For all the hype around virtual reality’s renaissance, the currently available hardware options offer polarised entry points to embracing the medium. There are the high-end options such asOculus Rift, which requires a costly, monstrously powerful PC. And at the other end of the spectrum, mobile VR systems employ ordinary smartphones, presenting an accessible option with plenty of superb content, but one that doesn’t offer full virtual reality. The arrival of PlayStation VR, however finally makes the middle ground accessible and to great effect.
Sony’s headset costs £349, no trivial price, but considerably cheaper than its high-end counterparts. Perhaps its greatest strength, though, is that the system runs on a standard PlayStation 4. A PlayStation Camerais required but, crucially, there’s no need to stuff a desktop computer with extra graphics cards. Setup is simple enough: the whole procedure takes minutes and will be well within the capabilities of anyone able to plug a USB connector in the right way up after only half-a-dozen attempts.
Slip on the headset, and after several hours’ play it remains physically comfortable, robust and secure. The important part of VR, though, is the virtual experience, and here PlayStation VR delivers almost flawlessly. There have been reported issues with stark, bright light, but in a medium-size, modestly lit room, sitting or standing around two metres from thePlayStation Camera, there were no problems.
Playing the range of impressive launch titles, it’s immediately apparent that the hardware doesn’t provide the resolution seen on the Rift orHTC’s Vive. However, a slight sacrifice in fidelity does allow for something considerably more important to the VR experience – thanks to impressive frame-rate, games here move smoothly, staying fluid even at speed.
That might be part of the reason why Sony seems to have licked the motion-sickness issue, even over many hours of play in sessions up to 45 minutes long. Motion sickness, analogous to travel sickness, can ruin a VR experience and some feel it more powerfully than others, making it hard to predict. Others assert that the more time you spend using the hardware, the less it happens. Regardless, PlayStation VR appears to offer one of the most pleasant virtual reality experiences yet available.
Perhaps most importantly, Sony’s effort excels at imparting the medium’s trump card, that of “presence”. It’s the powerful feeling of really occupying the worlds within VR and the reason for embarrassment when trying to put a real-world controller down on a virtual, in-game table, a good sign that disbelief is being suspended with aplomb.
While numerous PlayStation VR titles can be controlled with a DualShock 4 controller or head movements alone, a pair of Move wands adds a great deal to many releases, granting hands a presence in the virtual space. The headset can also be used to view a simulated flatscreen, at sizes from 117in-226in, to play ordinary PS4 games and watch video on a cinema-size screen at home, an exceptional supplementary function.
Weeks of game releases are forthcoming, and real judgment on the PlayStation VR will depend on how they perform. For now, fresh out of the box, it’s a remarkable, high-quality and wildly exciting experience. Delivering on the promise its development showed, this genuinely feels like the future has come early.