Since announcing the ‘Knuckles’ controller prototype all the way back in 2016, Valve has been relatively quiet about its progress outside of a select group of developers who have been experimenting with early development kits. That changed this week as Valve offered up a major information dump, showcasing the latest Knuckles dev kit with a significant design overhaul, alongside a new tech demo designed to demonstrate what the controllers are capable of.

If you haven’t been following closely, let’s recap up to this point. While the HTC Vive shipped with its wand controllers back in 2016, Valve revealed later that year that it was developing a brand new VR controller, dubbed ‘Knuckles’, which aimed to make VR interactions more intuitive and immersive by rethinking how users should hold and interact with their input device. Though early indications suggested Valve was on a smart path with this new VR controller approach, it was apparently quite early in the development of the device, as its been a solid year and eight months since that initial reveal, with still no indication of when the controllers might come to market.

However, this week Valve made a major info dump on Knuckles, revealing the very latest dev kit, dubbed ‘EV2’, which brings big changes to prior prototypes while looking all around much closer to being a finished product. The company says “hundreds of developers” will soon have their hands on EV2 to begin experimenting with input and offering feedback for further improvements.

EV2’s most immediately apparent change is to its visible inputs. Earlier versions of Knuckles were built around the large trackpad paradigm that was central to the design of the original Vive controllers. EV2 on the other hand introduces a thumbstick and more centralized buttons, and significantly shrinks the trackpad down into what Valve is calling a ‘track button’: a smaller trackpad surface which rests between the stick and the buttons. From Valve’s latest posts on the new controllers, the decision to add a thumbstick appears to have been driven in a large part by feedback from developers—Oculus heard something similar when they made a large trackpad the primary input mechanism on early versions of the Santa Cruz controllers.

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But there’s more to EV2, both on the outside and under the hood. The outward appearance looks much more polished and closer to consumer-ready than previous versions of Knuckles, now with SteamVR Tracking sensors hidden completely under the controller’s housing. An ergonomic overhaul aims to fit a wider variety of hands (Valve says they’re targeting hand sizes between the 5th and 95th percentiles); along with a ‘tracking fin’ which offers more room, the strap which holds the controller to the hand has seen adjustments to its shape and now has an adjustment which lets users change the position of the top mounting point for a customized fit.

Image courtesy Valve

Beneath its exterior, EV2 still has plenty of newness. While previous versions of Knuckles used capacitive sensing to track the position of the user’s fingers along the grip of the controller, a new force sensor, which detects actual grip force, further enhances the controller’s ability to understand what a user’s hand is doing, and its ability to bring that information into the virtual world.

The track button also has a force sensor which, combined with haptics, can simulate the click of a button (whereas the original Vive controllers have a trackpad with an actual button click). The thumbstick and face buttons also have capacitive sensing, making it easy for the controller to know where the user’s fingers are at all times, and represent that information in the virtual world.

Valve says they’ve spent significant effort to fuse all of the sensing information from the controllers together to make it easier for developers to understand user intent, especially with regard to actions like picking up, dropping, and throwing objects. The company has devised a system which dynamically interprets sensor input to understand the difference, for example, between a user wanting to drop an object vs. simply relaxing their grip on it. Thanks to the strap design, Knuckles is made to allow users to fully release the controller for a natural throwing motion. Valve seems very proud of what they’ve been able to achieve with regard to intuitive input, calling EV2 “a new step in natural and precise VR interaction.”

To demonstrate what the controller can do, Valve created a new tech demo called Moondust. Set in the ‘Portal’ universe, Moondust is a playground for EV2, where users can experience the force sensor by grabbing and crushing moon rocks, use the new thumbstick by driving a remote controlled moon buggy, precisely assemble a space station, and get a feel for natural throwing by tossing grenades in the throwing range.

Moondust won’t work without Knuckles controllers, which makes sense considering it’s designed to help developers understand the capabilities of Knuckles EV2 as they begin to experiment with how the controllers could enhance their own content.

– – — – –

While there’s still no word on when Knuckles will launch to consumers, nor any indication of price, these latest details from Valve show a rapidly maturing device both in functionality and production readiness. And while we’d love to see them sooner rather than later, there’s a good argument to be made that they won’t debut until Valve is ready to launch one of their upcoming VR games, which may not happen for some time yet.

