Recommended Input Devices for VR – Spring 2015

VR early adopters certainly don’t dawdle. Immediately after setting up our HMDs, we ask “hey, where are my hands?!”. Some of us go all out, building our own VR man-cave. While I don’t have the cash to do that, I can recommend a few input devices that are available now or will be shipping soon.

The Basics

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You may not realize it, but you probably already own the standard input device for VR (besides keyboard + mouse). I recommend an Xbox wired controller (~$30 on Amazon). For Windows, Xbox controllers are plug-n-play (Microsoft makes both) and many VR devs like us are targeting “gamepads” like this for the primary input device. Keyboards are hard to see when you have an HMD on and mice tend to make you sick because of the high default sensitivity. Gamepads allow smooth locomotion and jetpacking, our preferred way to move around in VR! Plus, hundreds of millions of people already own an Xbox or Playstation console. Note that wireless versions will work as well, though I like to avoid another point of failure and you’d probably need to buy a dongle. Playstation controllers also work though currently you have to run additional software like Better DS3. We use a wired PS3 controller for one computer and a wired Xbox 360 controller for another. You’re likely familiar with HOTAS/joysticks for flying simulations and gaming wheels for driving as well. While I used to have a few joysticks and a Logitech G25 driving wheel with pedals and a stick shift, these are very niche and not particularly customized for VR.

Where Are My Hands?

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Leap Motion was the first input controller for your hands that was cheap, worked (decently) well, and didn’t cost a fortune. At ~$70 on Amazon it’s not cheap but if you want to use your hands to play with objects in zero-G and try a bunch of other apps, it’s the way to go. Leap’s already integrated with UE4 and Unity, which means you’ll likely see more and more developers like us supporting it. We will support it because there are already at least 500,000 devices out there and while it’s not perfect, it’s the best option available right now for hand-tracking. Here’s me giving a thumbs up and taking a screenshot at the same time in our next VR app (multitasking!):

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Where’s the Rest of My Body?

Two must-have (but pricey) input devices for VR are the Sixense STEM (~$300) and the Virtuix Omni (~$500). Both are available for purchase but don’t expect to get them before March and May, respectively. We’ve tried both in-person and they are game-changers.

With the STEM, you get low-latency medium-range tracking of your hands, arms, legs–pretty much anything you want. This means you can make your own lightsaber prop, attach a STEM sensor pack to it, and train to be a Jedi. With the Omni, you’ll be running around the Holodeck and not bumping into any walls.

The Future

Our recommendations can all be purchased today, though a few may take a while to arrive. We’ve also seen sneak peaks of a few novel ideas like foot controls, gloves, and full-body suits! One particularly interesting development is the recent acquisition of Nimble VR by Oculus. We fully expect Oculus to integrate Nimble Sense’s high-resolution close-range tracking (think Leap Motion with better accuracy) with the Rift soon.

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