Virtual reality is the future – at least, according to every tech evangelist on the internet. While such lofty claims are difficult to make until the headsets are ubiquitous, the nascent technology is undeniably impressive.
After spending a week with the PlayStation VR, Sony offers an acceptable entry-level into the virtual reality space – provided it’s tracking doesn’t break.
For our review, we received the following from PlayStation NZ:
The PSVR comes with loads of accoutrement to get it up-and-running. There’s a separate breakout box which feeds your PS4’s HDMI connection into it, as well as the headset itself. Thankfully, all associated wires are included. If you haven’t got a nice pair of wired headphones, some earbuds are also in the box.
PSVR is the easiest piece of virtual reality tech to set up – especially compared to competitors like the HTC Vive. The associated breakout box that sits alongside your PS4 is the main hub of the headset, accepting HDMI input from the system, and feeding it to both your TV and the goggles. While managing all the wires can be a bit difficult at times, the system only took me about 20 minutes to set up.
If you’re a bit of a clean freak and like your TV cabinet to be spotless however, you’ll be disappointed. Wires will criss-cross over the breakout box, into the back and front of the PlayStation 4, and down on the floor to the PSVR itself. If the area around your TV sees a lot of foot traffic – either because you’re swapping out devices, or turning other systems on, then expect to be stepping over wires and looking at them constantly.
Setting up the play space is lot more lenient than other room-scale experiences, requiring a six-foot wide by ten-foot long area. If you don’t have this space, then the PlayStation Camera – an accessory which is required to run the device – will have a hard time tracking you.
The PlayStation VR is the most comfortable headset to don – probably due to Sony’s history as a consumer-level hardware manufacturer. The device sits snugly on your head, with a button letting you slide the headband out, and another adjusting the viewport. One major gripe I had was light would leak in from the bottom of the headset onto the bridge of your nose. Nothing major, but in some particularly kinetic experiences it could be disorienting. The best solution I found was to play in a darkened room.
The guts of the headset are a different beast than the comfy exterior, and it’s clear that Sony’s efforts to make the price of the PSVR competitive have hobbled it in these regards. It sports a 5.7-inch OLED screen, outputting 1920x1080 resolution – which amounts to 960x1080 per eye. While this is fine on a TV screen at a distance, from close-up images do look aliased. The screen-door effect is readily noticeable too, and finer details look blurrier compared to the Rift and Vive – both of which use 2160x1200 resolution panels.
Outside of that, the system’s main problem is tracking. While in most cases it does work, repurposing technology made in 2010 to drive it should tell you a lot about its reliability.
The PlayStation Camera is used to track your position, with lights on the sides of the headset determining location and rotation. In fast games where you’re whipping your head around this isn’t a problem. In slower experiences when you’re dealing with objects closer to your face, the image will sometimes bob in-and-out. I’ve never suffered any form of motion sickness – be it in the real world, or in any other VR headset – but at times the PSVR had me feeling drunk, as images slowly drifted around.
What exacerbates the problem is that it isn’t always reproducible – so a solid solution escaped me. Some days the effect would be present, and others it wasn’t. It would also crop up in a range of lighting and camera positions too. Fellow reviewer Angus hasn’t experienced the problem, but other publications have. It’s unclear if this is something that can be patched out with a firmware update.
The PlayStation Move controllers weren’t reliable six years ago, and they aren’t today. While most games boast full 360 degree experiences, light from the wands will be obfuscated by your body when you turn around – meaning the camera loses all tracking on them. This creates a disconnect between what you’ve being presented though the headset, what you want to reach out and do as a player, and what you’re limited through via the wands. It’s frustrating, and awkward.
Very occasionally I also had the headset register my wand movement instead – creating the very uncomfortable sensation of having your viewport whipped around at high speed, at strange angles. This happened multiple times in one session, and prompted me to take the headset off and lie down from nausea.
One of the main problems with the software library is that – while extensive – nothing is standardized. Some games are best experienced sitting or standing, but no icon before you launch the game indicates this. What makes this more of a problem is when games switch between the two without warning. Expect to be pausing, sliding your headset back, pulling up a chair and re-entering your default position constantly. It’s inelegant, but I imagine these are just growing pains as developers comes to grips with the medium.
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are already out in the wild, but PlayStation VR is the true tip of the spear for mass adoption of virtual reality. While the system doesn’t offer as high fidelity visuals as its competitors, when it works it creates experiences that have to be seen to be believed. When its tracking breaks however – and given the aged nature of the tech driving it, it will – it could leave people with the false impression that nausea is a trade-off for all virtual reality headsets. Because of this, it’s impossible to wholeheartedly recommend PSVR at this stage.