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Dell is developing a controller for living room PC gaming

The Steam Deck is helping Valve's hardware ambitions more than ever, but once upon a time, the Newell family also wanted to own your living room. Even the Steam Controller and Steam Machine were never as popular as the Steam Deck, but as cloud gaming becomes more commonplace, new firms are stepping up to continue Valve's vision. At the CES of the previous year, Dell's Concept Nyx was introduced as an experimental, non-commercial home gaming server that essentially functions as a personal GeForce Now to broadcast your games across your home. Although Concept Nyx is still not for sale and the server's internals haven't changed much, Dell offered us some time with a new, more experimental, and not-for-sale controller it's testing to go along with it this year. Already, it has the makings of one of the most feature-rich and cozy ways to operate a PC from your couch.

Due to its dual haptic touchpads, the Steam Controller caused a stir when it was released. Dell has taken this to heart with its new concept controller. It features the same four-button, two-stick configuration that you are likely already accustomed to, as well as the same back paddles that you would find on high-end controllers like the Dualsense Edge. However, a single haptic touchpad that is touted to have a lot of functionality has been installed in place of the directional pad.

In essence, it serves as a radial menu for you. The touchpad can be used to enter a quick access menu of about eight PC settings by pressing a button (it is customizable). You decide which PC settings the radial menu accesses, and the intention is to provide you software control over those settings.

The Concept Nyx controller contains a touchpad—touchpads are included on Sony's controllers, after all—as well as two scroll wheels that work similarly to those on a mouse and are situated beneath the sticks. The back paddles can be used as shift buttons to temporarily switch the controller to new mapping schemes, which you will choose in the software. Dell is also experimenting with a fingerprint sensor for rapid log-ins.

The shoulder buttons on the controller, which offer tactile touch input and may function similarly to a scroll wheel, are arguably its most striking feature. Just running your finger over them will do.

Even more sophisticated features, such as the capacity to set individual thumb stick resistances, are still in the works. Although I was unable to try it, the controller is also reported to contain adaptable triggers similar to Sony's Dualsense, which would provide varying degrees of force for various in-game actions. When you pick up the controller, it's also meant to recognize you and immediately start playing whatever game you were last playing—possibly using the fingerprint reader—but I was unable to verify this.

Of course, this is all still just a concept, but the innovation here is encouraging, especially for folks who prefer to play games like MMOs with a controller or who detest using a wireless keyboard and mouse to operate a living room PC. I would place myself in each of those categories. At a Dell demo, when I got a chance to hold the Concept Nyx controller, I was unable to play any games with it, but I was pleased by the sturdy construction. When I demonstrated the haptics, scroll wheels, and scrolling shoulder buttons, they were all already functioning as expected, and it was simple to tell when a new virtual notch appeared whenever I passed my hand over the shoulder button.

We'll see whether this controller is ever genuinely available for purchase. As Concept UFO demonstrates, Dell's concepts frequently remain at that stage. But those who believed the controller form factor was already ideal are now facing a challenge.

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