What will the so-called PC Gaming Master Race — including yours truly — say when they find out the VR head-mounted display (HMD) with a crisp, clean picture, the least screen-door effect so far, and a surprisingly comfortable fit is coming to PlayStation 4? A console?
I went into my hour with PlayStation VR a skeptic, even though I'd heard good things. I am no longer a skeptic. There are aspects I liked and aspects I disliked, but overall I left as a believer in what this thing is going to deliver, and in what it's going to do to the VR industry as a whole.
No motion sickness, no screen door
Arguably the most important part of VR is head tracking — without proper motion detection you're going to have a nauseating time. Know this: head tracking with the PS4 camera is precise.
Know this: head tracking with the PS4 camera is precise.
I tried the Headmaster demo where soccer balls are kicked at you and you have to headbutt them at targets in and around the net. Even from the first attempt I could tell where my head had to be, and everything felt very natural. I'm no soccer player (something about running back and forth across a pitch for 90 minutes), but I felt like I could take a corner kick from some of the best.
It's important to remember that the six demos available have no doubt been heavily polished by Sony. They don't want any half-cooked games out there delivering an underwhelming experience, but if these demos are an indication of what game studios can do, this HMD is going to be a treat. Do you remember what the first games looked like on PS3 compared to what some of the last games looked like? Compare NHL 2K7 to The Last of Us and you have some idea of the potential of this system.
The graphics were seriously crisp and clean, and the screen-door effect was way less pronounced than in Rift and Vive. I had to actually try to see it, rather than try not to see it. That's a big deal, folks. Without a bit of semitransparent webbing between you and a virtual world, it's hard not to become completely immersed in what you're playing. Yes, the resolution is lower compared to Rift and Vive — they both have 2160 x 1200 resolution, whereas PSVR has a 1920 x 1080 resolution — but to me the lack of screen door was way more noticeable than the lower resolution.
I have no definite idea what the frames per second (FPS) were as I was playing, but to compare to the Vive and Rift's standard 90FPS I'd say the PSVR was at least somewhere in that ballpark. Higher FPS while gaming is better, but in VR it's not necessarily most important. Stable frame-rates are WAY more crucial to having a good virtual time, and PSVR delivered just that. There was no stuttering or tearing whatsoever, and there was zero motion sickness as a shark cage descended unsteadily into a murky depth in Ocean Descent.
Designed to be comfortable
Before actually donning the headset, I took a look at the processing unit and cabling. The processing unit was actually quite small — just a bit smaller than a Nintendo Wii — and the cabling coming out of it was lightweight. I noticed the cable dock — which otherwise only the Vive has — was a lot closer to the user than the Vive's; so close that it will hang off the floor beside a tall user. Luckily the dock is lightweight and won't pull at the headset, but who knows how well the cables will stay in the dock when you're really hitting your stride.
I didn't have the same problems other users have reported with the headset sliding down my nose, even when I was rocking it around in Headmaster. Maybe the Sony field representative was more skilled at placing the headset (they were understandably very protective), or maybe I just have an abnormally large head.
Aesthetically, PSVR looks and feels great.
What I didn't like were the rubbery flaps that sit against your cheeks to block light. They let considerably more light in than the Vive and Rift. The rubberized fore and rear headrests were, however, very comfortable, and I can see them being the preferred method of fastening HMD to skull. They didn't absorb moisture and could be easily wiped down, ready for the next player. I imagined the them to be the same spongy material as Rift and Vive, and I wondered how the last poor soul to sit down at the demo was going to stand having that soggy thing against their face. This change is probably for the better, but it's still not to my personal taste.
The headset was plenty comfortable to wear, and I didn't feel the need to ditch my glasses for contacts like I do in Rift and Vive. I was disappointed with the lack of physical interpupillary adjustment, but apparently that will be handled with software — PSVR has a single horizontal screen rather than two vertical screens — and will be tied to your personal PSN ID.
Aesthetically, PSVR looks and feels great. Blue lights similar to those on Sony's DualShock 4 controllers attract the eye, and the white poly is a nice change from the Vive and Rift's full-black coloring. Although this headset is a tad bigger than the Rift and Vive, it looks futuristic and you won't feel like a dork while playing. It's clear Sony put time into their design, and I believe it's going to pay off.
Very early days for PSVR games
This was a seated experience since it was crammed into the corner of an EB Games, but I still got to move around from the waist up. Headmaster and Ocean Descent, while definitely great demos that had me laughing and yelling, are nothing I haven't already seen. If PSVR is your introduction to VR, however, you're going to have a fantastic time. This is no knock-off or discount version of VR: this is the real deal.
There are already a lot of quality games available for Rift and Vive with more arriving every day. It's going to be up to game developers to really push the limits of PSVR and hopefully deliver something unique to the console market and VR overall rather than playing catch-up with the Rift and Vive. Only time will tell.
PlayStation VR is great for the future of virtual reality
I imagine a holiday season with a lot of lucky, ecstatic children unwrapping PSVR. Starting out at a young age can only foster a deep love for VR (I still haven't met someone who didn't say, "Woah" the first time they gave VR a try), and that bodes well for its future.
VR is here, and it's here to stay. How well it does and how in-depth the experience becomes relies heavily on the size of the user-base. Disagree all you want about what PSVR means for the gaming industry; PlayStation VR as hardware is good, and it's going to be very, very popular.
Demos are ongoing across Canada and the U.S. You can find a location near you by using Sony's search tool.
For another hands-on PSVR experience, check out Russell Holly's excellent piece about his time with the newest VR system on the block.
Your PSVR experience
Have you had a chance to demo PlayStation VR? Do you intend to give it a try before its release in October? Let us know in the comments section below!