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Hackernoon logoHaptic Feedback is the Next Step in Virtual Reality by@Limarc

Haptic Feedback is the Next Step in Virtual Reality

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@LimarcLimarc Ambalina

Editor @Hackernoon by day, VR Gamer and Anime Binger by night

Haptic feedback suits represent the next step towards true immersion in virtual reality gaming. Virtual reality works by establishing a space that can stimulate our senses enough to create the illusion of being in a different world. The current VR headsets on the market create this illusion by stimulating our sense of sight (through 6DoF visuals) and our sense of hearing (through binaural 3D audio), along with slight vibration feedback from the controllers.

However, with the emergence of haptic feedback accessories, VR games now have the ability to activate a third human sense, our sense of touch.

What is Haptic Feedback?

Put simply, haptic feedback is the use of vibration to convey another layer of information to the user. In VR, we can use haptic feedback in the controllers to simulate things like the kick from firing a pistol or the impact of hitting an enemy with your fists. When we start looking at top-of-the-line accessories that can generate more sophisticated forms of haptic feedback, the amount of immersion VR games provide can increase drastically.

If you’re looking to learn more about haptics, check out this article.

Why Haptic Suits are the Future of VR

Our sense of touch is arguably the most important sense that helps make a situation feel more realistic. I could be surrounded by zombies, getting mauled to death. However, if all I’m experiencing are a few blood spatter visual effects and zombies snarling, it isn’t enough to create a strong sense of urgency.

On the other hand, if I could feel where the zombies were hitting me on my body, that difference would be enough to trigger the fight or flight instinct or at least something similar. After all, what would be scarier in a haunted house VR experience: seeing a ghost at the end of the hall or feeling a hand on your shoulder in the dark?

A full haptic suit that can send haptic feedback from head to toe will greatly increase the realism of games, making horror games scarier, and action games more intense. Haptic suits are the closest we can get to a true deep-dive VR experience with the technology we have today.

The bHaptics Haptic Suit Accessories

Seven months into my VR journey, I began to wonder how I could make the VR games I loved so much even better. Aside from better graphics, I wondered what could make these virtual reality experiences feel more real. That was when I began my research into the world of haptic feedback gloves, vests, and other accessories.

The Oculus Quest being my main VR headset, I started searching for haptic accessories not only compatible with the Quest but ones that had native support. Since the Quest itself was a relatively new platform, I wasn’t expecting to find any native support at all. However, it didn’t take me too long to find bHaptics, a haptic accessories developer run out of Korea.

Full disclosure: I do not work for bHaptics, nor am I being paid by bHaptics in any way to write this review. However, they did send me their products for review in this article. Nevertheless, the following is my true opinion of their products.

The Pros

“Most VR content is in the first person, which means a VR user is unaware of things happening out of their sight,” said a bHaptics representative. “With haptic feedback, users have an immediate and instinctive reaction to everything happening in VR, which makes the experience far more realistic and immersive.”

After reviewing the Tactot haptic vest and armband accessories from bHaptics, I am convinced that haptic suits represent the next step in VR immersion.

Design

The bHaptics haptic vest is sleek and well-designed, made to fit a variety of body types. The Tactosy haptic arm accessories are easy to slip on and slip off.

Adjustable straps allow you to adjust the tightness of the vest and the armbandsBoth products have a removable inner mesh which is machine-washable

Precision

The vest works best in games like Thrill of the Fight and Death Horizon, where haptic feedback is directly linked to specific parts of the vest. For example, in Thrill of the Fight enemy punches can be felt on specific parts of your torso or forearms depending on where the punch lands.

Thrill of the Fight

The haptic feedback was perfectly accurate, meaning if your lower left ribs were hit, that’s where you’d feel the vibration. If you blocked the punches with your forearms, you felt the hit on your forearms. This greatly added to the realism and immersion of the game.

In Death Horizon, the game helps give you a sense of awareness, as zombies can appear randomly and attack you from every direction. There is nothing more adrenaline-pumping than feeling a vibration on your back and turning around to see a zombie flailing its arms at you.

Death Horizon

I’m very interested to see how this technology progresses for the horror genre and how it can be integrated into haunted house games to make jump scares even more terrifying.

Battery Life

For most people, VR sessions don’t last longer than one to two hours. However, for those of you that can handle longer gaming sessions without feeling eye strain or fatigue, bHaptics accessories have generously long battery life.

See the battery information below for the products I tested:

Tactot Haptic Vest: 3.65V, 8,250mAh, 30.1Wh, up to 15 hours of playtimeTactosy Arm Accessories: 3.8V, 2900mAh, 11Wh, up to 18.4 hours of playtime

Native Support

So the most important reason why I chose to give bHaptics a try, was because of their native support on the Oculus Quest. Due to this support, the accessories are incredibly easy to set up. How easy? Well let me tell you step-by-step how it works:

  1. Press the pairing/power button on the accessory
  2. Load up the Oculus Quest game
  3. Hit the bHaptics icon in the settings menu
  4. Tap on the accessory you want to pair

That’s it. No complicated Side Quest updates or developer mode configurations needed.

