Virtual Reality (VR) is never out of the headlines for long, and it is often a subject viewed with scepticism by the general public. The options have been fairly limited for the most part – headsets such as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift are expensive and require a high-spec PC making them unaffordable for most people. The only other option for consumers was something like the Samsung Gear VR, which uses a smartphone for the screen and processing power – as you would expect, products like the Gear VR give merely a glimpse of what VR is capable of.
It has been nearly a week since the PlayStation VR hit the market worldwide, it has already been met with wide acclaim. Suddenly VR has been brought into the mainstream, and when you have a product that more people can afford it leads to further development and innovation, which in turn will lead to better technology and cheaper prices. In short, the PlayStation VR is a game-changer. Right now, the PlayStation VR is the only VR option for a console, and the only ‘mainstream’ headset on the market, so how do you rate a product that doesn’t have any competition? Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out…
- Display: 5.7 inch OLED screen, with resolution of 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye)
- Frame Rate: 90Hz (up to 120Hz)
- Field of View: Approx. 100 degrees
- Microphone: Integrated
- Sensors: Accelerometer, gyroscope
- Connection: HDMI, USB
- External Dimensions / Mass
- VR headset: Approx. 187×185×277 mm (width × height × length, excludes largest projection, headband at the shortest). Approx. 610g (excluding cable).
- Processor unit: Approx. 143×36×143 mm (width × height × length, excludes largest projection). Approx. 365g.
- Can only be used with a PlayStation 4 (except in cinema display mode).
In the box
- VR headset
- Processor unit
- AC power cable
- AC adapter
- USB cable
- HDMI cable
- VR headset connection cable
- In-ear headphones
What it doesn’t include is the PlayStation Camera or any controllers. The reason behind this is that Sony felt that many users would already have the camera and controllers, therefore they were left out so that the user doesn’t end up buying the same equipment twice. At the time of review, the PlayStation Camera is £39, and the Move Controllers are £69 for a twin pack. The price of the controllers seems very high given how long they have been around for (they were first introduced with the PlayStation 3). If you had to buy the headset, camera, and move controllers, you are currently looking at £458. This is a lot, but considerably less than the Oculus Rift (£549) and the HTC Vive (around £770). In addition, the cost of a PlayStation 4 (PS4) is far cheaper than the high-spec PC which you would need for either the Rift or the Vive.
The Playstation VR kit comes with a processor unit, which does several things; it processes the audio for a 3D environment (allowing you to pinpoint where sounds are coming from), it creates the image for the social screen (ie, it undistorts it so that others can watch on a TV/monitor in 2D), and it handles the cinematic mode. It does not provide extra processing or graphics power, and isn’t an expansion to the PS4 at all. One thing we didn’t like about this unit is that you can’t power it down like the PS4, although it does go in to a lower power state when the console is switched off.
Set up and use
Setting up the PlayStation VR is as simple as it gets, you just need to connect a few cables to the processor unit (the headset, PlayStation and TV all connect via HDMI cables). You’ll also need to connect a separate power supply to the new processor unit, and the PS4 camera to the PlayStation. Once you’ve connected everything, just power on the PlayStation to begin a series of prompts which allow you to update the on-board firmware.
It has to be said that the PlayStation VR headset is pretty nice to look at. It is well designed, comfortable to wear, and the aesthetics are clean and simple. Wearing the headset and waving around the glowing Move controllers does make you feel like you’re in Tron, though, but in a good way. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are both pretty ugly, so the PlayStation VR certainly wins hand down when it comes to looks. However, cast your eye down the headset cable and the picture isn’t quite as pretty, since the processor unit and the seemingly millions of cables can look quite messy. This can be improved through good cable management, but it’s hardly a minimalistic look.
Once you’re fully set up, the PlayStation VR is very easy to put on. The headset features an adjustable band that fits around your head in a similar way to the inner band of a hard hat – ie sits on your forehead but low at the back. That, combined with the cushiony padding and the way that the headset has been weighted, make for a very comfortable experience. Once you have the headset on, you can tighten the adjustable band so that it doesn’t shift around, but from our experience it stays put without needing to do this. I guess it depends how animated you are going to be during gameplay!
