Upon the initial reveal of PlayStation VR, known as Project Morpheus at the time, gamers were excited for the possibility of a console-based virtual reality solution. Especially when compared to the high entry cost for both the Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, PSVR is a much more affordable solution, especially given there are more than 40 million PlayStation 4’s already on the market. There are many different routes Sony could have taking with the device, and keeping the cost at a minimum for consumers seemed to be the highest priority. In fact, Sony retrofitted the lackluster Move controllers from PlayStation 3, and the PS4 camera into a virtual reality environment, even though neither were designed for VR. For this reason, it will never be as accurate as the tracking of the HTC Vive controllers, but overall my experience with PSVR has been quite impressive and promising for the future of VR on home consoles.
The headset itself is the showcase of the entire PSVR experience. When compared to all of the other consumer options on the market, the head-mounted display (HMD) Sony has developed s easily the most comfortable to put on and take off. Although it is slightly heavier than the Vive headset, weighing 1.3 lbs vs. 1.2 lbs, the design helps distribute the weight giving it an entirely balanced design. A common complaint about the Vive is how front heavy it feels, especially when using it for prolonged gaming sessions. The PSVR HMD feels like wearing a baseball cap; staying light on all sides of your head.
The ergonomic design allows for the back of the HMD to extend outwards to slide the device on and off easily. A dial is included to tighten it in place to ensure stability once you begin moving your head around in games. The front of the HMD adjusts in a similar fashion, allowing those with glasses to wear them comfortable underneath without pressure or pinching sensation. This was a major pet peeve of mine when using the Oculus Rift, and slightly less so with the Vive, as you became aware of the glasses pressing into the sides of your head by the HMD’s straps.
The PSVR uses a 5.7 inch OLED panel running at 1920x1080; amounting to 960x1080 per eye. PSVR offers approximately 100-degree field of view, supporting both 90Hz and 120HZ refresh rates. A high refresh rate is essential in providing a smooth - not nauseating - experience. If the frame rate dropped while wearing any HMD, you would probably want to take a rest, or risk having to clean up the floor in front of you. The PS4 does a commendable job of tracking the actual HMD. At no point can I recall any disconnection with the head tracking, but the controller tracking is an entirely different story.
Although the PS4 camera is an upgrade from the PS3 camera, there are issues tracking both the Move controllers and the DualShock 4. You’ll notice in games that feature a virtual representation of your controller judder back and forth as if the camera can’t lock pinpoint its precise location in the 3D environment. I’ve tested setting the controller down and staying as still as possible, but that didn’t help. It makes reading objects with text on them that you pick up almost impossible. In Tumble VR, where you must precisely place blocks, having them constantly shake is problematic. Hopefully, it can be fixed or at least lessened via a firmware update, as it does ruin the immersive element of playing games in VR.
Without full room-scaling technology, you are limited to playing in 180 degrees. Once the front facing camera loses sight of the controller or the LEDs on the headset, you lose gameplay functionality. Even crouching down can be limiting, especially if you are playing a game, such as Job Simulator, where ducking, crouching and moving in any direction where second nature on the HTC Vive. This could be fixed if Sony allowed for two cameras and moved to infrared instead of using the old light focused technology it uses today.
As with all of the other alternatives, not counting the Gear VR for mobile, the PSVR is a wired HMD, although the wire coming out of the headset itself isn’t as thick as I expected. If you follow the wire, you'll find an inline remote, like something you’d see included with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device. It does include a microphone so you can communicate with friends in parties and online games, but you can connect any 3.5 mm headphones (earbuds are included) to receive full 3D audio. The includes earbuds are surprising well designed, producing good quality audio. The 3D sound is paramount to the VR experience, and it works much better than I imagined. The Social Screen, which is the video output on the TV includes a 2D audio signal. You can forgo using the 3D audio if you want, and listen to it out of your TV or receiver, but you won’t be getting the full virtual reality experience.
PlayStation VR launches on October 13, 2016, with two different packages; the base package and the launch bundle that includes two Move controllers and the PS4 camera. Considering the base package does not come with the PlayStation 4 camera, which is required, and Move controllers, you will have to pick them up at launch if you don’t already own any. Games are clearly marked if they need one or two Move controllers and there is a good variety of games that require them and those that support the DualShock 4.
Oddly enough, when playing games you will hear system level notifications, such as messages, friend notifications, and trophies popping, but there is no visual indication. I assume that it will be on the roadmap for the next firmware update. Considering the other HMDs already support visual indicators for achievements, I can’t fathom why Sony would not include anything.
Affordability is the key selling factor that Sony has going for the PlayStation VR over the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. It's a more approachable VR solution for existing PlayStation 4 owners, as long you don’t forget you need a PS4 camera and upwards of two Move controllers. I’m highly optimistic for the platform after playing a handful of the current launch titles. Pricing seems to be something that developers/publishers are still figuring out on a per title basis, but I adore and enjoy the VR experience.Note: PlayStation VR was reviewed using a retail unit purchased by SelectButton.