PS5 Controller: What Haptic Feedback Actually Does

The PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller comes equipped with haptic feedback technology, which Sony said will allow players to physically feel things like “slow grittiness of driving a car through mud” as they happen on-screen. Despite this seemingly lofty claim, the PS5 controller’s haptic feedback technology isn’t particularly out-there, and the way it works compared to normal rumble vibration really does allow it to create more precise sensations.

Sony’s DualSense controller reveal finally gave fans a look at how the PS5 will be designed, and reactions were mixed. Many felt the controller’s two-toned design looked odd, and the overall rounder shape than traditional DualShock controllers drew criticism that the DualSense looked like an Xbox controller. It’s apparently a marked improvement over the DualShock 4, however, as Bethesda’s Pete Hines said it makes the PS4’s controller immediately forgettable.

Although the DualSense’s overall shape plays a big role in this, many of its improvements over the PS4 controller come in the form of its new internal components. The PS5 controller has a built-in microphone, new “adaptive triggers,” and, most importantly, haptic feedback. Here’s how this rumble tech works versus what’s available now.

How The PS5 Controller’s Haptic Feedback Differs From Normal Rumble

What controller manufacturers call “haptic feedback” is really just one advanced form of haptic technology. The vibration felt in the N64 Rumble Pack, for example, is technically still considered “haptic feedback,” which simply refers to technology that creates a sense of touch through vibration or other means. What makes the PS5 controller’s haptic feedback different is the nuance of its vibration motors. Inside each grip of a PS4 controller, there is a large motor with a half-moon-shaped weight, capable of spinning at various speeds and for various durations. These motors can help create immersion-enhancing vibration, but they’re fairly crude and aren’t able to start and stop very precisely.

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According to WIRED’s hands-on PlayStation 5 reveal, the PS5 uses “highly programmable” voice-coil actuators to deliver vibration. These little motors are the same kind of technology that allows speakers to vibrate and create sound, which means they’re able to produce much more precise movements than the larger, spinning rumble motors. WIRED writer Peter Rubin said the PS5 controller’s actuators enabled him to feel “distinct – and surprisingly immersive – tactile experiences” in Astro Bot Rescue Mission.

“Sand felt slow and sloggy; mud felt slow and soggy. On ice, a high-frequency response made the thumbsticks really feel like my character was gliding. Jumping into a pool, I got a sense of the resistance of the water; on a wooden bridge, a bouncy sensation.”

This won’t be the first time haptic feedback like this finds its way into a game controller. The triggers of Microsoft’s Xbox One controllers provide a form of haptic response, and the Switch’s “HD Rumble” is just a very Nintendo way of saying “haptic feedback.” In fact, PlayStation’s Toshi Aoki told WIRED Sony could have implemented haptic feedback with the launch of the PS4 Pro, but it didn’t want to create a “split experience” for those with and without the upgraded controllers.

The big question now is how well and how often the DualSense’s haptic feedback will actually be used. Players can probably expect Sony’s first-party games to take advantage of the tech, but it’s hard to say whether third-party developers will have the time, resources, or incentive to do the same, which could make one of the PS5 controller’s most intriguing features mostly unused.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article stated Sony replaced DualShock 4-style rumble motors with voice-coil actuators in the DualSense, but the company has not said whether the PS5 controller still includes the old motors in addition to the new actuators.

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The PlayStation 5 will launch sometime in the 2020 holiday season.

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