Watch Windows VR Controllers Stand up to ‘Beat Saber’s’ Hardest Song


While high-end headsets like the Rift and Vive use external sensors for positional tracking, the Windows VR headsets use a fully ‘inside-out’ solution which eliminates the need for external trackers and simplifies setup, but certainly makes hand-tracking more challenging. While the Windows VR headsets are often criticized for the precision of their hand-tracking, I was surprised to find how well they hold up in practice even with a fast paced, highly active game like Beat Saber (2018).

All of the Windows VR headsets use a pair of cameras on the front of the headset for positional head tracking, and generally that’s considered top notch. The same cameras are also used to look for glowing LEDs on the Windows VR motion controllers to determine their position. However, when the user’s hand leaves the field of view of the camera, the system can only make rough guesses about the position of the controllers, and when they come back into view, it needs to quickly correct their position.

Certainly there are edge cases where this sort of occlusion issue makes the Windows VR controllers sub-par compared to tracking systems with external sensors, but in practice they actually hold up quite well.

When it comes to Beat Saber, the game is nearly a worst-case scenario for the Windows VR controllers. Users move their hands quickly, constantly, and often outside of the field of view of the tracking cameras, frequently crossing arms and causing additional occlusion. When I set out to see how the Windows VR controller tracking held up in Beat Saber, I expected they might be ok for lower difficulties, but never thought they’d cut it for Expert, the most difficult setting on the game. After using a Lenovo Explorer [Amazon] with Windows motion controllers to beat the game’s hardest song (Balearic Pumping) on Expert, I was pleasantly surprised:

To be clear, I was playing the song here exactly as I would have with other controllers, overhead arm flails and all. And while I was a few notes short of a perfect combo, I didn’t feel like any of the missed notes were the fault of the tracking.

More so than the tracking performance, the things that detracted most from playing the game at a high level with the Windows VR motion controllers was the mushy haptics and the ergonomics of the controller. The haptics felt like they weren’t triggering right, which reduced the feedback from the game telling me when I landed a cut correctly. Meanwhile, the poor ergonomics of the handle didn’t sit in my hand as well as the Rift or Vive controllers. I ended up scooting my hand downward and avoiding the trigger entirely in order to find the grip that felt like it offered me the best control.

Exclusive: 'Beat Saber' Creators Break Down Every Track – Soundtrack Now Available

Speaking with Beat Saber creator Jan “Split” Ilavsky, I learned that while the game’s hit detection model does include a bit of an assist, it’s identical across all input devices.

A look at the underlying logic behind slicing a cube in ‘Beat Saber’. The teal boxes indicate where hits can register. | Image courtesy Hyperbolic Magnetism

He told me that he spent a few days tweaking the hit detection model to get it to feel just right, and the game actually uses two bounding boxes for hit detection: one that’s larger than the actual cube on screen, and one that’s smaller. The larger box is only eligible for ‘good’ cuts, while the inner box can see a ‘good’ cut or a ‘bad’ cut; the end result, Ilavsky says, is a reduction in the frequency of ‘why did I miss?’ moments compared to using a model which relies on the actual geometry of the cube.

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Check out our Early Access review of Beat Sabersomething we dubbed a ‘VR rhythm game for budding Jedi Knights.’

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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."
  • Alundre

    Impressive! I played with an Odyssey for a bit last night and also didn’t have any issues with the controller tracking though I am not anywhere near good enough yet to play on extreme yet.

  • MarquisDeSang

    MR is the only VR that has infinite tracking.

  • JCat_NY

    Tracking has become close to a non-issue with all the latest updates.

  • Nino

    Same experience with Dell controllers here, although so far just on normal – bottom line is feels absolutely natural no matter what i do, which is all i need

  • PJ

    I feel like I need this game all of a sudden

  • Augusto

    The tracking is nearly perfect. The only problem i had so far was using 2 handed weapons in GornVR, but not a single problem in any other game i tried.

  • PJ

    I only hear good things about the tracking on these WMR headsets, the recent updates of the Windows Headset app on steam seem to have done wonders for them, tempted to pick one up to see for myself

  • Xyanyde Xemtex

    My Acer wmr works perfectly with this game.

  • Draxonic

    You think that’s hard… that’s cute. If you’ve mastered the hardest song in the game then it’s time to step up to the big boys league, install the mods and try some songs that are REALLY hard. :D

  • Tefen Ca

    WMR HP 1440 model.
    System Specs:
    Core i7 7700K
    GTX 980
    32 GB DDR4 3200Mhz
    NVMe M.2 Crucial P1 500
    Corsair HX 850i
    CPU & GPU custom water loop cooled with 240 & 360 radiators.
    Game settings are fully optimized for minimal monitor output & max performance to WMR.

    I see a real mixed bunch of opinions when it comes to WMR controller tracking. After many months of use on Space Pirate Trainer & Beat Saber I can personally say that I find the tracking to be rather 1/2-ast. In Space Pirate Trainer the tracking of the shields often lags/loses tracking if you don’t hold it out in front of your face enough, likely due to the “inside out tracking” method.

    As for Beat Saber, it is decent but nothing near the quality of the HTC Vive which gives a nice fluid smooth tracking. The WMR often cuts in/out of displaying the saber on screen & it will jump/teleport it’s location as the tracking picks back up it’s location. I have had so many missed block issues from the tracking issues. Now don’t get me wrong, with optimal conditions it does at least work well enough to complete some songs on hard & sometimes expert with 0 missed blocks & the tracking issues are aprox 1/50-100 blocks & sometimes the blocks still get cut even though the saber’s visual tracking cuts in/out. So I know it’s not a skill issue or that something is setup wrong. My guess might be that the room lighting needs to be very bright which mine is only about a medium amount. It does seem ridiculous that HTC Vive works excellent in low-lighting conditions but even at medium light the WMR is rather lacking for tracking in my opinion.

    This lead to finding out that WMR heavily relies on certain variables such as the room lighting, detail of walls etc. in the room, battery level of controllers, how fast you swing the controllers, & if they knock into any objects. Just a medium knocking of the controller can result in total loss of tracking & sometimes require turning it off/on. Swinging the controller too fast can also cause it to lose tracking. Having all plain white walls can cause tracking issues. Having low-lighting conditions can cause serious controller tracking issues, although you would expect the opposite since you would think it could see the lights on the controllers better.