Sony PlayStation VR

Sony’s virtual reality system, the PlayStation VR, is made for use with the PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro. It’s a well designed system that comes a close second to the PC-powered HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in specs, and is much less expensive, even comparing the required PS4 to the more expensive VR-ready PCs the Vive and Rift require. Its graphical capabilities and motion-tracking put to shame the old school smartphone-based VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR. VR is still lacks the maturity of game consoles but is catching up.

The Sony PS Virtual Reality comes in two bundles: a PS VR with a PlayStation Camera (which is required to use the headset) for about $400, and a PS VR with a PlayStation Camera and 2 Move controllers for $450. The PS VR is the most affordable and accessible tethered VR system available.

Requirements and Design

The bundle includes a PlayStation Camera and Move controllers, the only other thing you need to use the PS VR is a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro. This puts the total price for a tethered, immersive VR experience far below what you would have to pay to use the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

The headset is a curved visor that fits nicely on a head, with a protruding visor and a single thick headband that runs around the back of your head. It weighs 1.3 pounds which is close in weight and size to the Oculus & Vive. The headband is a crosspiece with an adjustment wheel and button, and elastic is hidden where it connects to the visor. Gray panels around the front, hide multicolored lights that come on when you use the headset. The lights are used by the PlayStation Camera to track the headset’s location. A wire runs from the left side of the visor and dropping down freely to connect to the PS VR processor box with the included connection cable. If you must buy a tethered VR headset, this tether is tolerable.

To put the headset on, just place the visor over your eyes and pull the headband back, stretching the elastic until the crosspiece fits against the back of your head. Turning the wheel tightens and locks the headband, keeping the headset in place while you use it. The button releases the headband so you can adjust it or pull it off. It’s a notable departure from the Vive and Rift, both of which use a T-shaped harness with a strap that runs over the top of your head. The fit is very secure even without a strap over your head to keep it in place.

The inline remote is on the wire from the headset and contains a 3.5mm headphone jack for use with the included earphones or your own earphones, volume up/down and mic mute buttons, and a power button that turns the headset on and off with an audible beep from the processor unit. The cable includes two HDMI connectors, a standard HDMI plug and the other has a proprietary HDMI. They both plug into the VR connector cable, which in turn plugs into the processor box with another pair of the same HDMI plugs.

The VR processor is about the size of a large power supply. The front includes all the lights you’d expect, connectors for the tether cables plus the ports for the power and a USB connection to your PS4 and one last HDMI out.

Sony Playstation VR
Sony Playstation VR

Setup and Display

Hooking everything up is a easy, but you may need some cable management accessories or zip ties so it doesn’t look like a rats nest. Starting at the VR box, you need the headset tether cables plugged in, the PS4 plugged in, the Power plugged in, and the camera. Turn everything on, if you got it right it will display the PS4’s main menu as a large screen projected in front of you.

The PS VR uses a 1,920-by-1,080 OLED panel split into 960-by-1,080 images per eye. This means the PS VR’s picture is just slightly grainier, but aside from some minor pixelation with small text, it isn’t a very noticeable downgrade. The PS VR’s panel also sports a 120Hz refresh rate, so the headset has the capability of smoother motion than the 90Hz Rift and Vive. It looks crisp and smooth, and stands up against the other two headsets in picture quality.

Controls and Motion Tracking

The PS VR has Move motion controllers, developed as a Wii-like motion control system. These controllers aren’t included with the $399 bundle, but the $449 bundle includes a pair. Move uses two motion-sensing wand controllers with glowing bulbs that the PlayStation Camera tracks along with the PS VR’s positioning lights. Resulting in a motion-control system that is very similarly to the HTC Vive’s in terms of accuracy, but without the Vive’s controller’s touchpad. They depend on the PlayStation Camera, you can’t turn completely around like you can with the HTC Vive and its two spread-out tracking sensors. You must remain standing or sitting in front of your television to maintain control accuracy.

The PS VR doesn’t support whole-room motion tracking like the HTC Vive, it still demands a fair bit of space. You must to sit several feet back from by the screen from the PlayStation Camera for the headset to track accurately, which is different from the performance of the Vive and the Rift.

PS VR relies on visual tracking with colored lights instead of infrared tracking, it appears to be more vulnerable to ambient light distortions and reflections.

Games

Sony includes a disc filled with software to get started. It’s mostly trial versions of retail VR software of varying scopes and prices, like Driveclub VR, Rigs, and Thumper. It’s always nice to try before you buy.

Non-VR Software

You can use the headset to play non-VR games and apps. The PlayStation VR displays all non-PS VR software as a giant screen floating in front of your face, similar to the Virtual Desktop software available for the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. Motion controls are disabled when playing non-VR games, but the system still tracks your head movement for what it’s worth. If you turn and use the view from another position a prompt appears to tell you to hold the options button on the DualShock 4 down for two seconds to reset the screen to whatever direction you’re facing.

This is a very helpful feature that gives the PS VR some purpose beyond the games and tech demos designed specifically for it. It effectively gives you a big-screen TV, through which you can enjoy any PlayStation 4 content. You need to be wary of eye and neck strain from long-term use, and it’s not as comfortable to use as sitting in front of your television. It’s still a poor choice if you think you can use this to get actual work done, this is a gaming VR system only.

An Accessible Intro to High-End VR

High end virtual reality has been maturing for a years, but it’s still just a gaming novelty. However, the PlayStation VR offers the best buy for price, power, and features in this category. At $700 including a PS4, its total cost of entry is much less than direct competitors. It packs far more graphical power than any of the phone-based VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Sony PlayStation VR headset is powerful, fun, and a compelling virtual reality with motion control.

Sony PlayStation VR Specs

TypeTethered
Resolution1,080 by 960 (per eye)
Refresh Rate120 Hz
Motion Detection6DOF
ControlsDualShock 4, PlayStation Move
Hardware PlatformPlayStation 4
Software PlatformPlayStation 4

Where to Buy

Leave a Reply