I feverishly refreshed my tracking as I paced around, getting up from the couch every few minutes wondering if the truck or door I had just heard was my dear sweet UPS man.
Seriously, ask Daney, it was every few minutes.
The moment I woke my phone with the power button to check the time I received a call from the intercom and—you guessed it—I hung up on my delivery guy! Daney and my head shot up as she yelled “Run! You’re gonna miss it!” I bolted out the door (and didn’t take my keys) jumping past all the steps on each floor like the ninja I am until I reached the first floor, four stories later. To my surprise, the delivery guy was still there. He laughed and said “Damn! You got here quick!”. I signed for my package, smile beaming from ear to ear, and then I proceeded to calmly wait for the elevator, because this is New York and I’m going to take advantage of the amenities I pay for. Once I got off and stood at my apartment door I knocked….and knocked….and knocked. “That’s weird”, I thought, “Bob’s Burgers isn’t playing that loud.” All of a sudden Daney calls me and I swiftly answer and ask, “Where are you?”, to which she responds, “I’m downstairs.”
WIth shear panic in my voice I exclaimed, “Daney! I didn’t grab my keys!”. She then gets off the elevator with her hands full of keys I didn’t even know we had and with a smile said, “I grabbed every key I could find.” All this and the night before a friend of mine just waltzed into Sony’s PSVR launch in the city, snagged a bundle, and didn’t have to go through any of that shit or wait until almost 3PM for his delivery.
Anyway, I’ve played quite a few games now and have a good sense of my new piece of tech. Although Playstation VR just released this past Thursday to the public, Sony has been working on the hardware for quite some time now. In fact, back in 2014 Sony Interactive Entertainment engineer Anton Mikhailov revealed the platform holder was working on the headset, then codenamed Project Morpheus, for about three years. This pegs development back to around 2011—a year after PlayStation Move released. The Move technology itself was revealed even further back in 2009, making the motion tracking technology around eight years old today. According to Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, Move was conceived with the use of virtual reality control in mind. So the question is then, how does PlayStation’s VR headset stack up compared to the oft compared HTC Vive and Oculus Rift?
The answer is, in my opinion, is pretty damn well. I’ve tried all three headsets at this point and PSVR is by far the most comfortable. From a wearability standpoint it’s not even close. It’s also the only headset those of you who wear glasses can use comfortably thanks to some smart engineering on Sony’s part.
I was going to make a setup video, but honestly the animated one Sony put up you can watch above is much better than anything I could have shot and edited. When you take it out of the box it looks way more complicated than it ends up being. Here’s a quick breakdown:
* Plug the processor box into power
* Plug a HDMI from your PS4 to the Processor Box
* Plug another HDMI from the Processor Box to your TV
* Connect the Processor Box to either USB port on your PS4
* Plug the extension cable into the front of the Processor Box
* Connect the cord from the headset into the extension cable
* Power the headset on via the wired remote control
That’s really all there is to it. I did some cable management and the only visible cable in my entertainment center is the one coming from the Processor Box to my PSVR. It’s really a nice setup—no worrying if I have a powerful enough graphics card or if I have the most up to date drivers installed. I powered on the headset, it downloaded a quick painless update, and I was ready to get sucked into another world in less than a minute.
Design and Comfort
Sony has been designing and manufacturing electronics for decades now, and their expertise really shines through with PSVR. The main reason it’s significantly more comfortable to wear compared to the competition is because of the way it sits on your head. Unlike other VR units, it doesn’t use velcro to strap it awkwardly to your head. Instead, the front visor simply floats in front of your face while the headband rests on your head, balancing the weight equally between your forehead and the back of your head. The headset has nice foam badding everywhere and I had no issues with discomfort, even after a few hours of use at one time. There are two buttons and a dial you’ll use to put the headset on and take it off.
The first button is located on the visor on the bottom right. Pressing it down lets you slide the headset forward and back and the rubber flaps block out light from the top, sides, and bottom. Sliding the headset forward gives just enough room for you to see and respond to a text without having to take the headset off completely. Before you put PSVR on you’ll want to make sure the visor is fully extended forward ever time.
The second button is on the back of the PSVR’s headband. Pressing it in extends and contracts the overall opening to get a good fit around your head. Once PSVR is on, the visor is snug against your face, and you have a clear image you can then use the dial on the back to fine tune the tightness to your liking. Another major contributing factor to the overall comfort of PSVR is it’s weight—you’ll feel like you aren’t wearing it all. The hardware simply fades away.