Additionally, the bHaptics accessories also support an audio-to-haptic feature which is very easy to set up on your computer. After setting it up, you can use their haptic accessories to play regular PC games, watch videos, or listen to music, while the audio from these experiences is automatically translated into haptic feedback.

Admittedly, it is a bit strange feeling vibration for every line of dialogue in a film. However, if movies were made to support haptic feedback and trigger said feedback naturally in action sequences, I’m sure it would improve the film experience.

The Cons

While there are so many good things about bHaptics haptic feedback accessories, there are some things you should take into account before deciding on a purchase.

Native Support

While there is native support for bHaptics accessories on the Oculus Quest, there are few games that currently support it. This is one of the biggest deterrents preventing Quest users from buying these accessories. As of July 2020, these are the games that have native support for bHaptics on the Oculus Quest:

However, it should be noted that a bHaptics representative said that they will soon be announcing that one of the most popular Quest games will provide native support for bHaptics accessories.

Personally, I hope that the game they are teasing is either Beat Saber or Arizona Sunshine. I predict that native support on Beat Saber could help their sales and bring more attention to their accessories and haptic feedback as a whole.

Weight

While the bHaptics haptic suit accessories have a long battery life, they are also slightly heavy. Below are the weights of the products I tested.

  • Tactot Haptic Vest: 1.7 kg / 3.74 pounds
  • Tactosy Arm Accessories: 250g (each) / 0.55 pounds

Relative to the power and battery life these accessories have, they are not that heavy. However, in order to feel the full effects of the haptic vest and armbands, you must tighten them enough to fit snugly on your body. This tightness adds to the perceived weight of the items. Wearing a tight, nearly 4-pound vest while trying to dodge enemy punches and land blows of your own can be taxing and shorten your play sessions.

However, it should be noted that heavier weight could be a benefit depending on the experience. For example, I play Thrill of the Fight mostly for exercise. Boxing is tough enough; boxing with a 4-pound vest on is tougher. If you’re playing VR for physical fitness, this haptic vest can help you burn calories and strengthen your muscles faster. Furthermore, while there is no support for it yet, a haptic vest for a military simulation game like Onward could help add to the realism.

Price

Unsurprisingly, Oculus Quest users on Reddit said that the biggest reason they are reticent to dive into haptic accessories is the cost. For bHaptics, the price of their products reflects the high quality of their design and engineering. However, we can’t hide from the fact that the entire haptic suit (all of bHaptics head-to-toe accessories) would cost a mini-fortune.

The price of the Tactot Haptic Vest alone is $499 USD which is around the same price as the 64GB version of the Oculus Quest itself.

Should You Buy a Haptic Suit?

As the only haptic vest on the market with native support on the Oculus Quest, bHaptics is the ideal option for Quest users who want to start getting into haptic suits. However, at their current price, it isn’t going to be a realistic option for many of you.

If you are running a VR arcade or business that provides virtual reality experiences, then I would highly recommend you purchase bHaptics accessories to improve the user experience. These haptic feedback accessories are easy to set up and could put you over the top of your competition.

If you are a hardcore VR enthusiast that plays VR games nearly every day and you are the type of person that wants to try everything VR has to offer, then you should definitely try haptic feedback accessories. They will enhance your overall experience and with more native support to come in the future, they could be worth your investment in the long run.

If you are a casual VR gamer and aren’t that interested in the technology, then haptic accessories probably aren’t for you. If you are interested in trying the products, I suggest starting with the cheapest products on the market. Then, if you like what haptic feedback has to offer, you can upgrade to bHaptics products or other high-end haptic accessories later on.

As a reference, the cheapest available bHaptics product is the Tactal haptic face cushion ($149 USD) that allows you to feel headshots in VR. The Oculus Quest itself is around $499 USD (64GB). You can check out a video review on Virtual Reality Oasis below.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, the most important question is whether or not haptic feedback products improve the VR experience. To that, my answer is a resounding yes. Of course for relaxing games without much action, there won’t be much room for natural haptic feedback. However, for games like Thrill of the Fight where the sensation of touch could naturally be added to the game, haptic vests and other accessories change the experience completely.

With bHaptic Tactosy armbands, you can feel the kick and recoil of a pistol with every shot you take. Furthermore, with the Tactot Haptic Vest you can feel the stock of an assault rifle push into your chest every time you fire it. These sensations made every shot in Death Horizon feel more realistic and every bullet felt more valuable.

I truly believe that haptic suits will change the game for virtual reality in the future. A head-to-toe haptic suit that is lightweight, yet powerful, would be the ideal solution for greater VR immersion. As a matter of fact, a bHaptics representative stated that “Building a haptic suit that covers the entire body is our final goal.” However, they would likely not begin building such a product until the market has shown enough demand for it.

Hopefully, as VR becomes more mainstream, the demand for haptic feedback accessories will grow. As more and more people play VR and there are more consumers ready to try haptic suits, the overall price point should drop, making these accessories more affordable for all of us. As these haptic suits become more lightweight and intuitive, we will slowly get closer to the true full-dive virtual reality depicted in Ready Player One, Sword Art Online, and other science fiction.

Originally published behind a paywall: https://medium.com/super-jump/are-haptic-suits-the-future-of-vr-c7b52d573935

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