You can also adjust how close the screen sits to your fact by simply pressing a button and sliding it forwards and back. This is particularly useful for people who wear glasses, and the mechanism is very smooth.
The part where the headset meets your face is made of a very soft rubber, which is comfortable against your skin and easy to wipe clean. It is not designed to shut out all light entirely, but once the headset is operational you don’t notice the gap at all. If it bothers you, then playing in a dark room can really help this – and there are other reasons why this is a good idea; see below.
We like the way that cable management on the headset has been tackled, as during gameplay you almost forget it is there. The cable leading from the headset to the processor unit runs away from the display and goes behind your left ear (without resting on it), which also serves to keep it away from your hands. The cable from the headset is fairly thin and consequently not very heavy, although it connects to a cable from the processor unit which which is thicker and heavier. Most of the heavier cable rests on the floor, so you don’t notice the weight of it. With the HTC Vive the cables are so numerous and heavy that you feel like you’re plugged into the Matrix, so it’s nice that things are more minimal with the PlayStation VR. The headset cable also features an inline remote, where you have buttons for power, volume +/- and mute.
The PlayStation VR allows you to set your inter-pupillary distance (IPD), and this is done digitally. To set your IPD, the PlayStation camera takes a photo of your face and you then select the centre of your pupils. The measurement is actually fairly accurate, and it will be remembered as a setting within your profile – this means that when you switch user on the PlayStation the IPD setting will automatically change. This is great for me because I have unusually wide-set eyes (72mm to be precise), and it would be frustrating if I had to physically change a setting on the headset after someone else had been using it. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift both have physical adjustors for IPD which is meant to yield a better result, but I have had no problems at all with the digital adjustment on the PlayStation VR.
The PlayStation VR headset features one 5.7-inch 1920 x 1080 OLED display, which gives a resolution of 980 x 1080 per eye. This is lower than both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – both of which offer two 1080 x 1200 screens (one per eye) giving a total resolution of 2160 x 1200. The screen in the PlayStation VR gives a 100 degree field of vision which, again, is lower than the Vive and Rift (110 degrees). If you were to do a side by side comparison of the PlayStation VR against either the Vive or the Rift, then you would see a difference. But does this mean the PlayStation VR isn’t a great VR experience? Certainly not. You can see pixels on the screen, but then the same is true for the Vive and Rift, albeit to a lesser extent. Once you are immersed in VR you barely notice it to be honest. The one thing that is noticeable is that objects in the far distance can be a little blurry – a little bit like you need to wear your glasses. This isn’t ideal, but not a dealbreaker.
In terms of sensitivity and responsiveness, the PlayStation VR is pretty good. The HTC Vive is excellent, though, but it also requires sensors to be fixed to your walls. The PlayStation VR works by the lights on the headset and controllers being picked up by the camera, so this means that any other nearby lights can interfere with the process. It’s always best to play in a darkened room, without any reflective surfaces that could be picked up by the camera. The responsiveness and tracking is pretty good though, as long as you bear in mind all the recommendations that Sony makes – ie, room set up, no interfering lights, making sure the camera is properly positioned etc. However, even when everything is set up correctly you can still sometimes see issues – for example, if you hold the controller very still, you might see it still moving slightly in the VR world. Whilst this isn’t ideal, for the technology involved this issue is to be expected to some degree. The Vive has far superior tracking, but it achieves it through extra equipment that has to be fixed in place which is a downside in its own right.
The PlayStation VR comes with a pair of Sony in-ear headphones, which are… adequate. You’ll probably want to put them aside in favour of some over-ear headphones though. A nice feature of the PlayStation VR is that you can plug your headphones into the inline remote on the headset cable.