Another smart design is the wired remote. Sony’s engineers made sure it would be obvious to the user what button does what without having to remove yourself from VR. The power button is on the very top and is significantly recessed in the remote housing, second is the mic mute button that sits flush in the remote, third is the volume up button which is raised above the housing while also including a small raised plastic nub, and finally the last button is volume down which sits equally as high as the volume up button without having the raised nub. After a few uses the button layout became second nature to me.
Overall I’m impressed with the build quality of the headset itself and, while I wish there weren’t any wires, the immersion PSVR enables made me forgive the wire almost immediately.
If I had one gripe it’d be with PSVR’s resolution. The image quality simply isn’t as crisp as I’d like it to be, however, it is by no means a deal breaker and if a lower resolution means a cheaper headset then I’m all for it. Perhaps more significant is the fact that PSVR doesn’t suffer from what’s known in the VR world as the “screen door effect” which I have a photo of below.
Basically what you’re seeing is the spaces between the individual pixels of the VR headset’s display. This effect was most apparent to me on the Oculus Rift, but that may have changed in an updated revision of the hardware since then. Even though Sony’s headset is a lower resolution, the screen door effect is near nonexistent thanks in part to the kind of display being used which offers a full RGB subpixel for every pixel on the display (a deep dive on that here). It’s worth mentioning that all existing PS4 games and video content can be enjoyed in what Sony calls “cinema mode”. Essentially this simulates a pitch black room with a floating screen like in a movie theater. There are three screen sizes to choose from: 117 inches, 163 inches and 226 inches with 163 being the default. While this sounds great in theory, and it is neat, you’ll immediately notice the screen door effect I mentioned above. So while I found myself using cinema mode from time to time, it’s not something I’ll be using over my TV. It’s a bummer that so much image fidelity is lost, but when you’re trying to blow up a 1080p image to a perceived giant size without using all the pixels of the headset itself, what do you expect.
Okay, so the screen doesn’t have the highest fidelity, but it doesn’t really matter. And the headset itself is comfortable and light, but how’s the tracking? Because if the tracking system is a bust it will easily rip you right out of your game, no matter how immersive it is. This is where things get interesting, because some outlets despise Sony’s choice to stick with the aging Move technology while others haven’t had any issues. Then again, when it comes to Move, people have been in both camps since it’s release. I’ve run into issues, but only a couple of times, and the fixes were easy: close one of the curtains that sunlight was pouring in from and turn of the two sconces glaring directly behind me. Fortunately, I outfitted our living room with Philips Hue white lights, so I made a PSVR scene which keeps them off while turning the other lights in our living room on. Nice!
Now, having a light based tracking system obviously has it’s drawbacks compared to the sensor based offerings from Vive and Oculus. If a controller is obstructed by your body and the camera loses sight of it, then it won’t work in whatever game you’re playing. In the real world I found this rarely was a problem. I was still able to turn around and throw things and pick items up in the very fun Job Simulator (review here) without any issues. The Move controllers also aren’t as ergonomic as those from Vive (haven’t tried Oculus Touch) but again, they get the job done. And let’s be honest, we’re talking about a complete VR setup that is powered by PS4—a launch one at that. Compromises had to be made, although I hear reports Sony is netting a $200 profit per unit sold. Good for them.
Pro Tip: If you’re buying Move controllers individually, for the love of God, don’t buy Sony’s double pack for $99. I bought two Sony certified refurbished controllers for around $50 with Prime shipping on Amazon.
You may be wondering what exactly that cute little black box that somewhat resembles a mini PS4 does. The answer? Not much. The box doesn’t add any extra CPU or GPU processing oomph to the PS4. Instead it enables the 3D audio you’ll experience while playing games as well as acting as a HDMI passthrough between your PS4, PSVR, and TV.
I’ve been rambling a lot about the hardware, which is important, but most important—and the reason you may be interested in VR—is because of the experience. I’m going to come right out and say it—it’s god damn magical! Call it an over exaggeration if you want, I don’t care. The simple fact is that when I put on PSVR and play Job Simulator I feel like I’m a part of that cartoon world and when I’m getting interrogated in The Heist I jump back because I feel like I I’m a part of the action.
And I’m not alone.
My wife did it, my buddy Omar did it, and you’ll do it too. Virtual Reality isn’t a gimmick like 3D TV was a few years back. VR transports you in whole other worlds unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. In two other games I’m loving so far, WayWard Sky and Robot Rescue, I can lean in and observe the world and it’s vivid cartoon characters mere inches from me.
Like I’ve said before and I keep saying to people who ask me, VR is something I can’t explain. It’s not something manufacturers can get across in a video ad or static banner ad (although they try). If you really want to know what VR is all about then see if your local Best Buy is demoing PSVR. Or maybe you have a friend or relative who has it. I want VR to stay, because I want the feelings VR gives me to stay. It’s exciting, and to think, this is only the beginning.