|Release: October 13, 2016|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Matthew Hayes
What are you, new? PlayStation VR (PSVR) is the name of Sony's upcoming virtual reality platform for the PlayStation 4. Formerly known as "Project Morpheus," PSVR will finally make its debut on October 13 and compete with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for mainstream virtual reality dominance.
The hardware has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Resolution is a bit lower here than what you'd find with the Rift and the Vive, but it's also considerably cheaper. PSVR will only set you back $400, compared to $600 or $800 for the Rift or Vive, respectively. Of course, if you don't already own a PlayStation 4 camera and a set of Move controllers, you'll need to opt for the $500 launch bundle.
PSVR uses a single, 5.7 inch OLED display which outputs at 1920x1080, so that will be 960x1080 per eye. A separate processor with two HDMI ins and outs will send the video signal to the HMD as well as to your television, so those around you can see what you see and participate in your experience if the game allows it. This really sets PSVR apart from the competition. That separate box will also handle the processing of 3D audio.
I have to say, as I was waiting in line to sit down and try PSVR for myself, I figured that I had tempered my expectations fairly. After all, I've been researching and reporting on the the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for months now - gleaning so much information from gamers, developers, and tech enthusiasts - and I've been able to personally experience the world of entry-level virtual reality with my Samsung Gear VR. I'd heard all about the best, experienced the most humble, and I was expecting to be impressed (but not blown away) by Sony's middle-of-the-road solution. Thankfully my expectations were met, but they were not exceeded.
I played through the EVE: Valkyrie demo and had a ball. Right off the bat as I sat in the cockpit of my spacecraft, I was almost shocked when I looked down and saw my avatar's legs below. Unfortunately, my looking down also alerted me to the fact that I could sense some light from the real world pouring into the HMD, but I'll touch on that in a bit. While I immediately felt that profound sense of presence that everyone keeps talking about, I found that I had to make some minor effort to ignore a lot of blurry edges and textures. Like I mentioned above, resolution here isn't as high as on the Rift or Vive, so the visual fidelity is going to take a hit. Coming from my Gear VR, I'd say PSVR is a big leap, graphically, but not a night-and-day difference. To make a crude comparison, it'd be like going from a PS2 to a PS3, but that probably speaks more to the power of modern smartphones than to the limitations of the PSVR.
I was absolutely blown away by what I was able to do throughout that demo without getting sick. As I waited to play, I watched the screen as those in front of me fought through the demo, making small adjustments here and there, but mainly just flying straight and looking around. I wasn't about to pull that shit - I was there to DO A BARREL ROLL! I did several barrel rolls, and I felt like a rock star getting that controller in my hands and having it out with the enemy ships. I could hear people talking excitedly nearby as I chased down my foes with gut-wrenching maneuvers and machine-gun fire. I was worried that I'd feel motion sickness (I can barely stomach roller coasters) or disorientated when it was over, but I never did. PSVR's high refresh rate and reprojection technology are freaking godsends, and that's going to be a huge selling point.
The HMD itself was incredibly comfortable, I'm happy to say. I've heard that the Vive and the Rift are both devices that you wouldn't want to wear for more than 20 minutes at a time, and I honestly feel the same way about the Gear VR, which is considerably lighter than the competition. PSVR felt light, but rugged and sturdy. There's one, continuous band that wraps around the back of your head and rests just above where the top of your neck meets the bottom of your head. This is counter-balanced by a padded rest that comes down on about the top of your forehead, and the result is lovely; you forget you're even wearing the thing after a few seconds.
Both the strap that wraps around the back of your head and the display itself can be adjusted at the touch of a button, easily sliding in and out, but neither feels loose or cheap. The fact that the frontal display slides so conveniently forward and backward is an incredible luxury, and those of you who wear glasses will love that feature as it makes donning and adjusting the HMD simple. Although I sat stationary during my play session, I did look around quite a lot, and not once did I notice any cables hitting my neck or shoulders, which was nice.
There was one thing I didn't like about the hardware: the bottom of the HMD itself remains a little open. In other words, the display almost hangs down in front of you as opposed to being strapped to your face. On one hand, I can see why this is beneficial: it allows air to get to your face while you're using the unit, so heat and "fog" aren't such an issue. It's also part of what makes everything so easy to put on, adjust, and take off; even when taking off the Gear VR, I felt like Spider-Man peeling back his mask. What bugged me was the fact that I could see some light bleeding in through the bottom of the HMD, and that took away from the sense of immersion. I'm a very picky person, and once I noticed the light bleeding in I couldn't not notice it. If you're playing in a darker room or at night this won't be a problem, but in a well-lit room this is going to bother some of you.
The PlayStation VR is what it is. This is a first-generation virtual reality effort from a company that knows how to leverage the technology and appeal to the average gamer. This probably isn't for the average gamer, though. It's not a safe bet; it's an enthusiast's investment. It is really cool, though, and I think PSVR will come out on top of this initial wave of competing VR hardware. I really do believe that we're going to see some incredibly creative offerings from our most cherished developers. If nothing else, Sony's first-party studios are going to work hard to make that $500 investment feel worth it.
This isn't virtual reality perfected, but it is something you'll be proud to show your friends and family. It will keep you up late, delight you, surprise you, and broaden your mind as to what's possible in a video game. If you're willing to cope with its limitations, this is your chance to take a sneak peek into where entertainment is headed in the future.
Date: July 27, 2016