The camera has to be positioned roughly 1.4m from the floor, and you need to be standing roughly 2m away from it. Getting the camera in the right place is really important and so you should look at your potential play area carefully if you are thinking of getting a PlayStation VR. For most people putting the camera on top of their TV will work fine.
The VR headset can also be used in cinematic mode to watch films and TV. This mode comes on automatically if you open an app like Netflix, for example, but the screen size can be adjusted through the options menu. You have three options – small, medium, and large. Large was a little too big for me, I preferred the medium setting. It feels like you are watching a film at the cinema – the floating screen stays in the same place when you move your head, and the sound also changes dynamically. For example, if you turn your head left you will hear the sounds from the virtual ‘left speakers’ more loudly than the right. There were a couple of issues we encountered with the cinematic mode; firstly, the screen wobbles, and this is most noticeable if you move your head quickly. This isn’t a major issue, as you tend to keep your head still when you are watching a film, but it’s not ideal and ruins the immersion when it happens. Secondly, if you are sat too far from the camera then the screen can drift, meaning that you need to keep resetting its position. This happened continuously when sat 3m away from the camera, which is meant to be within the range. Finally, the resolution of the screen doesn’t lend itself to watching films – the quality is noticeably bad compared to most modern TVs. It’s nice that the PlayStation VR has the cinematic mode, but I probably wouldn’t use it.
As someone who has suffered from motion sickness for all of my life, it is a topic that is always on my mind when I’m reading about VR. Before I had used a VR headset for the first time I was really worried what effect it might have, given that even people who do not usually suffer from motion sickness tend to suffer. With the PlayStation VR I had concerns about whether I would be able to play many of the games without feeling dizzy, but I am happy to report that I haven’t had any major issues. In fact, the worst motion sickness I had was testing the cinematic mode, and even then it was pretty mild. For anyone who is new to VR – whether or not you are prone to motion sickness – it’s best to slowly acclimatise yourself to the experience by starting off with short sessions and then having a break. Certain games are more likely to cause problems than others – any game where you are not stationary – so take it slowly and see how you are. Thankfully this is an issue that game developers have taken into account, and VR games tend to be designed differently to regular games as a result. For example, some games are completely stationary (like Job Simulator) and others make use of blink locomotion (like Batman: Arkham VR).
There is a range of titles currently available for the PlayStation VR, some of which are free (for example, PlayStation VR Worlds), but mostly you have to pay. Prices range from around £5.79 for a game called Kismet (a kind of virtual fortune telling game), to £54.99 for the most expensive, which is currently EVE: Valkyrie. Sony has previously said that there will be 50 games available for the PlayStation VR before the end of the year, but based on the number of games currently available this sounds a little optimistic. That being said, there is a good selection currently available – more than enough to keep consumers busy for a while.
You can download demos either by downloading PlayStation VR Demo, using the PlayStation VR Demo Disc, or through the PlayStation Store (although there are not many separate demos to download). It’s worth noting that the UK version of the Demo Disc has far fewer titles than the US version – Sony says this is due to different age rating and localisation requirements in Europe (which probably means language etc). However you can download the US version of the Demo Disc through the PlayStation Store. This version gives you the most demos to play, as it also includes Gnog, Resident Evil 7 Biohazard (kitchen teaser), and Within, all of which do not feature on the PlayStation VR Demo.
PlayStation have done a great job with making their VR experience more inclusive for social situations. Generally speaking, when someone has the headset on then other people can see what they are doing on the screen in 2D (called the ‘social screen’). Furthermore, some games can actually be played with a group of people (one person in the headset, the others playing via the TV / monitor using the dualshock controllers). The Playroom VR is a great example of this, and it consists of a set of mini-games that can be played with others. This capability is something that other VR headsets on the market lack, but PlayStation have done a great job with it.
