Virtual reality (VR) has had a great start to the year with the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) 2016 featuring the technology everywhere, from the grand opulent exhibits in the central hall to the hive of activity in the marketplace style stands in the farthest reaches of the event. And it was in the latter, nestled tightly amongst a variety of other companies excitedly showcasing their ideas, that Samsung’s Creative Lab Projects were demoing Rink, a prototype hand-motion controller for the company’s Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD).
Motion controllers are seen as an important part of an immersive VR experience with Samsung’s partner on the Gear VR, Oculus VR, creating the Oculus Touch controllers for its own HMD, the Oculus Rift. Rivals HTC and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) are also working to a similar methodology. But this is an area the Gear VR is currently lacking in, even though its the first to market with a consumer release.
The Rink device aims to solve this by combining Bluetooth and hand-motion technology into one simple package. While the initial design and concept is good, with bags of potential, it was still clearly an early prototype with issues still to be resolved.
The device consists of two parts, a HMD-mounted base station and the two controllers which fit around the palm and back of the hand. At first glance the base station attached atop the headset looks bulky and heavy, not atheistically in keeping with the HMDs sleek lines, but when putting the Gear VR on it doesn’t feel much heavier with no discomfort or added pressure on the bridge of the nose. The hand units are u-shaped in design, fitting neatly and snugly in place. The larger portion is located on the palm side, feeling similar to a bike handle when hands are closed.
Once the headset was on and hand units in place the first impressive part of the kit was unveiled. Rink completely tracked the individual finger movements on both hands. Starting with a clenched fist, through extending each finger one at a time, then all of them in a fluid waving motion, all the movements were accurately tracked and visually represented in VR to see. This really did reveal the possibilities that could be unlocked for the mobile headset.
Moving on to the main demonstration, the team had designed a basic, static shooter experience where you move around on the spot aiming two reticules, one for either hand. Spaceships flew around me, sweeping across my vision side to side then diving towards me. With hands up, shooting the enemies entailed opening and closing my hand, with a barrage of laser bolts being fired before reloading was needed by making a fist.
But this was where the problems started to emerge. While fun at first, waving my arms around trying to hit these targets, the aiming was staggered and inconsistent, lacking precision to hit the intended targets at distance, having to wait until they approached at a much closer distance to have any chance of success.
The main issue came from the Bluetooth dropping out. While this will have impacted aiming if the signal was wavering, I’m actually referring to complete dropout. Go to shoot an enemy and nothing would happen then suddenly my hand had disappeared, then my other hand would do the same. For several minutes only one controller worked as the other was trying to re-establish connection, or play had to be stopped entirely as both units were no longer connected. It turned an interesting demo into a frustrating, jarring experience that I had to stop as that initial excitement had quickly worn off.
While the demo had its flaws, Rink does show promise . At the end of the day it’s still a prototype that’s only been worked on for around six months and still has some way to go. It was possibly too early in its development cycle to be shown at CES 2016, but at least it gives consumers an idea of where Samsung is taking its VR aspirations. For any VR fans with a Gear VR Rink is definitely a device worth keeping an eye on.