I was born in the golden era of the 80s when sticks and stones were deemed entertaining, and rolling in mud after having read the newest comic was the norm. They were simpler times, but those days are long gone.
The 80s were a turning point for technology with most all tech in our hands today being rooted in that era. The 90s basically picked up stride and turned what in the past may have deemed science fiction into science fact.
As usual, Hollywood decided to capitalize on these dreams and started making blockbuster movies about futuristic technology to be. One such movie that touched my soul in a profound manner was The Lawnmower Man. Its promise of virtual reality was a notion that drove me for decades, and now, 24 years later, VR is in the hands of consumers and the sensory world may well change dramatically as a result.
Sony is not the first company to tread into the murky waters of VR. We already have two highly capable and somewhat successful iterations of virtual reality in the market. Both of them, however, have one major setback that is keeping them away from the mainstream consumer: high entry level hardware and an even higher entry-level fee.
When adopting a VR unit that already costs a small fortune, requiring a powerful PC is not exactly a convenient prerequisite, even for excited early adopters. Add to the woes the know-how that will be required in order for you to get your VR running on your PC in the first place and you’ll start to get an idea of the existent challenge for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
Enter Sony’s PSVR. Right out the box, it has a huge advantage in that it is plug and play, if you are of the millions who already own a PS4, of course. You simply acquire the device, plug it in the console and you are ready to go: no stress, no worries. This in itself is the single, most promising feature that will certainly offer Sony the upper hand.
And what a treat unboxing it is. As soon as you open the box, you know you’re in the presence of impressive tech. A huge manual will guide you step by step into installing the PSVR with ease. Cables are labeled clearly and the process that may appear to be messy will run you no more than 15 minutes to set up. Yes, you will have a bunch of additional wires dangling from your console, but you won’t see them when your headset is on, so, win?
In the bundle are two smaller boxes containing all the wiring you will need, the VR processor with its own powerbox, and the unit itself. A demo disc is also bundled to allow you to experience VR straight out of the box, without the need to own any specific game. It is nice to see that the same company that skimped on the Vita, now includes some nice extras with the PSVR bundle.
Speaking of bundles, the PSVR requires the PS4 camera, an accessory almost 90% of PS4 owners don’t have. If you also happen to own a set of Move controllers, your experience may be more immersive, but they are not necessary to play the games.
Luckily, Sony offers a few bundles to satisfy all patrons: a basic pack with just the VR device, a pack with the device and camera, another with the device and Move controllers, and the deluxe bundle with everything.
So let us talk about the PSVR unit itself. It has five sensors on the front, two in the back, and one very big wire dangling from the left side with a small remote unit attached to it. It should be noted that earphones are to be attached to the remote rather than to the headset which can be a bit of a problem.
The unit itself is a smart piece of tech. It is light & attractive, and a nice change of pace from the all-black motif that both the HTC and Oculus apply. The PSVR also has an alluring neon light that lines the headset, granting it a futuristic feel.
The unit is adorned as you would a hat or a visor, complete with an adjustable head strap. The full weight of the unit falls on your forehead, and though this may sound uncomfortable, but you will hardly sense it. In that regards, claiming its comfort is a gross understatement as the PSVR is truly a piece of clever engineering. For example, in all the press about it technical prowess, did you know that you could tilt the screen forward and backward so that you may peek into the real world?
Yes, and before I move on to my next point, you may play games or watch movies on your device without occupying the TV, however, if the content in not formatted to be viewed through the headset, you will notice a dip in the visual quality. Not enough to warrant it a wasted experience, but worth noting nonetheless. What it may lack in visual fidelity, it makes up for in immersion.
A major criticism that both preceding VR devices received is in the suspicious leaking of light into the headsets. The PSVR thankfully adressed this issue in its design by blocking all light from the outside. Also, and as another curiosity that many customers question, you may wear your optical glasses in the device; there is ample room for that, no matter the thickness of the lenses, just be reasonable with your selection of frames.
If you are booting a VR game for the first time, you will all of a sudden lose all sense of reality and get transported into a new world, and your brain will be the most honest of witnesses.
For an experienced gamer, I wiped out very early into my Drive Club VR session. Sitting in a small cockpit of an F1 racer instilled in me a feeling of claustrophobia: peeking at the side mirrors, looking sideways while driving to check the competition, and taking U turns while tilting my head was a bizarre experiences that I will fail to truly define unless you were to try it for yourself.
In RIGS, the first time I jumped and landed was a moment I will never forget, and with games like Battlezone, you will relive all your childhood fantasies about driving a tank in cyberspace. At one point, however, I fell on to a lower platform while hunting a hostile tank which induced me with a sense of true vertigo dread.
This sensation was nothing compared to what I went through during my run of the The Kitchen demo. My mind constantly struggled with the fact that all this was not happening in reality, and people ask why those who die in the matrix also die inn real life…it was just too real.
Alas, there is no such thing as perfection and for all the splendor that the device presents, it is not free from flaws. As mentioned earlier, the graphics could be a huge letdown for purists, but the real fail is Sony’s insistence on the now archaic and defunct Move controllers. Add to that the camera which was also not designed with VR in mind. It has a very narrow field of view, and unless you are seated within optimum ranges, it will have trouble keeping track of you.
A Worst case would take place if you were to turn around, effectively blocking the camera with your body, causing the Move controllers to lose their sync. That said, and in the spirit of fairness, while they are not an optimal control scheme, and though their vibration offers no tactile feedback, they do get the job done and resulting issues caused by them are relatively few and avoidable.
In conclusion, the PSVR is a hassle-free, well-engineered device that won’t blow a hole in your bank account, or at the least, will justify its asking price. It works better than expected, and has many launch games, with more games being planned for on the horizon.
I’m not sure, however, if the PSVR is a a definite, must-own device. Do apply the ”try before you buy” scenario, as no matter how keen you are to the idea of VR, some people are bound to suffer adverse results of motion sickness and disorientation.
Personally, I love it. It has successfully delivered everything my dreams of VR wanted. I can see a not-so-far future when we are fully immersed in our games, existing in them as NPC’s would in some of your favorite games today. While this may not be an ideal launch for the tech, especially when juxtaposed with our dreams of VR, t is a massive leap in the right direction that can only get better with time.
if you haven’t yet, I urge you, no, I wish that you may find a retailer that has a demo unit on display for you to try. Reading and hearing ot the tech is one thing, but unless you try it for yourself, you will never truly understand its wonder. For early adopters like myself, I don’t believe that VR will join the ranks of 3D TV’s as a current fad. More and more games and applications are being developed for it, and the experience is a defining one for all gamers and tech enthusiasts.
Next dream? VR with 4k graphics.