Sony is not the first to tackle virtual reality, but it may be the first company to do it right – at least from a market approach. PlayStation VR, or virtual reality as a whole, has all the opportunity to revolutionize an entire industry. Or really, virtual reality has the rare opportunity to revolutionize entire industries. From video games to class rooms, the potential for VR is only limited by the minds that create…and consumer adoption.
Right off the bat, PlayStation VR is sleek, modern and approachable. It’s white and black color scheme sits nicely with an entertainment center. It’s high tech, but it doesn’t look intimidating. It’s looks like something you would find in a living room. If you have a nice stand, it becomes a talking piece.
The headset is incredibly light on the head. It’s well-balanced and the weight is distributed in a way that the screen almost floats in front of your face. The sizing mechanism should be sufficient for most people. There are adjustments on the back plus the screen has a sliding mechanism to adjust it’s distance from your face. This mechanism makes the headset unusually friendly for people with glasses. This is something that can’t be said for the other headsets on the market. That being said, it appears that glasses may have scratched both lenses. There are tiny marks that won’t go away, but fortunately they don’t interfere with the experience. No worsening of the scratches has been observed. In addition, the comfortable rubber lining around the goggles prevents unwanted light from bleeding in from outside sources while comfortably hugging around your glasses.
The screen is not the highest resolution, but it’s still objectively one of the better ones in the market. At a total resolution of 1080p, the presentation is crisp. Surprisingly, the “screen door” effect is non existent (this means when you are looking into the virtual world, it doesn’t look like you’re looking through a mesh). When in action, there doesn’t appear to be any light bleeding on the screen. One thing that can be annoying, is heat from the face can fog up glasses and goggles if the headset isn’t warmed up. So keep that lens cloth that comes with the headset by your side.
For the price, the construction quality is pretty solid. Starting at $399, the PlayStation VR is well-built despite being made of a lot of plastic components. Thankfully, nothing feels like it will snap off, despite it’s rather cheap appearance at first glance. There is also no audible creaking that we could observe, which is a common issue for a lot of plastic heavy products. The removal of the headset can be a little awkward to trigger and slightly uncomfortable to pull away as your hair gets pulled in the process.
Cables, cables everywhere. The setup process with all the cables is a chore. It’s also an unsightly mess if you don’t have a way to hide the disarray behind your entertainment center. Never mind the massive cable (made of two cables) that goes across your floor from the breakaway box to the PlayStation VR. You also have an additional cable from your headphones that gets connected to the headset. Unfortunately, wireless headphones are not supported, and judging by how the breakout box works, wireless headphones is probably not something that will ever be supported. Of course, unless you have something against cables, the amount required to utilize the PlayStation VR isn’t a deal breaker, it’s just something to be aware of so you’re not thrown off when you open that shiny new box.
The breakout box is an unfortunate necessity. Along with the PlayStation 4, The PlayStation VR comes with a breakout box that must be attached to the headset and the console in order to operate. It’s kind of unfortunate that the box is required, because it’s yet another piece of hardware to wire up and take up even more space in an already crowded entertainment center. It’s particularly loathsome because it’s sole purpose, according to Sony developers, is simply to manage the screen handoff between the headset and the television, along with audio conversion. Most people are probably not going to utilize the television so having to use the breakaway is disappointing. Perhaps it seems like a necessary evil for the original PlayStation 4, but for those people that have invested in the PlayStation 4 Pro it’s pretty lame that Sony wasn’t willing to find a solution to implement the breakout technology within the console itself.
And finally, make sure you don’t pass on the Move controllers. They work great in the games we tested. For the most part, the response time seemed to be 1:1. Playing Rush of Blood and Heist with the Move is a must. They are goofy to hold, but they dial up the immersion significantly. The best way to grab yourself a pair of Move controllers is to get the $500 PlayStation VR bundle, because it also comes with the latest PS Camera along with VR Worlds (A compilation of mini-games, including Heist) as well as the demo disc.
When it comes to software, the PlayStation VR library is currently a mixed bag. There are a lot of tech demos, but not a lot of full-fledged games. Some of them are excellent and many of the titles are pretty damn awful. Additionally, some are priced reasonably and others go for as much as $60.
There are certainly games worth getting. In fact, Resident Evil 7 released with full PlayStation VR support. You can play the game in it’s entirety from beginning to end in virtual reality – and it’s terrifying. Resident Evil 7 is the gold standard, must-have game for the PlayStation VR platform. Two other titles to show off the technology and get the most out of your experience with VR is R.I.G.S. and Battlezone. A couple of games with the most replay value are Thumper and Rush of Blood. These two games are also a great example of otherwise relatively unimpressive games becoming mind-blowing experiences when PlayStation VR is involved.