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  • MarquisDeSang

    2 years too late and it’s not even close to being release to the public. Nobody will pay twice the price for an inferior product to Rift.

    • Michał Wachułka

      I will.

    • M Rob

      100% Day 1 purchase.

    • JJ

      I will. wow Marquis is wrong again? im so shocked….

    • Martin Petersson

      I’ll buy it as soon as it comes out.

    • Laurence Nairne

      Gotta hand it to Marquis, he didn’t mention Oculus Go this time…

    • Get Schwifty!

      You seriously underestimate the Vive loyalty out there…. its every bit as strong as Rifts if not worse… they will put up with wands for years in the hopes these will come out one day.

      • David Herrington

        No need to have Vive loyalty when Valve is producing these and maybe an HMD in the future.

        • Laurence Nairne

          I don’t see Valve releasing a consumer headset any time soon. Their game is software. They created a reference design so that other manufacturers could pick up the gauntlet and carry it to the market. They’re happy to just pool all the collective resources of other HMD creators and provide the platform that controls the experiences.

          That being said I don’t see them stopping R&D in the hardware space any time soon and they seem to be having a second crack at market ready controllers so who knows!

    • Hello comic relief :3

    • Andrew Jakobs

      well, other sources say valve said it will have shipping info ‘real soon’.. So it might still release this year.. but I do hope it doesn’t require you to have the original vive.. (it doesn however require lighthouse)..

  • Luke

    can you click the thumbtick?

    • benz145

      The tiny trackpad, which Valve is calling a ‘track button’, no longer has a real click, but can simulate one using a force sensor and haptics (similar to the faux Home button on modern iPhones).

      • David Herrington

        That is actually the first thing I thought of when that was mentioned in the article. It makes sense as many people were having issues with the pad “breaking” due to the rubber moving under that pad. A solid state pad like this can’t have this issue.

  • Ethan James Trombley

    Can’t wait! I prefer my Rift for a number of games atm, however, these controllers will change that. Unless Valve is Valve and each controller releases at $199.

    • G-man

      when has valve ever overcharged on hardware? i think you are thinking of htc.

  • Engineer_92

    I wonder if there will be anyway to rig compatibility with the Rift?? Probably not :/

    • Get Schwifty!

      Maybe so actually…. these are not really pitched as Vive specific, implying there is a desire to actually be engaged in multiple solutions.

    • G-man

      you can already use a rift headset and vive controllers. you’d just need oculus cameras and steamvr lighthouses. but i dont know why you would ever do that.

      • Must be that good eh? :)

        • G-man

          i can understand someone with a rift wanting to use knuckles. but i dont think anyone is going to buy a rift to use it with their knuckles :P

    • Andrew Jakobs

      the controllers will be compatible with lighthouse 1, but I do hope these controllers will actually really support regular Bluetooth instead of the proprietary variant it’s using with the current controllers..

  • Lucidfeuer

    Still too bulky, I don’t understand the redundancy between the strap and antenna…but better than the Wand no doubt.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Still too bulky, I don’t understand the redundancy between the strap and antenna…but better than the Wand no doubt. Skeletal Input however is crazy.

    • benz145

      Check out the first GIF in the article — the strap keeps the controller attached to the hand even when the user opens their hand. This is a core part of the design — they want users to be able to make a natural grabbing motion to initiate a grab, and they necessitates being able to release the controller. The ‘antenna’ isn’t an antenna actually, it’s added surface area to make room for more tracking sensors, similar to the bands on Touch.

      • Mike

        “necessitates being able to release the controller”
        Speaking of which – when are they gonna release the controller? 2020?

      • Lucidfeuer

        That’s why the strap and “antenna” are redundant. If it’s only a tracking-sensor placeholder, a design with a semi-rigid strap that accommodates both the hand and additional sensor would have been smarter. I know I’m being finicky but I can’t help but notice the extra component, space, bulk and redundancy.

        • DeeHawk

          There’s no redundancy in making straps easily replaceable.

    • gothicvillas

      Its not a finished product :)

      • kontis

        but it’s most likely a finished design.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        According to other sources, this is close as to finished design, they’ll announce shipping info ‘real soon’..

    • kontis

      smaller size would degrade tracking precision and significantly reduce comfort for larger hands.

