Virtual Reality hit this year, bringing the hopes of a new type of gaming experience with it. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift both offer high-end VR experiences, yet the steep price tag, limited library, and the need for a gaming PC held them back. Sony is now dipping its toes into the fledgling VR space with their PlayStation VR. This mid-range headset starts at $400USD ($549CAD) for the standalone unit, or $499 USD ($699CAD) for the full bundle with everything you need to get started. The PSVR is also launching with a series of titles from the industry’s top developers, with more on the way soon. While PlayStation VR is not as powerful as the other headsets on the market, it is possibly the best case hardware makers have made that VR is ready to be a consumer product.
Aesthetically, the PlayStation VR looks like something you would see in a Hollywood movie. While it may have a similar basic shape to the competition, the round lines, blue lights and sleek black-and-white look make it stand out from the crowd. Sony has managed to make something that looks not only consumer friendly but new and exciting as well. Putting on the headset, you instantly look like you were plucked out of a deleted scene from Tron. Combine all that with memory foam padding and a single cable out of the back of the headset, and you have one of the most elegant, easy-to-use headsets to date.
The inside of the PlayStation VR demonstrates the level of care and craftsmanship we have come to expect from Sony and the PlayStation brand. Foam padding on the front and back head supports feel comfortable, even after extended sessions. The thin, rubbery material at the front of the headset allows the PlayStation VR to sit comfortably over the face, and unlike the foam gaskets seen on other headsets such as the Rift and Vive, I found there were less issues with sweat or discomfort. This means the Sony PlayStation VR is much more conducive to sharing one headset at a party or gathering. You will still need to wipe it down after each player, but it will be a much less tedious task.
Moving on to the inner workings of the headset, the PlayStation VR utilizes two lenses that sit atop a 5.7 inch, 1080p OLED 120hz, 90hz display. While this may sound impressive, it is significantly less than the 2,160 x 1,200 display seen on the HYC Vive and the Oculus Rift. When you have a screen pressed close to your face, resolution is very important. While it will not ruin the experience by any means, it will cause a slight bit of a screen door effect (the visuals look as if they are being viewed through a screen). It is also important to note that the PlayStation VR has a smaller field of only 100 degrees compared to the 110 seen on the Vive and Rift. The PSVR comes equipped with the same Sixaxis gyroscope found in PlayStation controllers and a built-in mic that can be used for different purposes during gameplay.
The single cord of the PlayStation VR headset features an easy-to-use inline remote and headphone jack. These allow you to change the audio volume and easily turn on and off the headset. While testing the PSVR, I enjoyed using my sound system in many of the games. The ability to plug in a set of earphones and control the volume while in VR was a nice touch and one that I found far easier to utilize compared to other headsets.
Beyond the core PSVR unit, there are a few additional pieces you will need to get your full VR setup working. Within the base package, you’ll find the PlayStation Processor Unit. This tiny, PS4-looking box does much of the work for the second screen aspect of the PSVR. It also allows friends and family to watch as you take part in the virtual reality action, along with taking part in multiplayer on the second screen for a selection of games, all on the same console.
If you are an avid PlayStation owner, you may have some PlayStation Move controllers and a PlayStation Camera lying around. Everyone else will need to invest in these additional pieces of hardware if you do not pick up the $499 USD ($699CAD) bundle. It is amazing to think that Sony managed to revive what many people thought was dead technology from 2010 and reutilize it for VR. What’s even more astounding is seeing how well it all actually works. The PlayStation Move controllers feel made for VR, and despite some minor nitpicks, they actually perform almost as well as the controllers found on the Vive. However, the lack of a directional pad or thumbstick is a bit of an oversight, considering the current lineup of VR titles.
Setup is, for the most part, painless. If you’ve ever set up the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, there is nothing new here that would be much of a challenge. If you follow the simple setup, and plug in the needed wires to the Processor Unit and the headset, and ensure everything is kept neat and tidy, and you will be up and running with VR in under 30 minutes. PlayStation has done a great job trying to keep things simple, but even with this, if you are using VR there will be a lot of cables around your living room. If you plan on living the VR lifestyle, you’ll have to get used to this.
