Are we in the Midst of a Hand Tracking Revolution?

If you own a Meta Quest headset then it’s highly likely you’ve given hand tracking a go. Whether you love it or not, XR headset manufacturers are going all in on the technology. Whether that’s to offer an alternative to controllers or dispense with them altogether, we’re in a new hand-tracking revolution where immersion is key. Controllers are seen more as a hindrance than a necessity. But are they?

In the early years of VR’s resurgence, hand tracking existed merely as a quirky sideshow. Devices like Leap Motion by Ultraleap could be attached to headsets to provide basic hand-tracking functionality. However, it wasn’t until the first Quest headset arrived that in-built hand-tracking began its journey. One into consumer’s hands rather than the niche core of avid VR fans.

Meta Quest 2 hand tracking

Giving hand tracking a hand

Tracking hands is a difficult technology to get right, especially where gaming is concerned. Managing to accurately track not only where your hand is in 3D space but also each individual digit is a complex process. Occlusion adds a further paradigm, where if hands go in front of one another – which they invariably do – the system still knows where everything is.

Even with this complexity, hardware companies are not only deploying and evolving hand tracking at a rapid rate, but some are using it as their standard input method. The biggest deployment of hand tracking to a worldwide audience has been through Meta’s Quest 2 headset. Over the years it has become more accurate allowing more developers to include the feature in their apps. More recently, Meta released Move Fast on Quest 2, a demo highlighting Quest’s v56 software update Meta’s faster hand tracking 2.2.

Meta rival Pico has also been upping its hand-tracking game. Recent reports indicate the company is looking to make hand tracking the primary input method for its headsets in the future. Further up the scale devices like Meta Quest Pro and HTC Vive XR Elite also provide both input methods with varying results.

That’s handy

But while some are combining or migrating to hand tracking, others are going all in. On the consumer end of the spectrum is the standalone Lynx R1. Originally funded through Kickstarter the mixed reality has been years in the making. Finally launching in 2023, from the outset it has been hand tracking first, utilising Ultra Leap’s latest technology to provide an accurate input method.

At the other end of the spectrum is the $3499 Apple Vision Pro, due out next year. Dubbed a ‘spatial computing’ device, this also has no controllers, with the entire interface gesture-controlled. That is why XR Source doesn’t expect the Apple Vision Pro to be a great gaming device. Even when some proclaim hand tracking to be the future of immersive input.

Because as good as hand tracking can be at creating a sense of presence in VR or MR, the tech does have its drawbacks. Locomotion is tricky with no stick to push, with creators resorting to teleportation. Another downside is the lack of haptic feedback. Sony’s PSVR 2 doesn’t feature hand-tracking due to the Sense controller’s excellent haptic capabilities, and likely never will.

XR gaming hardware is getting more exciting by the minute. What are your thoughts on the hand-tracking revolution? Let us know in the comments below.