Editors' note (December 5, 2016): We've updated our review of the Oculus Rift to incorporate our hands-on evaluation of the Oculus Touch controllers discussed here. Long story short: They are the best VR controllers to date, and a must-buy for existing Rift owners. But if you haven't yet committed to a VR platform, the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR still deserve your attention.
The Oculus Rift debuted back in March without a crucial piece of the puzzle: dedicated motion controllers to let you reach out and grab. Those controllers, called Oculus Touch, were always meant to complete the picture. And now they'll finally be available December 6 for $199 (converted, that's about £155 or AU$265). They'll be available for preorder October 10 in North America and Europe.
The Touch comes with a second Oculus camera sensor bar, which you need to set up to use the controls. The package also comes with two games: VR Sports and The Unspoken.
Oculus Touch controllers can work in "room scale" VR, which means a walk-around holodeck-like environment like the HTC Vive provides, but that will involve buying a third camera sensor for $79. Be ready to add one of those to your package if you care for VR walkabouts. Or, if you want to turn around and grab things behind you.
What Touch does
The two Touch controllers track motion in space, acting like virtual appendages in VR apps and games. Much like the HTC Vive's controllers or the PlayStation VR Move wands, they let your hands do things. But they also can work like a standard game controller, too.
They need to be facing one of the sensors to work, so you can't block them with your body, but as long as you've got an Oculus sensor on each side they work remarkably well.
The Touch system feels almost like a standard game controller split in two and turned into gloves. Each part has an analog stick and buttons. But the controllers can also sense finger proximity, so you can raise and lower fingers and see them registered in VR. For instance, yes, you can point your finger, or give a thumbs-up. The controllers have haptics for vibrating feedback, too.
Oculus has many apps that take advantage of Touch controllers, from virtual western shooters to painting and sculpting software.
Each controller takes a single standard AA battery, which Oculus says should last for 20 to 30 hours on a charge, depending on whether the games you play use a lot of haptic feedback or not.
Touch requires more room sensors
The Oculus Rift came with a single little sensor-camera that perched on a desk or table to track head movement. But the Touch controllers need another sensor to distinguish your hands from your head. And you may need a third sensor if you want to interact with things behind you, or walk around more than a couple of steps in VR. The third sensor is sold separately, for an additional $79.
The HTC Vive does it with only two base stations instead of three, and they only need to be plugged into a power outlet. Meanwhile, each Oculus sensor needs to be plugged into a USB port on a PC, which may mean routing long USB cables around your room.
A perfect in-between?
So, obviously, these Touch controllers make a lot more sense than a gamepad. Even simply being able to see your hands is a big step forward in immersion, one that makes the virtual worlds feel a lot more real. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that a lot of future Oculus games will support, maybe even require these controllers. (It doesn't hurt that the rival PlayStation VR and HTC Vive have motion controllers that let you grab things, too.)
But in the short term, what can you actually expect to reach out and grab in VR? Plenty, it turns out. Check out our impressions of the best Oculus Touch apps and games.