At GDC 2018 this week, Oculus revealed some additional details surrounding their high-end standalone VR headset prototype, Santa Cruz. Among those details, the company plans to replace the current controllers’ trackpads with buttons and sticks, much like the Rift.

Santa Cruz has been mostly impressive, but it did seem like an odd choice that the company chose to use a trackpad on the controllers (which are very similar the the Touch controllers), especially considering that many people seem to prefer the button and stick layout of Touch over trackpad VR controllers like the Vive’s wands and the Gear VR controller.

During a session at GDC 2018, Oculus said that one consistent piece of developer feedback that they heard from Santa Cruz demos was that developers wanted standard input between Rift and Santa Cruz, ostensibly so that it’s easier to develop games that are cross-compatible with both headsets.

The company showed a picture of an early prototype of the Santa Cruz controller which appeared to consist of an Oculus Remote with a tracking ball attached to the top. The next image showed the later trackpad prototype, which looks like a Touch controller but with the tracking ring inverted. And finally, an image showing what appears to be the latest prototype, a similar looking inverted Touch controller but this time with buttons and sticks.

This trackpad version of the Santa Cruz controller will be changed to sticks and buttons | Image courtesy Oculus

Oculus confirmed they are showing off the Santa Cruz prototype to developers behind closed doors during GDC this week; here’s our hands-on thoughts with the prototype from last year.

While the company isn’t ready to divulge the full details of the headset, like what it might look like when it’s fully productized, or what it will cost, “pretty soon you won’t be able to get us to shut up about this device,” Chris Pruet, Oculus’ Head of Development Engineering, teased.

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“If you were to pull it apart and look at its components it would look a little like Oculus Go, but that description of it sells it short. It’s actually a completely different type of device,” he said on stage. “We took many of our ideas from Oculus Go and unlocked them on Santa Cruz.”

Chris said the headset was designed for lots of heat dissipation and allows the hardware to run at clock rates than any similar device he’s seen. The implication seemed to be that Santa Cruz is closer to a standalone version of the Rift than an upgraded version of the Go. But considering Santa Cruz is running (as far as we know) mobile hardware, it’ll be up to users to decide where it really falls in terms of graphics and performance between Go and Rift.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Andrew McEvoy

    Wise move.

  • Jean-Sebastien Perron

    Dear Vive, do the same.

    • jj

      Jean i’m sorry to say this but i agree with you.

      • Harry Cox


        • Have ye tried their Knux controller?

      • Have ye tried their Knux controller??

    • Have ye tried their Knux controller?

      • Trejkaz

        A bit difficult considering that it isn’t actually available yet.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        It’s not HTC’s controllers, but valve’s.. And no mention on HTC even going with the knuckle controllers.

  • Good choice… developers will appreciate that a lot

  • Aeroflux

    “Chris said the headset was designed for lots of heat dissipation and
    allows the hardware to run at clock rates than any similar device he’s

    [higher] clock rates than?
    [lower] clock rates than?
    [duck] clock rates then [quack]?
    [cow] clock rates then [moo]?

    • visual

      Sorry, I don’t speak Klingon. XD

    • FireAndTheVoid

      Are you having a stroke?

      • Aeroflux

        Haha, nah. Just having fun with words. The quoted sentance is incomplete. When you use “than”, it is a comparison. E.g. “This is greater than that.”

        If your buddy launches a 4-wheeler over a few cars and you say “Wow, that jump was than the other guys”, HE would be thinking YOU just had a stroke.

    • gothicvillas

      Q, is this you??

    • VR Geek

      “Chris said the headset was designed for lots of heat dissipation and allows the hardware to run at clock rates than any similar device he’s seen.”

      That one comment made me raise an eyebrow. Clockrate is about a good a metric on performance as RPMs are on a car. I dearly hope Oculus did not say that as it is marketing speak to the point of insulting. If they did say this, I am concerned about this product as fake hype often equals inferior product.

      In terms of controllers, I struggle to see why they would not just stick with Touch for now. Why invert unless nescesary for a new type of tracking tech. This whole article has raised some RED FLAGS.

  • Smart move cause now cause they can use it as the starting point for rift cv2 and release that that the end of next year with the ability to be wireless or tethered (for best performance). Well that’s what i would do

  • Pre Seznik

    Had no idea they were even planning to do trackpads. What a mistake that would be. The Touch controllers are *perfect*, they better not mess that up.

    • Sponge Bob

      “Touch” is DOA – less than 2 years to live

      • Smokey_the_Bear

        please explain that sentence.

        • Sponge Bob

          too big, too ugly, too cumbersome, need at least 2 external cameras to track … enough ?

          • daveinpublic


          • Dan

            Besides the 2 cameras, that doesn’t describe the Touch controllers at all.

