HTC Vive
HTC Vive HTC

Here's Why Valve's Virtual Reality Controllers Are So Vital

Jul 21, 2015

As of last week, I've finally tried all three major, high-end virtual reality headsets: Oculus VR's Rift, Sony's Morpheus and HTC/Valve's Vive. From a new user's perspective, all three experiences felt mostly similar. I'm convinced that when these headsets start hitting the market next year, a winner will be crowned based on available content, not differences in underlying technology.

But the Vive demo had something I hadn't experienced yet, and it made the virtual reality experience much more immersive: VR-tuned controllers.

Before I tried the Vive, my experiences in virtual reality were mostly hands-free. I could look around various digital domains, but actually interacting with the ersatz world around me was largely either impossible or meant using the same kind of controllers designed for traditional video games (or, worse, a keyboard and mouse). The Vive demo, however, featured new controllers that look a bit like a sword hilt, designed specifically to let users manipulate objects and other elements in virtual reality.

What VR controllers actually let you do depends on the simulation you've got loaded up. In the demo I tried at a downtown New York City hotel on July 16, that meant a combination of clearing tiny fish out of the way of my scuba mask to get a better look at a humpback whale, grabbing the right ingredients out of a fridge and placing them in a pot to make soup, and failing miserably at rebuilding a broken robot. And all of these things felt incredibly natural and intuitive after just a minute or two.

HTC's Vive won't have a monopoly on virtual reality controllers; the Facebook-owned Oculus has announced a pair of its own, too. That these companies realize the importance of actual interaction in virtual reality is great news for fans of the medium. While modern VR totally blew me away the first time I used it, I was getting a little bored by the concept come time to put the Vive on. But the controllers added an entirely new element that's got me thinking about much more complex possibilities in the virtual space, like adventure games (virtual reality Myst, anyone?), puzzlers (VR Monument Valley, yes please) and action titles (VR Star Wars: Lightsaber Battle, shut up and take my money).

Now, more than ever, I can't wait to see the inevitably crazy ideas actual VR content creators cook up.

See The Incredibly Goofy Evolution of Virtual Reality Headsets

Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
"Reality +" at the Virtual Reality Systems 93 show was described as a next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment system that gave a high sense of movement in a computer-generated world revealed in a head-mounted display.
The 3-player Budweiser virtual reality mask at the Food Marketing Institute's International Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Expostion in Chicago.
A Virtual Reality contraption at the Sci Fi Channel booth at The National Cable Television Association annual convention, in San Francisco.
Soldier training using a virtual reality-simulated 3-D shootout at an Army facility.
A visitor checking out a virtual reality head-set at the G7 Information Society Showcase taking place at the European Parliament. The head-set was linked to a camera elsewhere in the building which the visitor could control through head movements.
A researcher at Tokyo University's Intelligent Modeling Laboratory wearing 3-D glasses, extending his hands to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world at the laboratory's virtual reality room.
Visitors enjoy virtual reality driving with 3-D goggles and driving simulators for the presentation of Japan's automaker Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo.
A visitor to the " Ars Electronica in a dish installation " Humphrey II" , which allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction of the city of Linz.
A girl wore a full color head mounted display with a built-in camera as Japan's machinery maker Hitachi Zosen and Shimadzu unveiled a wearable computer, consisting of the HMD and a palm sized Windows XP PC with a pointing device at a virtual reality exhibition in Tokyo.
Lt. David Shipley of the Adams County Sheriff's Department watched an interactive video that replicated the experiences of a schizophrenic patient having auditory and visual hallucinations while attempting to refill a prescription at a pharmacy.
Valeria Petkova, right, and student Andrew Ketterer, left, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tested the 'body-swap' illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person's body is their own body.
Raphael Pirker from Switzerland, founder of Team BlackSheep used virtual reality goggles to simulate the sensation of flight in the real world during a demonstration, flying from the perspective of a model aircraft, during a session of LeWeb'12 in Saint-Denis, near Paris.
A man seeking a job was equipped with 3D spectacles with sensors as he trained in Clermont-Ferrand, central France with avatars (background) in a virtual reality cube, at business incubator Pascalis.
Peter Kenny Jan Torpus, director of Lifeclipper project, tested the immersive augmented reality equipment in St Johanns Park in Basel, Switzerland.
Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, before liver surgery. Oldhafer used augmented reality, which allowed the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during the operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. This procedure helped locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and was expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery.
British television presenter Rachel Riley showed a virtual-reality headset called Gear VR during a Samsung event ahead of the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin.
Tim Draper, Founder and Managing partner of 'Draper Fisher Jurvetson', tried out the latest in virtual reality technology the 2014 Kairos Global Summit at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel in Dana Point, California.
A man played a game with the virtual reality head-mounted display 'Oculus Rift' at International Games Week in Berlin. The display transfers the eye movements to the game in real time.
Microsoft's Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates HoloLens headset during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on Jan. 21, 2015.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover w
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Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
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