      • Lucidfeuer

        With the strap, larger hands are not a problem, however tracking precision on a smaller surface could be.

    • Gus Bisbal

      Peoples hands come in different sizes. The “Antenna” you describe must be a rigid fixed very precise geometry. It cannot vary per user. The strap allows for a custom fit per hand. Additional to this, for user comfort, the part that holds the controller to the hand cannot be completely rigid even if it fit the hand perfectly. The neoprene sleeve on the strap does this. The bulkyness you describe is as a result of the light house technology and the accuracy of triangulation. The sensors must be a particular distance from each other, that have to face enough of a visibility envelope, a minimal amount of sensors must face one direction at any one angle or else there is occlusion. Valve have the most accurate tracking of any VR company. The greatest improvement they can do is to be able to have more sensors close to each other and this will make the wands smaller. However the closer they are the smaller the triangulation calculation numbers are and the greater the error ie more jitter. This is why they have taken so much time to do this. Its not easy.

      • Lucidfeuer

        Couldn’t they ambiguate the core controller sensors triangulation with an on-the-fly (therefor adaptive) triangulation of the additional “antenna”? That’s challenging no doubt, but I’d want to know if they tried for the sake of a better, more compact design.

        The Vive is already complicated to carry, mount and set-up, it’d be a shame even their new controller is bulky enough to lose incentives in front of Oculuses or any other headsets.

        • Gus Bisbal

          Could they? Is that like could they have it run off of nuclear power? Well probably if enough time and money was invested. Can it do that right now? Fundamentally no. It cannot, it is built in a way that doesn’t allow it to do that.

          • Lucidfeuer

            You know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s “impossible” for mediocre people sure, but then somehow devises a smarter system usually by himself and for cheaper, and the opportunity is gone…

          • Gus Bisbal

            No one said impossible. Its just not how the technology works right now. Opportunities are not gone because there is a competitor. Far from it. Have you considered that just because they are not to your liking doesn’t mean the market doesn’t like them?

          • Lucidfeuer

            No I don’t, Vive numbers have proven mediocre enough over a significant number of years to spare that niche market “liking” argument”. This is not serious, “this is not how technology works right now” won’t cut it anymore for VR. But again it doesn’t matter…

  • impurekind

    I like the functionality but Valve needs to get some proper product designers in there to make it a bit more pleasing in terms of overall shape and design for the final product.

  • G-man

    why didnt they show these off at e3? do valve not understand marketing at all? i think they are so used to just making something and not having to market it. if they dont show off this is where vr is going then people arent going to buy into it as much.

    • benz145

      Because they don’t feel they’re ready to show consumers. When the time comes they will, just like they did ahead of the launch of the Vive at GDC.

      • G-man

        was that valve though, or was it htc?

        valve are just notoriously bad at showing what they are working on. their whole steam machine idea was a complete flop because it needed to appeal t a mass audience, but they did nothing to make anyone interested in it

        they have clearly become way too spoiled by the fact they havent had to market anything they have done in the past.

    • kontis

      Valve unveiled only one game in this century at E3 – left 4 dead 2. Everything else was announced in different ways, even HL2 and Portal 2 (despite near E3 timing).
      Valve wasn’t present at E3 for many, many years.

      Gabe finds media conferences pointless and a waste of time. This is why he only allows devs to come to Steam Dev Days.

  • Zach Mauch

    Hallelujah, they finally heard the near universal cry from users across the world that they want thumbsticks and not just trackpads. This is very good and will lead to a more universal input design in conjunction with Oculus.

    • Tenka

      I like how they basically “begrudgingly” kept some form of trackpad in the form of a “track button” … which I’m pretty sure is going to wind up being completely ignored and just used as a button by most devs.

      Just give it up Valve… trackpads are fucking garbage … you wasted your time .. get over it.

  • VR4EVER

    Its all great and such, but what took them 16 months? Considering they already had an early working prototype and they are still in a „development“-state, they might go down the Vive2 in 2020 with knuckles-bundle route …

    • Trip

      Oculus took a rather long time to get Touch out as well. Not near as long as this but it was still a surprisingly long wait from “nearly finished” to retail.