Motion sickness is definitely a thing. Some games are worse than others, but most games didn’t give any sense of sickness. When sickness was experienced, it tended to happen because the action was too smooth and not because of drops in frame rate. The risk of motion sickness is absolutely something to be aware of, even if you are the type of individual that tends to not be impacted by such a thing.
Streaming video playback is pretty abysmal. Every video tested was grainy, blurry and many were nauseating. Some research showed this problem has to do with the formatting of video for VR and not the hardware itself. Due to bandwidth restrictions, videos are output to the eye during streaming in a quality that’s not much better than standard definition, 480p or so. The problem is the same regardless of the headset being PlayStation VR or one of the top-tier headsets like Vive.
Videos that were downloaded and not streaming faired a lot better. The quality of the video is much-improved over the streaming option. The downloaded videos were clear and comfortable. There are a couple of experiences offered in the tested videos. One was a stationary experience, you could look around 360 degrees but not much else. The other video tested was far more interactive. You could look above, below and through the scenes. If there was a window, you could lean forward and peak inside to see what’s happening.
PlayStation VR also comes with a Theater Mode. There are three screen sizes to choose from. One is about 60 inches or so and distant. It also follows your head movements. The second option is more of a traditional theater screen. It’s stationary, so when you move your head the screen isn’t moving with you, unlike the first setting. And finally, the third option gives you kind of an IMAX experience. The screen is massive and, like the second version, is also stationary. Overall, the Theater Mode is a great alternative for watching movies when the television isn’t available.
If games aren’t supported in VR, you can still play them. However, screen size really impacts the experience. Some games are difficult to play if the screen is too large because of travel. This was most problematic in first person shooters where HUD items were spread to the corners of the screen. On the smaller screen setting, all the games played great.
As of this writing, the resolution in Theater Mode is passable. It’s not crystal clear, but good enough that you could get away with playing for an hour or two before discomfort starts to kick in from eye strain. It’s been said that the new firmware 4.5 that’s coming out is going to improve the screen quality in this mode. In the end, Theater Mode is great for movies more than games. Pop on the headset and you immediately feel like you are in your own private movie theater.
So What Happens from Here?
Virtual reality presents a lot of potential. An incredible amount, actually. This is a new genre of interaction and entertainment. How far VR can take us really comes down to the imagination of the creators, and that’s exciting. However, despite how incredible the early generation of virtual reality already is, the price to entry is one of it’s biggest hurdles.
PlayStation VR is the cheapest of the high-end experiences. For the full experience, you are looking at spending around $1,000 between the PlayStation 4 Pro (regular and Slim work, but Pro is best), the PlayStation VR experience bundle ($500, comes with everything you need) and a couple of games to keep you busy. This is far cheaper than the PC alternatives which will set you back closer to $2,500 for the headset and the PC configuration powerful enough to comfortably enjoy VR. Consumer adoption is a major factor, so at these prices VR is a risky proposition. Long term support by Sony isn’t guaranteed unless the headset really takes off. That said though, PlayStation VR is currently the top-selling headset (not accounting for mobile). About two months after it was released Sony announced that PlayStation VR had sold over 700,000 units. That’s more than the Oculus and Vive combined, and they entered the market in the beginning of 2016. Unfortunately, 700,000 units isn’t saying a lot since market analysts had initially placed expectations for the PlayStation VR to sell a couple million units before the end of 2016. Sony’s decision to be mum on the sales numbers is a little concerning, especially since Sony has historically loved to throw out sales numbers with the PlayStation 4 almost every month. This is just something to consider before jumping into the arena.
Software in 2017 and beyond. It’s hard to say where this is going. There are many developers signed up to support PlayStation VR, but as this review gets typed, there seem to be few must-have titles that come to mind outside of Resident Evil 7, Farpoint, Gollum and maybe Grand Turismo Sport (it it even makes the 2017 window). With E3 right around the corner, hopefully global confidence in the success of the VR platform will level up. But, at CES 2017, VR as a whole wasn’t much more than a fizzle and for Sony, PlayStation VR was hardly mentioned. That’s concerning, especially because at PlayStation Experience 2016 Sony’s new platform felt like a backseat passenger to everything else going on.
So Do You Take the Plunge and Buy PlayStation VR?
Ehhh. That’s not an easy one to say with certainty. PlayStation VR is an incredible experience and definitely one of the best on the market. The headrest is well-built, comfortable and backed by a healthy library of exclusive PlayStation experiences. But, the future of this platform is already shaky. It’s so new and developers are still learning what to do with it and how. Every console and platform is a risk to buy, but you can usually depend on your choice sticking around and being supported for several years. However, with PlayStation VR, the shelf-life of this product could be significantly less depending on consumer adoption and continued developer interest.
If you have disposable income and love being the early adopter, jump right into it – you won’t be disappointed. If you are a cautious buyer, continue to be cautious. This investment is a risk and that’s not written lightly.
That all said, PlayStation VR is the defacto experience in VR when looking at budget, performance and software opportunity.