          • Cameron Asselin

            90+% of rift owners also own touch, most oculus games coming out now use touch, and oculus was actually ahead of the vive on the last steam hardware survey. Sure it’s DoA…

        • Firestorm185

          You can’t explain the language of a sponge. Best to just squeeze it out of your conscience. xD

      • Krzysztof Kiersznicki

        go home….U drunk

      • Dave

        You muppet – all you need is to replace the batteries haha! Seriously though why do you think arguable the best controller in VR is DOA. Only a Vive user would say that!

        • Well, the Knux controllers shall be quite a contender :)

          • Ombra Alberto

            Allora sono ancora meglio i guanti Oculus.. quando usciranno.

            Guanti+oculus touch .. sarà una figata pazzesca. Altro che knux controller.

      • nebošlo

        I don’t think you know what DOA means.

    • Stephanie

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  • Luke

    if this HMD works on PC it needs both (touch+sticks) it’s just like that.

    • Firestorm185

      Well Santa Cruz is a standalone device just like Oculus Go, it houses all the tech you need to play VR games right on the headset, but I’m hoping it will come with a wireless streaming mode so we can still play PC VR games, yeah.

      • Foreign Devil

        That would actually be great. . .best of both worlds. .so we would not have to buy 2 devices. . and can get full PC powered VR when we want it. Whoever can come up with such a device that can be standalone and PC powered will have the next “nintendo switch” on their hands.

        • Firestorm185

          Totally! If Santa Cruz can be a wireless Rift from the get go and be used as a PC VR device when nearby an Oculus-ready machine, I’d be more than happy to buy one! Heck, I’d possibly even self the Rift for it if the experience was good!

  • Raphael

    So santa cruz is just another oculus qualcom powered VR thing.

    • So santa cruz is just another octopus* qualcom powered VR thing.

      • Raphael

        Thanks for correcting my mistake. I don’t know why I keep doing this! Octopus, octopus, octopus.

  • Sponge Bob

    WTF cares about trackpads – those can be easily added in a month

    what is more important here is that prototype looks drasticaly different from “current version” – the size of the tracking “ball” is several times smaller and the placement of active LEDs is a lot different
    tells you something about the readiness of final product
    they cant even decide on the main tracking tech

    trackpads ??? you gotta be kidding
    sounds like sixense bs

    • Firestorm185

      Well that argument soaked up like a sponge.

    • daveinpublic

      Nope, this is a good move by oculus. Apparently a difficult move to make in this industry.

    • jj

      I agree people are focusing way too mush on he wrong things.

  • Dave

    Yipee, who the f*** ever thought that was a good idea in the first place LOL. I would say the Xbox one is the best gamepad on the market and to have the touch mimic the controls for an Xbox one is a good thing. Trackpads are just less established in gaming and so probably less intuative to use and more importantly program against. One would also assume Oculus did there research on this and probably didn’t drop the idea lightly so I imagine developer input had a major say.

    • care package

      minus the d-pad

  • Pingster

    This is my first post on RTVR. Thank god! I have both vive and rift and i cant work out one good reason valve have forced the absolute rubbish trackpads on their users.

    Trying to play Fallout 4 with the vive trackpads… its a nightmare, even with 3D printed thumbsticks.

    oculous touch with its sticks is far better. so much better i installed various mods just to play the game using oc rift.

    Every game thats uses the trackpads would be far better on sticks.

    Without being rude, sometimes i wonder if valve even use their own controllers.

    To VR hardware manufactures and especially vive. Please ditch these damn aweful trackpads. They have never worked and will never work.

    • beestee

      My biggest complaint with the Windows MR controllers is the touch pads. Not because they are difficult to use or anything, but that they are the weakest point of the hardware design and in some cases are failing, causing inadvertent control issues due to phantom input.

      I will be purchasing whatever Santa Cruz ultimately evolves into.

  • bud

    Its all about the Pimax 8k controllers….. how will they be and how quickly will ProtubeVR author get the cups sorted, Ive promised to help any way I can with my backing on delivery.

  • gothicvillas

    I’m not any smarter.. so is this just another mobile VR or not?

  • Lucidfeuer

    If it’s an haptic-backed glass trackpad, this could be absolutely great. The problem with Steam controllers of Vive Wands is the baffling stupidly squishy and soft trackpad surface, which of course is a wrong idea.

    But then the fact that these new controllers seem to be longer and bulkier always screems a “step back”.

  • Eddie Barsh

    I will definitely be getting an oculus go so I’m very much looking forward to Santa Cruz !

  • Andrew Jakobs

    the go runs on the 835, so I’ll suspect santa cruz will be running on the 845..

  • impurekind

    Look, I actually came up with a track-pad motion controller style design many years ago*, so I have a personal appreciation for what a good track-pad implementation on a motion controller can do in principle, but even I am happy they went with the more traditional analog stick and face button design–it’s just the better solution for this kind of thing and offers more use-case usability.

    * (the original design for this was created before even the first Wiimote was ever shown to the public)