2016 has been a huge year for VR. With the Oculus Rift releasing in March, and the HTC Vive shortly after, people have finally been getting full VR systems in their home. However, the Rift and Vive both have a few barriers of entry; they both require a pretty decent PC or the ability to build your own, working knowledge of software and driver setup, and quite a pretty penny, the Rift and Vive being priced at $600 and $800 respectively. The PlayStation VR aims to bridge the gap and make VR more available to the average consumer, requiring only a PS4 and it’s camera to get started. And it does so quite well, but not without a few hurdles of it’s own.
When you first open the PSVR box, you’re met with a matryoshka-doll-like series of smaller boxes containing the various components required to use it: The VR headset itself, a processor unit, a pair of headphone, and four distinct cables required to hook it all up. It’s a bit daunting, but once it’s all set up, it’s just a matter of turning everything on.
The PSVR headset itself is pretty well constructed. Sturdy plastic for the body, foam rubber padding on the forehead and headband, and a soft rubber light shield. Compared to the Rift and Vive, the PSVR is the heaviest, but actually the best weighted. Whereas the other two headsets have all their weight in the front, staying on your head with thin straps, the PSVR has a weighted hard headband that acts as a counterweight, and results in a much more comfortable experience, especially for extended play. And it fit’s pretty well, too. A wheel on the headband allows you to tighten the straps, and a button on the scope allows you to slide it in and out, making it quite versatile and allowing it to fit over glasses, even my bulky Ray-Bans.
Once you have it on and booted, you’re greeted by the usual PS4 main menu, displayed on a virtual screen in the middle of black, empty void. A virtual theater setting or something of the sort would have been nice, but in any case, this allows you to play any game or use any app regardless of VR compatibility.
As for the actual VR functionality, it’s pretty fantastic. It uses a combination of a built in gyroscope and accelerometer in tandem with the PlayStation Camera to track your position and movement in all directions, and for the most part, it works spectacularly. It had almost no problems keeping my with my movements, whether I was just leaning side to side or turning completely around.
However, it is not without its issues. There are occasions when the camera stops being able to detect me when I get too far away from it. In my case my couch is a little over 9 feet from the camera, and if I lean fully back, I’m prompted with a pop up telling me that i am outside the play area. Ironically, it’s been keeping me at the edge of my seat.
There are also occasions when the centerpoint drifts off to one side, forcing you to keep your head turned at an angle if you want to face forward in-game, rather than just facing forward. Holding down the options button on the controller resets the center point to be whenever you’re facing, but its effectiveness varies from game to game. Most handled it fine, but most notably PlayStation VR Worlds and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood wound up forcing the center point to be at a 90 degree angle from the TV, making it very uncomfortable to play.
Furthermore, the resolution of the screen leaves a little something to be desired. The PSVR actually has the lowest resolution compared to the Rift and Vive, and while in most cases, it works just fine, some of the finer details are lost. For example Rez Infinite’s Area X is almost entirely rendered in particle effects, which look fantastic on a 1080p TV screen at a normal distance, but is lost on the 1080p screen inches from your face.
But nitpicks aside, when it works, PSVR is an immersive, almost magical experience that tears down the barriers between the player and the game. Rez Infinite really threw me through cyberspace, Harmonix Music VR truly left me in a hypnotic trance, EVE: Valkyrie put me in the cockpit of a space fighter. It’s a whole new level of immersion and interaction, and its being brought right to your home. And it’s just the beginning. I’m truly excited to see what the future brings to PlayStation VR.