Rumor: Oculus Will Unveil A Handheld Virtual Reality Controller [Update: Not Yet, But Coming]

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Oculus‘ headset lets you look around virtual reality but requires integrations with unofficial controllers to move an avatar, fire weapons, or input other commands. But at tomorrow’s Oculus Connect virtual reality conference, sources say Oculus is expected to unveil an official controller or controller industry standard to make it easier for developers to build more complex games. Several developers have been placed under NDA regarding the conference’s big news, though sources could not confirm details. However, four sources told TechCrunch that a gamepad is what’s being whispered around the Los Angeles VR community.

[Update 9/20/14 12:45pm PST: Oculus did not reveal a handheld controller today, instead showing off its new Crescent Bay feature prototype headset that’s the successor to the DK2, and the Oculus Platform VR app marketplace. However, when a source was getting a demo of the Crescent Bay and told an Oculus employee they wished there was a handheld controller, the employee replied “it’s coming.”]

Sixense Stem

The Sixense STEM System wireless virtual reality controller

One developer told us that code in the new Oculus SDK implies some official controller or API for connecting the Rift headset to a gamepad is on the way. The news makes a lot of sense considering that earlier this year, Oculus acquired Carbon Design, which designed the Xbox 360 controller and the Kinect motion sensor. We’ve reached out to Oculus for comment.

Right now, some developers use hacked console video game controllers or third-party VR controllers like the Sixense STEM to pipe inputs beyond head movements into Oculus. I tried the lightsaber game demoed below last night at TechCrunch’s Virtual Reality Meetup in LA, and the Sixense STEM felt natural and easy to pick up (literally). It was clear why Oculus would want to officially support these kinds of experiences.

Oculus could potentially release an input device of its own design. This could look like a traditional Xbox controller that may or may not have motion control, or like two handheld Wii Nunchucks which would allow for more realistic wielding of objects, such as pistols, swords, or a bow and arrow like in Survios’ ‘Zombies On The Holodeck’.

Alternatively, Oculus may simply create a standard for controllers built by third-parties like Sixense that could connect to the Rift, along the lines of the MFi standard for game controllers introduced by Apple with iOS 7 last year. It would then likely present an example of these controllers built by partner.


The Sixense Razer Hydra controller

Since the Rift already uses a camera facing the user to detect head movement, controllers could piggyback on the same platform to recognize how a user moves the input device or devices.

An official input device or platform could unify some of the fragmented VR space, encouraging developers to invest in building games, art, and social apps that work on Oculus hardware connected to PCs and mobile offerings like Samsung’s VR headsets. That confidence will be critical to getting flagship experiences built that lure mainstream consumers to the alternate dimensions offered by virtual reality.

Come back to TechCrunch at 9:30am PST on September 20th to watch the livestream of the Oculus Connect conference and see what’s unveiled.

Additional reporting by Kyle Russell