The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the first devices to break into the Virtual Reality market, landed in spring to critical praise and pre-orders that sold out within minutes. Despite some great experiences, months of near-total unavailability dampened the buzz for both headsets, particularly the Rift.
Neither headsets were able to produce an app substantial enough to push VR out to the masses, especially considering the high cost of a VR headset and gaming PC. While 360-degree video has been noticeably present in pop culture, the idea of sophisticated VR gaming – which, lets face it, is what virtual reality was truly imagined up for in the first place – remains but a dream for most people. With the end of 2016 (supposedly the year of virtual reality) coming to a close, we’re holding our hopes up for one more attempt… In comes the PlayStation VR.
What is the PlayStation VR?
PlayStation VR is Sony’s attempt at bringing virtual reality to the PlayStation 4. Arriving right in time for the festive season, it’s being positioned as a (relatively) cheap, inoffensive gaming headset, designed especially for a console that might already be sitting in your living room.
The Rift and Vive had to be mediated on a sort of theoretical scale of quality. Whether they were good representatives for the medium of VR, and good forerunners of things to come. The question for PSVR is simpler: if you’re one of the millions of people who own a PS4, should you get one?
PlayStation VR was initially announced as Project Morpheus back in 2014, and despite some visual tweaks, the core design hasn’t changed. Where Oculus goes for an understated, yet clunky aesthetic and the Vive leaning towards the aggressive and post-modern, Sony’s design has opted for a clean white retro futuristic looking headpiece with glowing blue lights, and for added comfort there’s leather-like padding around the inside of the headset, coupled with rubber supports for the bridge of the nose. The rubber also blocks out light incredibly well, neatly closing the gaps between your face and the screen. Oh and you can wear glasses while using PSVR, thanks to it not strapping onto your face. The fact the weight is resting on your forehead means those with specs can wear them without too much discomfort.
At 610 grams, it’s the heaviest of the VR headsets, but it feels like the lightest. The design also neatly solves a few of VR’s subtler problems. Your typical virtual reality headset is strapped on like a ski mask, which ensures a snug fit but can also feel uncomfortable and leave your face marked (they call it VR Face) if used for prolonged periods of time.
The external PlayStation Camera (sold separately) tracks it with a matrix of glowing blue lights: as mentioned before, six lining the headset’s edges, two on the back, and one right in the middle of the front panel. PlayStation VR is unapologetically appealing, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, is a matter of personal taste.
The thing that’s going to draw a lot of people to PlayStation VR, though, is the price: £349. However, there is a drawback, it doesn’t come with the PlayStation’s tracking camera, which is mandatory for PSVR, or the two Move controllers, which are highly encouraged. The reasoning is that since both these products were already on the market, some users will already have them. If you’re going to invest in one, you should seriously consider the PSVR bundle — which comes with two Move controllers and a PS camera, or you’re going to be thoroughly disappointed when you unbox your headset and realise you can’t play with it.
To make things more complicated, you’ll also have to decide whether to invest in the powerful PlayStation 4 Pro console when it comes out mid-November. The Pro is supposed to improve the frame rate and image quality of the PSVR, however, Sony continues to promise that PSVR will work fine with the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Slim (here’s to hoping!).
Even at £349, the PSVR is cheaper than Oculus and Vive. That’s somewhat because Sony isn’t pushing for the highest specs on the market. PlayStation VR has a single screen that offers 1080 x 960 pixels per eye, comparable to the second Oculus Rift development kit where it incorporates two separate screens with a resolution of 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye. This is the system’s biggest technical drawback. It’s grainier than its two main contenders, which still look a little fuzzy in their own right, and dark colours can appear muddy. But screen resolution isn’t the only factor for how good something looks. Sony likes to endorse the PSVR’s high screen refresh rate as a way to counterweigh its lower resolution.
Is it worth it?
There are no stand out games that justify buying the PSVR at launch, and no technical innovation that will revolutionise how you experience Virtual Reality, however, it does offer an engaging launch catalogue and a headset that’s easy to wear, with weak points that aren’t catastrophic enough to hinder it. Technically, it costs more than an actual PS4 console, but for many people it’s still within the range of a holiday splurge or a generous gift.
Holding out for perfection is the wrong move. Sony is delivering enough to make for interesting, low-key experiences that focus on some of Virtual Reality’s strengths. More than any piece of cutting-edge technology, the key to making VR succeed is getting more people to use it. And with PSVR, Sony has just made that a whole lot easier.
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- Ridiculously comfortable
- Accessible and (relatively) affordable
- Some good, low-key launch titles
- Substandard motion controls
- Requires Camera and Move Controllers for full immersive experience (which are sold separately)
- Needs riskier, ambitious VR experiments
- 5.7-inch OLED Screen
- Resolution: 1,920 x RGB x 1,080 (960 x RGB x 1,080 per eye)
- Refresh Rate: 120Hz, 90Hz
- 100-degree field of view
- Integrated microphone, accelerometer, gyroscopes
- Manufacturer: Sony
- Review Price: £349.00