DualSense towards Realistic Haptics

Sony’s Playstation 5 controller review by Actronika

By Thomas Begeot |
January 27, 2021

With its new console, Sony has taken the lead in terms of gaming experience thanks to the haptic technologies integrated into its controller.
We decided to do a deep-dive analysis of the DualSense controller haptics within the Playstation 5 ecosystem. This article is the first in a series on this subject.

Sony and Microsoft shipped their nextgen consoles in the last quarter of 2020. Sony came out with its Playstation 5 and Microsoft with its Xbox Series X. The two consoles are powered by high-end computing architectures that deliver 4K 60 fps ray-traced rendering. Both consoles provide a hardware platform at an accessible cost (400-500 €) that can compete with high-end personal computers (> 2000 €).

It is now the time for developers to tame those computing beasts.

The Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X are comparable in terms of computing power. The Sony product, however, boasts an upgraded hand controller called “DualSense”, a significant evolution from the previous DualShock controller. DualSense is loaded with high-end features such as: 

  • Adaptive Triggers
  • Vibrotactile actuators 
  • Microphone and speaker

This evolution is the result of a human-centric design effort intended to improve the user experience in virtual environments afforded by the remarkable improvement of the tactile feedback. The Playstation 5 controller does away with the all-too-familiar meaningless shake and traditional switches. Gone are the rumble-generating rotating motors; here comes the voice-coil transducer and the haptic trigger. At last! To create new experiences, game designers have access to quality vibrotactile feedback technologies.

Let’s dig a little deeper.


What is Haptics?

In a nutshell, haptics is the science of touch, gathering the tactile sensation, its perception and the action to create a sensory loop.

Touch can be discriminated into two main modalities, proprioception and vibrotactile. The first, also known as kinesthesia, is associated with the perception of our limbs in space and is generally emulated by the use of force feedback technologies. The second, still emerging, relies on the vibrations propagating through the body when our skin interacts with an object; vibrotactile haptics thus consists in the reproduction of these vibrations to produce a tactile illusion.

Moreover as well as vision and audition result from processes that take place in your brain - you do not only see with your eyes, nor do you only hear with your ears - this is also true of touch; you feel with your brain, not only with your fingers.


A constantly evolving market, led by majors

The enhancement of the gaming experience by vibrotactile sensations was identified by arcade game manufacturers as early as in the 1970’s. It took thirty years for the same functionality to become available in mass produced game consoles when two major players, Nintendo and Sony, released controllers featuring vibration-feedback in 1997.

By providing basic rumblers in their controllers, they enabled first-party games studios to add a new depth in their productions to enhance the immersion. The rumble can accompany the player interaction, like while shooting a weapon, or alert him, in tense scenes for instance. 

Years later, Nintendo introduced the HD Rumble in the Switch's JoyCon to make an attempt in improving the proposed haptic feedback. The vibrotactile actuator integrated in this device presents two resonant frequencies rather than a single one and has a shorter response-time for sharper tactile stimuli. Those actuators have been integrated in other controllers, like the one made by Valve for its gaming and VR ecosystem. While the haptic actuators characteristics improve, the available software API still diverges from a software to another. Designers expect some consistency on the rendering and the available hardware on the market may fail to provide that consistency; with the DualSense controllers, Sony takes a step further to tackle that issue by integrating modern vibrotactile actuators.


Actronika’s involvement in haptics

As a multi-modal processor, it is mandatory to correctly orchestrate all perceptual modalities so that the desired experience is elicited by our brain. Visual and audio technologies have been developed, industrialised, productized and standardized since a while and continue to evolve. Haptic technologies development has not reached those stages yet, but is in a major phase of evolution, similar to the black & white to color televisions evolution. 

At Actronika, we value that a high quality vibrotactile rendering will enable designers to create realistic virtual experiences in completion with other sensory modalities.
We engineered a complete hardware and software solutions to help you integrate such rendering : 

This article is the first of a series on a deep-dive analysis of the DualSense controller from the Playstation 5 ecosystem. The next one will focus on a teardown of the controller and an analysis of the tactile technologies integrated in.


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