After years of refinement, HTC and Valve have brought their best to the table with the HTC Vive.
Earlier this week, one of my HTC Vive controllers met the office wall for the first time. As a result of the impact, the inbuilt touchpad disconnected from the base of the controller, while destroying a microswitch in the process.
After recovering from the tragedy, I decided to open up the HTC Vive controller to fix it back up. In the process, I discovered that the controller's internals are an amalgamation of Valve and HTC's former endeavors. With a lot of components previously seen in other consumer devices, I've broken down my biggest findings into a breakdown of the world's leading handheld virtual reality controller.
The HTC Vive's tracking heavily relies on infrared light emitted by two fixed base stations and due to this, the headset and controllers are packed with sensors. With these emitters projecting infrared signals, an array of sensors on these devices can accurately track their location in relation to the stations. To provide the most immersive virtual reality experiences, the HTC Vive and its accessories must offer the best possible tracking.
Even if you're yet to pick up an HTC Vive controller, it's immediately clear how much technology has been crammed into the device. Covered in infrared sensing cavities, the outer housing protects a number of new technologies. Each dip retains an infrared filter, which attempts to strip down incoming light to the guiding beams emitted by the HTC Vive's base stations.
Sitting atop of the controller, we can see a majority of its interactable buttons and surfaces. The larger circular plane is the controller's touchpad, that works similarly to the one seen on Valve's own Steam Controller. There is a reason for this similarity, which we'll come back to later.
Other input methods include the System and Menu buttons located either end of the touchpad.
On the underside of the device lays an outstanding trigger button, which is frequently used like a left-click during menu navigation and in-game. At the bottom of the controller are two Grip buttons, which have been placed to be easy pushed by clenching the controller's base.
When it came to opening the HTC VIve's outer shell, it became clear that HTC hasn't cut any corners with the Vive's build quality. After navigating through a labyrinth of Torx screws and glue, I was able to get a closer look at the components within the casing.
As expected, the HTC Vive controllers house some pretty mind-boggling tech. Filled to the brim with circuit boards and sensors, it's interesting to see how tightly HTC has packed its components. Each of the green circuit boards arranged around the controller's ring houses one of its 24 sensors.
The controller's sensors are fixed to two separate rings, which separate to reveal a connecting ribbon running inside. It's interesting to see how tightly these two rings clip together, to ensure tracking details aren't skewed during the controller's reassembly. These sensors are evenly distributed across the top and bottom of the controller, including two sensors hidden in the center.
Moving on the main circuit board, we can see the brains of the controller lay with NXP's LPC11U3x 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller and Lattice's iCE40 HX FPGA. Motion tracking is aided by InvenSense's MPU-6500 Six-Axis, which integrates a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope into a single unit. Located next to this is a Micron M25P40 3V 4Mb low-power Serial Flash Embedded Memory unit. It appears that some of these components have similarities with those seen within the headset.
The controller is powered by a 960 mAh Li-poly battery, which sits tightly against the backside of the circuit board. This is recharged using the Micro USB port located at the bottom of the unit.
One of the more intriguing pieces of kit contained inside the HTC Vive's controller is the inbuilt touchpad, which provides an ergonomic swiping input. This touchpad tracks the location of the user's finger, with a single click registered by a microswitch hidden below.
If the controller's touchpad feels familiar, this is likely because its internals are nearly identical to those of Steam Controller. With both powered by a Cirque 1CA027 companion microcontroller, the underlying tracking is managed by a number of identical components.
While it sucks that I'm out a controller, the inside of this thing is undeniably cool. Hopefully nothing else in this kit needs disassembling anytime soon, but we'll be here to share it if and when the time comes!