Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) have controllers made specifically for them in the SteamVR controllers and Oculus Touch respectively. Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE), on the other hand, hasn’t had to create its own controller for the PlayStation VR HMD, as it sort of already has one. For both better and worse, the company is pushing its PlayStation Move motion controller, a position-tracked device that actually played a big role in the creation of PlayStation VR itself, as its own VR control solution.
While SCE must certainly find it handy to already have an accurate controller on offer for PlayStation VR, it comes with its fair share of issues. We’re not here to discuss those issues, but instead look a mix of patent reveals and acquisitions from the last week that suggest that PlayStation Move might not be the main input solution for PlayStation VR.
Perhaps the most telling item was last week’s news that Sony itself is purchasing 3D gesture recognition company, SoftKinetic Systems. This is a group that is already looking at a familiar area of VR input, hand and finger tracking, which is also seeing a big push from companies such as Leap Motion. In fact, Oculus VR last year bought up another such company, Nimble VR. This suggests that hand-tracking tech has a legitimate future in VR even if there are hurdles with feedback and more to overcome right now.
And it’s certainly exciting to think about the potential of mixing this tech with more traditional inputs like the DualShock 4. Imagine being able to walk up to a button and then reach out and push it, or quickly toss a grenade with one hand before returning to fire a weapon. Hand-tracking has a long way to go before it becomes the definitive standalone VR input but it has some potentially excellent short term applications when combined with other devices.
This does raise the question of new peripherals, however. Would players need a new PlayStation Camera, something that many already own, if SCE was to really push hand-tracking for PlayStation VR? Or would a new sensor similar to Leap Motion’s be required?
Or perhaps the company doesn’t need to replace the camera, and SoftKinetic’s work will instead be implemented into 1 of the 2 intriguing patents that were also uncovered last week. The first was for a ‘Gaming Device with Volumetric Sensing’ that appears to be able to track hand movements around a controller that the player holds while the other was for a pair of wrist bands laced with cameras that would track movements of the other, again for hand-tracking. SCE is knocking at a very particular door for sure, then, it’s just a question of when and how hand-tracking is delivered.
It could be that the SoftKinetic acquisition eliminates the need for these 2 other patents, or perhaps the newly-bought company is being put to work on one of them. Either way, it’s doubtful that we’ll see any kind of consumer-presentable tech before PlayStation VR itself launches in the first half of 2016.
It’s refreshing to hear that PlayStation Move might not be the main source of input for PlayStation VR. That controller is in need of some updates to bring it in line with the competitor’s offerings, but perhaps these hints of hand-tracking mean that something much more ambitious is on the horizon for the device.