Sony’s foray into the burgeoning world of virtual reality is one that by all accounts just shouldn’t work. Its components are of a lower specification than its PC-based competitors. It uses peripherals that in the case of the Move controllers are over five years old and its brain; well that’s a three year old gaming console that can have trouble pushing out a regular title at 60fps let alone maintaining the required 30+ fps per eye required for VR. Yet somehow, and full credit to Sony, it all works amazingly well.
…there’s a polish to PSVR that’s been lacking in many of the other offerings to date.
Retailing in Australia for A$549.95 PlayStation VR (PSVR) offers the most affordable way to experience VR in your home today. It does however require you to have a PS4 Camera (A$89.95) and optionally for that fully immersive experience the PS Move controllers (A$119.95). Meaning that price could all of sudden sneaks up to A$760 but even so it remains well shy of the Oculus Rift, which after exchange rates hovers around A$1000 (without controllers) and the HTC Vive at A$1350.
PSVR feels like a finished product too. PlayStation’s industrial design team deserve a huge amount of praise. PSVR is by far the most comfortable VR headset on the market today. It’s light weight, easily adjustable and for those visually challenged individuals such as myself an absolute dream in comparison to the suck-your-face-off nightmares that can be the Vive and Rift.
From the packaging to the instructions to the product itself there’s a polish to PSVR that’s been lacking in many of the other offerings to date.
PSVR’s differences don’t just end with its aesthetics either. Under the hood PSVR uses a single OLED panel instead of having two separate panels – one dedicated to each eye. Once split it provides a resolution of 960×1080 to each, lower than it’s competitor’s 1080×1200 meaning the PSVR has a slightly reduced field of view.
PSVR is by far the most comfortable VR headset on the market today.
PSVR’s refresh rate on the other hand is higher than both the Vive & Rift, capable of up to 120Hz compared to their 90Hz. It also has 3 subpixels per pixel instead of 2 meaning the dreaded “screen door effect” is all but gone. Another win for the little VR headset that could.
Setting up your PSVR is relatively straight forward. Again Sony’s seasoned product specialists are showing off their skills here. Each cable and component is well labelled and held within compartmentalised sections to make the process as easy as possible.
The headset itself is connected to what Sony call the PSVR’s “processing unit”. It’s a small, cylon looking box that takes your PS4’s HDMI signal and splits it, sending it to both the PSVR headset for the user to see and on to the TV your PS4 is normally plugged into as well.
This is an important little piece of hardware for PSVR. The split does two things. First it allows the PS4 to be used normally without requiring you to plug the PSVR headset in and out then secondly, and more importantly, it allows people who are watching you play join in on the fun too. For a product that in most households is going to be a part of your living room being able to enjoy or be a part of the VR experience regardless of if you’re the one wearing the headset or not is paramount.
I went balls to the wall and booted up Rez: Infinite… This my friends was a gloriously immersive and amazing huge tiny mistake – that I loved.
Downsides to this are of course the fact you have yet another box to add to your entertainment unit and, like a magician pulling ribbons from his nose, a never ending mess of cables to deal with.
The headset is powered on & off by a power button along with volume controls and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack to connect any standard headphones. Sony include a small pair of earbuds in the box with your PSVR that do a decent job and do so because many of your standard over-the-head headphones just wont stretch far enough to accommodate the PSVR’s added bulk.
Once “jacked-in” everything appears to be kind of the same. Sony have opted to not implement another layer on top of their standard PS4 GUI, the difference being that now the screen floats in front of you and as you look left to right or up and down it kind of hovers there like a digital billboard locked to your head movement.
Then you boot up a game and shit gets seriously real. I went balls to the wall and booted up Rez: Infinite, one of my favourite games of all time that’s been rebooted to coincide with the launch of PSVR. This my friends was a gloriously immersive and amazing huge tiny mistake that I loved.
Headset on, cut off from the outside world, you are truly, truly immersed. Rez provides a sci-fi, Tron-like, world that you float through shooting at enemies that when destroyed build upon the games 90’s electronica soundtrack. In VR this world is mesmerising, it’s fleshed out, it feels freaking real despite looking nothing like it and you’re a part of it! How cool is that?!
PlayStation VR’s best chance at success is ironically the same thing that’s holding it back; and that’s the PS4.
I finished the first level, which took about ten minutes, stopped the game and started to take the headset off, returning to reality. This was probably the most confronting experience. The room felt extra bright, despite being an overcast day, and I felt almost confused? Shocked back to the real world.
A co-worker who was watching my set it up and play in the office the day it arrived remarked that I looked “a little white”. I didn’t feel nauseous, there were moments throughout the game where I knew I was going that way but it was generally only briefly. Then I stood up. It was like it all hit me at once and I spent the afternoon feeling just that little bit “not-quite-right” as I recovered.
Motion sickness isn’t something that’s unique to PSVR however. In fact the PSVR’s higher refresh rate can in many cases make it better than others. It’s a trope of VR and one that developers on any platform are doing their best to find the best ways of dealing with. My mistake was firing up Rez: Infinite having not gotten my VR sea legs.
Sony’s VR Worlds is a much better title for dipping your toe into VR and it’s the one I’ve used to demo the headset with ever since. Included is a group of experiences and games that are tailor made to highlight the capabilities of what the headset can do. Some, like “Ocean Descent”, are purely observational and allow the player to simply lose themselves in an amazingly immersive experience as it unfolds around them whilst others like “The London Heist” put you in the middle of a fast paced getaway on a London freeway after robbing a bank. It’s a great mix and one that you can use to grow your familiarity in VR space with.
PlayStation VR’s best chance at success is ironically the same thing that’s holding it back; and that’s the PS4. With over 40 million PS4s out there already it provides PSVR a huge number of living rooms to tap into. Do you have a PS4? Well then you’re PSVR ready, simple as that. The PS4 however is two years old, the Move controllers are six! And that means the tech is out of date and somewhat shows it from time to time but then the headset is nearly half the price of the others too.
PlayStation also have a long standing, and in many cases exclusive relationships with AAA developers, that will help play a huge role in continuing to get major titles released on their platform. This is something that needs to be consistent to prevent the platform from going the way of Microsoft’s Kinect, 3D TVs and of course the dodo.
But is it worth it? Yeah, it kind of is. If you’re a PS4 owner wanting to get into VR this is definitely the easiest and cheapest way of doing that. It’s not the best, it doesn’t have room tracking and the titles will always be somewhat limited even with the new PS4 Pro on the horizon. I’m not about to recommend PSVR to someone who plays nothing but FIFA or CoD but for those wanting to explore PSVR is the ultimate living room VR solution available today.