store as well.

Throw in gamepad-only favorites like Damaged Core, Edge of Nowhere, Defense Grid 2, Chronos, Eagle Flight and Lucky's Tale (among many others), and the Rift's content lead is substantial and definitive.

The Rift with Touch is our pick for today's best virtual reality
The Rift with Touch is our pick for today's best virtual reality

If you're interested in virtual reality, owning the very best isn't going to be cheap. For the Oculus Rift along with a minimum-spec gaming PC, Touch controls and third sensor, you're looking at about an $1,157 minimum. While that's lower than it was at launch, it's easy to see why some people look at the VR landscape and decide that Sony's cheaper PlayStation VR is the answer. (We beg to differ: its motion controls have illusion-breaking tracking.)

History shows us that budding consumer technologies start expensive but get cheaper over time – VR should follow the same pattern. Today's big question isn't whether to spend more on the Rift or less on Sony's flawed system; it's whether to splurge now on the good stuff or hold off another year or so. As Oculus demoed in October, there's a fully wireless Rift somewhere in the pipeline. (We have also demoed accessories that enable wireless play for the current Rift and Vive.) And with a VR-ready Xbox waiting in the wings, we might see better console-based VR in late 2017.

We don't have a universal answer to the now vs. later question: As much as we love the Rift today, it simply isn't in the budget for a large number of people.

Tracking for Touch controllers is pinpoint accurate, but if you want to turn your back completely away from the sensors, you'll want to buy a third sensor for $79
Tracking for Touch controllers is pinpoint accurate, but if you want to turn your back completely away from the sensors, you'll want to buy a third sensor for $79

If you are looking for some high-end VR today – and don't mind splurging – the Oculus Rift with Touch controls has the simplest setup (basically plug-and-play), the best ergonomics (both headset and controls), integrated audio and virtual reality's premier content library.

The closest thing we have to a gripe is its imperfect larger-space tracking. Even with that minor caveat, though, the Rift's handling of smaller-room/standing VR is terrific – and the corresponding content is phenomenal and plentiful.

Pros and cons of the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers
Pros and cons of the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers

The Oculus Rift will set you back $499; add another $99 for Touch and $59 for the (optional) third sensor that will give you 360° tracking. And don't forget a VR-ready gaming PC.

Product page: Oculus

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This article was updated on March 3, 2017 to reflect impressions of new and upcoming 360° Oculus content, and to update lower prices.

Editor's note: While this review referred to Oculus Rift games and HTC Vive games as distinct entities, in many cases the Rift can play SteamVR games and with third-party hacks the Vive can play Oculus Store games. We classified them separately because cross-compatibility isn't guaranteed, with potential for hardware inconsistencies (like finger-tracking with the Touch controls) and a more cumbersome user experience.

3 comments
andrew1
Oculus Rift feat. Pitbull
guzmanchinky
I really was about to buy in, but I'm old enough to remember Betamax vs VHS and I know just how much better the second and third generation systems of a new tech get... And quickly (these days)...
LuzAdrianaPlazas
Hello everybody I have a question. Just did a try out to see a self made 360 - 2d video. I wanted to see the video with the Samsung Gear... guess what just pixels and pixels. Can somebody tell me if this would change with the Oculus or the HTC because these have higher resolution or doesn t t change a lot because it is meant for 3d and will never show videos at a good quality? Our purpose is to show the interior of houses, but we need a good quality image. Please help!!!! Rafael from Mallorca Spain