You will need at least a 1.9m X 3.0m box of space for the actual VR space to operate as intended. While most games do not utilize this space fully (mainly involve you remaining seated during gameplay), there are a few select games, such as Batman Arkham VR, that will make use of a semi-room-scale style setup and force you to walk around to experience the world. It is not nearly as immersive as what the HTC Vive offers, but for mass-market products, it works as intended.
“Sony with the PlayStation VR has built a headset that has the potential to be something special…”
Now that everything is set up, and your living room is your new VR playscape, the real question is how the PlayStation actually performs. Despite some minor tracking issues, I was pleasantly surprised by Sony’s full VR package. Once you place the PS VR goggles on your head and press the power button, you will quickly learn how easy the PlayStation VR is to experience the virtual world. The first time you enter VR, Sony will take you through a simple tutorial to ensure you have the optimal experience.
The full setup tutorial takes under 5 minutes, and once done, you will find yourself looking at the PlayStation 4 dashboard. Sony has not done anything to optimize this interface, and they really did not need to. The simple box-like structure built for the PS4 works very well in VR. The Dualshock 4 and the PlayStation Move controllers move easily through the interface with ease, and jumping into games is just a simple click of the X button.
Most of the games on offer, such as BattleZone, SuperHyperCube, Job Simulator, Batman: Arkham VR, and parts of PlayStation VR Worlds show off how VR is a transformative experience for how you can experience games. However, others outline the limitations of the hardware in its current form.
Games such as Scavenger’s Odyssey and VR Luge, all part of PlayStation VR Worlds, managed to now only cause slight motion sickness due to the way you are forced to interact with the experiences but also put on display the lack of graphical fidelity that we have come to expect from the PlayStation 4 up to this point. It is not to say they look bad, they just manage to look less good than games on the Vive or the Oculus Rift, and will take players out of an immersive experience.
Tracking issues also were noticed in select games. While playing though The London Heist in a room with optimal lighting, I found my Move controller would be far less responsive, at times losing tracking all together. At one point my hand floated off into the virtual distance as I was trying frantically to perfect a shooting sequence. It managed to regain tracking, but not until after I had already failed the mission.
None of the issues I experienced were game-breaking, per say, but they do show the limits of the Sony system, and could take players out of an otherwise fun game. It is hard to say if some of the issues could be mitigated with future firmware updates or if it is an inherent problem with the hardware Sony is using, but hopefully, they can come up with a fix.
That all being said, the PlayStation VR was a pleasure to use. I found myself spending much more time in the games on offer than I have on previous headsets. Combine that with a solid launch library and PlayStation VR is the new headset to beat. Once set up, the PlayStation VR was easy to turn on and jump into a game. Tracking worked far better than I originally expected, and the games on offer at launch were largely fun to play.
With over 40 million PlayStation 4’s now in the wild, a VR headset that can take advantage of a new breed of game with only a small additional investment is a dream come true to many players dying to jump into VR. Sony is in the best position to make VR mainstream, and if this device is any indication, they are making the right moves, but despite it being cheaper than the competition, it is not a cheap device. Costing over $400 USD, this is not an inexpensive investment, and while the games are enjoyable, I have not yet seen anything that can compare to Uncharted 4 or Overwatch.
As with any new piece of technology, there is also the fear of continued support. Sony has managed to capture the VR word of mouth, and while this is great for a fledgling industry, it is hard to tell how healthy it will be if they cannot make a major dent in their install base. Developers need devices in people’s hands, and much like Kinect, if no one uses it or buys games, the development dollars will quickly run out.
Sony has built the first truly mass-market VR Headset that has the potential to hit a millions of Sony fans. If you jump in with an open mind, you will have a fun time exploring VR worlds. While the games are not groundbreaking, they give a picture of things to come, and that future is very exciting indeed. Sony with the PlayStation VR have built a headset that has the potential to be something special, and I am excited to see what they brings to it next.