PlayStation VR Worlds is available through the demo disc, and it is definitely worth a try. One frustrating point is that you have to use the dualshock controller to navigate the demo disc menu, so if you want to play a game with the move controllers you have to keep switching back and forth… which is annoying. Once you’re in, there are five titles to view – The London Heist, Ocean Descent, Scavengers Odyssey, VR Luge, and Danger Ball. However only two of them have content you can access without purchasing the full game (which costs £29.99 at the time of review). These are Ocean Descent (which is not interactive) and The London Heist. Ocean Descent is a pretty magical experience and well worth a look, and The London Heist has a great little shooting range that you can try your hand at. However, it’s a shame that you can’t give the other mini-games a try before buying. As an aside, one of my favourite things in this demo is the menu system; you see a floating orb in front of you which represents each game, and each interacts differently with the dualshock controller. For example, the orb for VR Luge is a spinning road, and holding the controller against it produces a shower of sparks and the controller vibrates. The orb for Scavengers Odyssey is an asteroid being orbited by smaller rocks, and it all reacts to being poked by the controller – it’s stunning, and quite entrancing.
We have bought two full games for the PlayStation VR so far; Job Simulator and Batman: Arkham VR. Both are very different but excellent examples of VR gaming…
Batman: Arkham VR sees you don the black mask and suit, whilst you investigate Robin’s disappearance at the hands of the Joker. From the very start, this game is incredible to look at. The initial menu sees you standing on top of the Gotham City Police Department building next to the Bat Signal, and just standing and looking around is incredible in its own right. And that is before you even start the game! Once you are fully kitted-up as Batman you get to look at your reflection – cue dancing around like a loon and giggling like a kid. You have tools on your utility belt that you can grab and use without even needing to look down, which makes the whole experience feel very slick. The game itself is fairly short but it’s nice to take your time over it and take in your surroundings. There is just so much to look at, and it feels like you’re right there. Even once the main story is finished there are still things to investigate and items to collect, so you do get some mileage out of it even after it has been completed. It is a tantalising taste of what full games could be like for VR in the future.
Job Simulator is the other full game we purchased, and it’s great fun! You can try your hand at being either a gourmet chef, an auto-mechanic, a convenience store clerk, or an office worker. Each is funny and enjoyable, and works pretty well. You can follow instructions or just do your own thing and play around – try photocopying your head and see what happens…
Overall, all the games and demos we have tried have been great in their own way. We sometimes ran into issues with the camera losing sight of the controllers (even when facing the camera) but these kind of issues can be resolved by setting everything up properly. It’s frustrating that some games seem to want a different set up to other games, meaning you have to re-adjust the camera fairly regularly. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the camera bracket moved easily, but it doesn’t. The bracket clips around it stiffly, and it’s difficult to rotate the lenses up and down. It certainly makes things easier if you’ve got two people for this job.
We really liked how comfortable it was to wear – you can wear it repeatedly and it doesn’t feel too heavy or like it is digging in to your face. There is a great selection of games to choose from, and many more in the pipeline to look forward to. The cable coming from the headset is light and minimal, so your movement is not encumbered. The best part is that the equipment is affordable, bringing it into the reach of many more people than other headsets on the market.
The thing we disliked the most about the headset is that the tracking isn’t very precise, and has the potential to be a lot better. Getting the right set up – ie, your position in relation to the camera – can really help matters though, but even still it is not as good as the HTC Vive. The imprecise tracking is the downside to a far more affordable headset, though. The camera has lots of room for improvement, so we hope to see development on this front in the future.
As mentioned earlier in this review, the PlayStation VR does not have any direct competitors so it is difficult to draw comparisons with the other products out there. Cost and performance are important factors when making a purchase, so let’s take a look: If you were purchasing the HTC Vive you would need to spend at least £750 on a PC that is capable of supporting it, and that’s before you even consider the cost of the headset. The total cost of a Vive may therefore end up being in excess of £1,500. When you compare it to the total cost of the PlayStation VR (including the PS4) you are spending less than half that. You are getting better performance from the Vive, but it isn’t twice as good as the PlayStation VR.
Overall, the PlayStation VR is a fantastic bit of kit. PlayStation have demo models available all over the UK, and you can check out the locations here: http://trypsvr.com/en-gb/map