    • Hardware is a surprisingly finicky undertaking. So many interdependencies, and then you so often have to test something in its close-to-final form before you realise that you need to revise one critical aspect. Then repeat. Tooling can take months to be ready… We’ve been working on our product for years, flat out. And thought on numerous occasions that we’ll be ready “in a few months”..

  • Cat of Many Faces

    WANT.

  • Trip

    So excited! I hope these come soonish, having switched from Oculus to Vive the wands drive me mad. They are absolutely, positively awful. The Oculus Touch I would say are excellent, but these will kick them down a notch from the look of things. I can’t believe Valve finally decided to acknowledge the outcry against track pads, though it’s a little funny they still didn’t manage to let them go completely, stubbornly leaving a little tiny one on the controller! =P

    • Trip

      Also, I really wish they’d take another cue from Oculus and give us swappable batteries. I guess it doesn’t speak well for me but it’s not uncommon for my wands to run out of battery before I’m really ready to end my VR session. Oculus I just swapped out the AA’s and keep right on playing.

    • kuhpunkt

      Letting go of them would be a huge mistake. You can’t scroll/browse properly with a stick.

      • Trip

        Perhaps, but I never felt like I needed anything like a track pad when using Oculus Touch. I guess maybe if you browse extensively in VR… but then I’d likely add a mouse type scroll wheel instead of a track pad thingy.

      • Tenka

        You dont need a stick or a pad to scroll/browse properly … you have motion controls .. you just fucking point at what you want.

        • Laurence Nairne

          Pointing is great until the UI is behind you. Stats show that a large percentage of users (read: *most*, with regards to the Rift) still sit down in VR.

          As soon as the number of options in the UI goes above what can be viewed in the forward 180 degrees, you need another solution to scroll through the menu.

          Yes there are other options, but scrolling touch pad is familiar and those other options aren’t necessarily better.

        • kuhpunkt

          That’s nowhere near as accurate.

  • David Wilhelm

    The offset stick is going to be less accurate and induce more fatigue than if the stick was centered under the thumb. The trackpad requires less lateral force and should be the offset input.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Thing looks more like the Touch controller now.. And from other sources, it would seem they’ll announce shipping dates ‘real soon’..

    • kuhpunkt

      Shipping to devs, not for retail.

  • Laurence Nairne

    I feel like hand cramp is going to be an issue for any experiences relying on that thumbstick. I found a quick test to be holding a mug handle in my right hand, then pushing my thumb to the right and trying to rotate an imaginary thumbstick. It wasn’t really comfortable.

    Granted having an actual input to manipulate will be a better experiment.

    • David Herrington

      I love the idea behind the thumbstick but have to agree with you. Placing it in the upper right corner of the right controller is going to make it hard to reach and create fatigue quickly.

      But without a test article to try out it’s hard to say.

      • Laurence Nairne

        Yeah, I figure I at least have medium size hands, so people with shorter thumbs won’t stand a chance :D

        Oh well, time will tell!

  • MatBrady

    I’m going to skip the Vive Pro and wait for the Vive 2 with its knuckles controllers, mk2 towers, integrated wireless tech and the 3 Valve games.

    I loved getting into the VR experience early, but there’s not been enough time for devs to make something truly decent yet. As fun as VR is, it’s just not ready for prime time. When HTC/Valve comes out with their Vive 2, that’s about the time many other devs will have something worth playing, like Insomniac’s Stormland, or Stress Level Zero’s Hall of the Machine King, etc. That will be the time to get back into it again. In the meantime, I’ll still have access to some fun VR stuff so it won’t feel like I’m being completely left out of the VR universe.

    I think it’s just crazy that you can currently upgrade the Vive lenses with GearVR lenses and you get no god rays and a larger sweet spot. The Vive is looking very old right now and the over-priced Vive Pro with its legacy fresnel lenses and tether is just a bad purchase and certainly not the next leap we were all hoping for.

    Patience is a virtue so for the next couple of years I’ll just play in Virtue Reality. :D

    Also, fuck Valve. Gabe didn’t have the decency to finish the HL legacy for the fans. What. A. Dick. He has become the George Lucas of the games industry. Yes, I’ll buy their games if they ever make any more, but seriously, what a dick…

  • HybridEnergy

    Day 1 purchase for me

  • Raphael

    Knuckles didn’t choose a life of crime, it chose him.