VR has arrived, with all three major headsets now on the market, and a number of other options also coming on stream, it is safe to say VR is here for the foreseeable future. Out of the three main options “Sony’s PSVR” has the best chance of gaining enough of a player-base to make gaming on VR a commercial option for developers.
What’s in the box? Well, not everything you need strangely. You do get the Headset itself, a pair of ear-phones, the break out box, a bunch of cables, and a microfiber cloth. What you don’t get is the required camera, nor do you get a Move controller. Most games do allow you to use the Dual Shock controller but there are times where the Move is the infinitely better choice.
The reasoning behind omitting the camera was due to it being bundled with the console at launch. As such a lot of people will already have the camera so this keeps the cost down by not making them spend unnecessary on a second one. Similarly with the Move controllers, since this is the same Move controller that released on PS3 many years ago there is a high chance that most of the early adopters will have one stuck in a drawer or up in the attic.
While the US did get a discounted PSVR bundle that comes with the headset, plus a camera, and two controllers, as well as the game VR Worlds for around $500. This offering was not launched here in Ireland. The same items purchased separately here will cost you up-to €570.
The set up is not overly complicated, once you get around the mass of wires and follow the simple numbered set up instructions you will be ready to go in 5-10 mins. Putting on the headset is something that takes a little bit of practice so play around with it. The visor slides out, and the band expands via a button on the back of the headset to fit over your head. The weight of the headset is taken onto the top of your forehead and the visor just gently slides up to your face. This avoids the “squeeze” the other headsets endure due to using straps to literally strap it to your face. All in all the PSVR is by far for more comfortable of all three.
There are a number of calibration steps to follow during set-up to allow the PSVR to get your position and track the lights around the headset before you can start playing. One step that is not included in this setup, and is by far the most important, is to measure the eye to eye distance. This is found in Settings>Device> PSVR> Measure eye to Eye Distance.
Make sure you do this before playing as getting this right dramatically improves the picture quality, it reduces blur, gets rid of the fog/haze and really improves the overall 3D effect. The distance can be reset at any time so mess around with it. Try a few options, rather than selecting the exact center of your eyes try going one tap left or one tap right and see how it looks in game.
While in use the tracking is actually very good, not only can you look around in 360 degrees but you can lean in to get a better view, stand up, crouch down and move around the play area freely. While it isn’t a full room experience like the Vive, it does give you a lot of freedom of movement beyond a seated experience. The only times it struggles to track you is when you get your body in-between the controller’s light and the camera’s vision. Or if you have an especially bright light source behind you (like a big window) which makes it difficult for the camera to pick up the lights on the headset.
The main drawback for the PSVR is simply the lack of power from the PS4. This was always going to be an issue, but it is not as big an issue as we expected it to be. It is very noticeable when you view lines at an angle, or try to view items in the distance. It lacks the clarity of the more powerful PC options. There are rumours that the PS4 Pro will help address some of this by offering devs more processing power to play with, but as of right now we don’t have a Pro to be able to comment.
Outside of the VR games the PSVR does have some additional functions. You can view 360 VR videos via the Media Player, you can also utilize Cinema mode to watch Netflix or Youtube or play non-VR games. This essentially puts the game on a massive cinema screen. We tried it a few times and while it is awesome to watch something on the big screen it is not relaxing. You are not going to binge on a Netflix box set in VR.
Games wise the launch titles offer plenty of variety to test out the new tech but they do lack the kind of depth that will keep you coming back to any of them over and over again (you can see some of our reviews here Rez, Robinson, Here They Lie, Batman VR, Music Battlezone ).
But the future looks bright, in more recent times the Battlefront VR Rogue One Mission update lets you fly an X-Wing and it is as brilliant as it sounds. The Resident Evil 7 demo scared the living daylights out of us. Both offerings highlighting just where VR can go in the not so distant future.
Motion Sickness is a big issue for VR. It is pretty simple, your eyes and brain are fooled into thinking you are moving, but your body knows it is stationary. The result is you can start to feel unwell after a short time, the symptoms are quite like travel sickness if you suffer from that. This varies from person to person, affecting some in more dramatic ways than others. Free moving games (in a traditional FPS style) is the worst culprit whereas sitting down titles (cockpit style) seem to fare much better.
Devs continue to explore options to reduce this, Batman for example places you in a stationary position and has the game play out around you. Resident Evil 7 and Robinson use what is called pie chart turning where you turn at 45-90 degree angles to minimize the queasiness. We expect this to improve as devs get to grips with the tech and learn the little tips and tricks.
If you just want to tip your toes into VR something like the Gear VR or Google cardboard is the best option. They are cheap options that give you the “idea of VR” for 5-10 mins. But they don’t offer a proper VR experience.
Realistically if you want to “game in VR” then you are getting a PSVR, Oculus Rift or a HTC Vive. The PSVR is the most affordable option right now (provided you already have a PS4). For the €400-€600 it costs to get up and running you get a very high end piece of equipment. It is fair to say both the Oculus and Vive technically surpass it in terms of technical performance but we have yet to see any games really take advantage of this extra power to make the extra few hundred euro worth the risk.
You also have the added reassurance that Sony will push VR heavily in all its own titles, and most major publishers will want at least a VR experience like the X-Wing mission in all their games shipping on PS4. This isn’t something we can say about either the Vive or Oculus who are more at the mercy of the third party publishers.
The main thing to consider is that VR is limited to sessions of around 45-90 mins before it starts to become uncomfortable. Many of the VR experiences, while being really cool, are the kind of thing you play only once or twice and never go back to. It is a considerable amount of money to shell out for something that might only be used once or twice a week regardless of which system you pick.
The jury is still out on how big VR will become, while we expect it to be more influential than 3D TV’s it has yet to come up against augmented reality, and has a number of barriers around it. It is very much a solo experience, it takes time to set up, it is expensive, play time is limited. But most importantly if it can’t establish an decent foothold soon it won’t get the publishers support.
That said it is the first major technological jump we have had in gaming recently that really makes a difference to the experience. You will experience the game in ways you will have never experienced before. VR transports you directly into the game and bombards your senses to such an extent that it can genuinely terrify, amaze and astound you (sometimes all at the same time).
Overall: As the cheapest of the three the PSVR offers an affordable entry point into VR and as such holds the least risk should VR flop. At the same time you are making significant concessions for the lower price. As it uses a lower resolution screen, and the PS4 produces significantly less power in terms of the graphics needed to run VR it really needs to pull out every trick in the book to make the experience work, but amazingly it does manage to pull it off and delivers a really solid VR experience. We are hopeful the PS4 Pro will give it the boost it needs, if we get the chance to review the PSVR with the Pro we will update the review.