Meta Quest 2: Hand tracking 2.0 is much improved, but not perfect
At the end of April, Meta released a patch for Quest 2 for hand tracking 2.0. Will this make VR games like Unplugged or Cubism more grippy?
Meta continues to provide its Quest 2 with software improvements in an exemplary manner. Version 39.0 brought smoother, more accurate hand tracking as of April 11, which should still be able to track hands even when crossed.
After the latest update, the supported games are supposed to run much more precisely, with a better grip, and less prone to errors. So I dove into all those titles whose development studios had already experimented with the new technology before the official launch. The creators of Cubism, Hand Physics Lab, Vacation Simulator, and Unplugged already raved about their innovations on the Oculus blog.
Cubism: Relaxed hand tracking puzzles
My favorite with Hand tracking 2.0 is clearly the timelessly beautiful 3D puzzle game Cubism by Thomas Van Bouwel. Reminiscent of Tetris or wooden patience games, it's an ideal fit for hand tracking with your own fingertips. Once I've picked up two blocks, I can easily flip them over, merge them, and even cross them over.
Here, covering each other's fingers or hands rarely leads to tracking dropouts - when the puzzle pieces are in hand. When I put the blocks away, my virtual fingers sometimes get stuck in the air for a few tenths of a second.
Overall, Cubism plays much more accurately and relaxed with hand tracking 2.0: The developer was so pleased that he disabled the originally used motion smoothing. This ensures higher precision without sudden outliers. Hand tracking 2.0 in Cubism is great.
Hand Physics Lab
I am somewhat less impressed with the implementation in Dennys Kuhnert's Hand Physics Lab with its numerous fancy physics puzzles. I'm mainly surprised that I can't cross my fingers as easily as the trailer suggests.
During gestures like clapping or finger stroking, my hands always freeze briefly. One reason for this could be that I can fade in bone structure, tracking points and the like very precisely here if desired: Thus, tracking errors become visible more quickly. Furthermore, handling wobbly objects and slightly slippery fingers is part of the game design.
Nevertheless, the movements have become noticeably more precise, especially when 90 Hertz is enabled in the options. Thus, it is no longer quite as nerve-wracking to color virtual Easter eggs or to align the arms and legs of wobbly figures.
The humorous Vacation Simulator seems to benefit from the fact that I only move clunky gloves here. Crossed arms hardly cause any visual errors compared to Hand Physics Lab. This makes the formerly almost unplayable beach ball halfway passable: I set a few new high scores right away.
When building sand castles, I have once again found that covering my hands does not cause any problems, especially when I am holding something in my hand. In this case, it's blocks that only freeze briefly in motion when they're one behind the other. Calmer activities like taking pictures or building castles go quite smoothly anyway.
Vacation Simulator has already received support for hand tracking at the end of 2020. I still prefer the motion controls for this VR game. However, hand tracking is now a viable alternative once you get used to it.
Unplugged: Air Guitar
I still haven't really warmed up to Unplugged: Air Guitar. I admire Anotherway and Vertigo Games for such a lovingly staged music game that relies entirely on hand controls. As a person with little motor skills, I'd rather drum furiously on Ragnarock's clear-cut drums than catch a floating guitar neck with my fingertips.
Unplugged can't compensate for the lack of haptics compared to Guitar Hero & Co. As a beginner, I now at least have the impression that my fingers get to the right chords faster while the other hand moves the pick.
In line with the improved responsiveness, Anotherway has optimized the balance. Meanwhile, there are faster changes of finger positions and a larger and more realistic number of notes. Crossing two hands causes the most dropouts compared to the other apps, but it is also not necessary with air guitar.
Hand tracking 2.0: No revolution, but noticeably better
So far, I've found the hand tracking on the Meta Quest 2 to be primarily a gimmick. Sure, it's spectacular what Meta and some game studios can get out of a piece of hardware that wasn't originally designed for hand tracking. Still, after a few experiments, I hardly felt the need to use hand tracking in everyday apps.
Meanwhile, I like the games with hand tracking 2.0 better. Tracking dropouts are still not fixed, especially when multiple fingers are involved. Still, it's a significant improvement. Especially slower puzzle games like Cubism benefit from it. As soon as things get more hectic, I prefer to stick with the controllers.
One exception is the fast-paced hand tracking shooter Rogue Ascent, which is designed from the ground up for hand tracking. In it, my fingertips turn into deadly weapons. This already works amazingly well in the beta, although the patch for hand tracking 2.0 for this VR game is not even ready yet.
As an owner of an accurate hand tracking module from Ultraleap, I'm eager to see how much better the hand tracking will be from Meta's upcoming VR headset, Cambria. The combination of cameras (one of them high-resolution) should significantly improve hand tracking and the video AR mode.
In the first demonstrations, Meta showed the device with hand tracking instead of controllers. This is an indication that the hands are to gain further importance as an interface.