I was able to make my way over to Best Buy earlier today and get some hands on experience with the new PlayStation VR headset. Sony is currently running demos every weekend up until October at various locations around the country. For details on where and when you can try out the PlayStation VR for yourself, check out here.
Full Disclosure: I have had extensive experience with the Samsung VR gear as well as some limited experience with the Oculus Rift DK2. I have not yet had a chance to try and the commercial release of the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.
The setup for the whole system was fairly clean despite the amount of hardware being used. The PS Camera is connected through the auxiliary port on the back of the PS4 and sits on top of the television. There is a HDMI cable running from the PS4 to the Processor Unit and then another from the Processor Unit to the TV. The Processing Unit is then connected to the PS4 via USB cable that will consume one of your PS4’s USB ports. The Processor Unit also has a port for a power cable coming out of the back of unit. The only cables coming out of the front of the Processor Unit is a pair of plus that combined into a single cable running to the actual headset.
The Sony rep explained that for home use, expect to sit 3 to 10 feet from your TV preferably with a plain background behind you to help the camera track the headset and controller.
The headset was surprisingly comfortable, being noticeably lighter that other VR headsets I had tried in the past. The headband fits comfortably around the back of your head and the forehead headrest takes most of the weight off of your face. Unlike the Samsung VR gear which uses an elastic band to hold the headset against your face, all of the weight from the PS VR was supported by by the crown of your head without any pieces directly pressing against you face, making it far more comfortable for long periods of playtime. Additionally due to how everything was connected, I see no issue for those who normally wear glasses while gaming.
The focus of the headset is controlled by sliding the eyepiece towards and away from your face. Admittedly I had some trouble finding a distance that truly focuses the image for me, but I had forgotten to wear my glasses and did not have the opportunity to properly adjust the headset to fit my head. So while the image was not crystal clear, there were some easily fixable factors that would help to improve the experience.
At 960 x 1080 per eye, the resolution of the image was noticeably better than that of the Samsung VR Gear and felt about on-par with the Oculus DK2. While certainly not the most crisp image, it was more than enough to provide the resolution needed to enjoy the gameplay. However there is definitely room for improvement which is likely where the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive come into play (1080 x 1200 per eye).
The headset does not feature built in headphones like the Oculus Rift but instead has a standard 3.5mm jack built into a port on the cable connecting the headset to the Processor Unit with a pair of ear buds included. While you can use your existing USB headset, you wont get the full 3D sound experience unless you connect your headphones to the 3.5mm port on the headset’s audio connector. Overall the audio varied from game to game but the effectiveness of the 3D audio was fantastic. When I heard someone shooting me from behind, the sound clearly transferred to my left ear as I looked over my shoulder giving a fantastic sense of immersion.
Note: The official Sony PS4 Wireless Headset offers the option to connect with 3.5mm cable.
The Processor Unit
This deserves mention due to the fact that I was incorrect in my initial understanding of what the unit does. The unit does not actually help the PS4’s processor in rendering the images displayed in the headset, and instead focuses on providing the 3D audio as well and run the Cinematic Mode for the television. The PS4 produces the two distorted images which passes through the Processor Unit onto the headset. The Processor Unit simultaneously undistorts the image and combines them before sending the imagery to the television so others can see what is going on. This allows players to display what they’re seeing on screen, as well as broadcast it to others online who may not have a VR headset to view it in. The unit was fairly small, being about the same size as two classic CD jewel cases stacked together.
I was able to try a couple games and observe most of the others that were available for the demo. While I was unable to try to soccer or the shark cage simulator, I was able to give the other options a shot.
I first got my hands on EVE: Valkyrie at EVE Vegas 2013 and it was by far the biggest factor that sold me on VR as a concept. Trying the demo out on PlayStation VR only reaffirmed my excitement for CCP’s space dogfighting game. The demo was a short single player stint as you escort ally carries to a station when an enemy fleet suddenly attacks. You’re forced to fend off enemy fighters as your carriers take more and more damage until an enemy Avatar warps in an uses its Doomsday Device on the fleet, ending the demo.
The game felt very smooth and I was able to quickly grasp the controls, flying my fighter between a fleet of larger ships while using my autocannons to shoot the enemies in front of me while I looked over my shoulder to lock onto another enemy ship and take it out with a volley of missiles. Given Valkyrie’s success on the other headsets, I predict it will also do quite well on PS VR as well
Battle Arena is an arcade tank fighting game that visually was clearly inspired by the movie and game TRON. You play as a tank pilot driving around and blowing up neon colored tanks, turrets, and fighters in a futuristic arena. The gameplay is very fast paced and gratifying as the tank and turret are controlled by the PS4 controller but you are free to look out the 180 degree window of the cockpit to watch your flank and the airspace above you. While the gameplay was nothing revolutionary, it was a easy to play but exciting arcade-like experience that was a fun throwback to retro tank simulators with a new modern twist.
Super Hyper Cube
Speaking of retro with a modern twist, another interesting puzzle game I tried out was Super Hyper Cube. The game can best be described as 3D Tetris where you follow a cube that quickly approaches a wall that you need to fit the cube through before you crash into the wall. The catch is that after each wall, another cube is added to your object on a random face forcing you to rotate your object in 3D space to get the profile to match the 2D hole that it’s rapidly approaching. I found myself leaning and looking over and around the object trying to quickly grasp what its profile was and checking to see if it matched the hole in the wall wall before ultimately failing and having my cubes explode all over the screen.
The PlayStation VR is in an interesting position given the current alternatives out on the market. In a straight up spec comparison, the PlayStation VR does fall short of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. At the same time, being priced at $400-500 it comes in at $100-$400 less that the competition. On top of that it runs off of the PS4 which is going to be much cheaper than a VR Ready PC. That being said, there isn’t necessarily a clear cut winner.
Is the PS VR a quality piece of hardware? Absolutely. Is it the best money can buy? Not really. In reality, the player’s personal preference and situation are going to dictate what the best option is. If you’re a console player and are not willing to drop $1000 on a VR-Ready PC plus $600-$800 for a headset but want a solid VR experience, the PlayStation VR is an excellent choice. If you’re like me and own both a PC capable of running VR and a PS4, then the choice is a bit more difficult. It really comes down to how much you want to spend and what you’re looking to get out of it. Sony has also been dropping hints that they may provide PC support for the PlayStation VR which would go a long way in convincing me to purchase one, as it would provide a VR solution for a very wide range of exclusives at a lower price.
Regardless of your plans on VR, I suggest you give the PlayStation VR a shot sometime before October
Photo courtesy of my brother getting his first experience playing EVE: Valkyrie