Gear Review: PlayStation VR

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Virtual Reality is no longer a pipe dream. Earlier this year, Oculus VR and Facebook launched the Oculus Rift, while HTC and Valve released the Vive. Both headsets provide an exceptional VR experience, but require a fairly substantial financial investment. A powerful (i.e. expensive) video card plus a fairly beefy CPU are minimum to getting into VR on the PC. Then add the cost of either the Oculus or the Vive, both of which are sitting at close to $800, and the desire to game in true virtual reality is a financial non-reality for many.

Almost seven months after the launches of the Rift and Vive comes the PlayStation VR, Sony’s virtual reality solution for the PlayStation 4. Priced at $399 for the Core headset by itself or $499 for the headset along with a camera, two Move controllers, and a copy of the VR Worlds game pack, the PSVR is a much cheaper entry point for virtual reality gaming. But for only $399, does the PSVR offer true substance and performance or is it just a cheap cash grab looking to quickly capitalize on the VR hype?

At the time the prices were announced for the PSVR, I balked at the notion of spending an extra hundred dollars on what amounts to hardware I already had (namely the Move controllers and the camera), so I pre-ordered a Core unit and waited like all the rest of the anxious gamers who had wanted to give the “next big thing” a go. My unit arrived mid-day on the 13th (which is almost a miracle since Best Buy hasn’t always been particularly reliable on launch day deliveries) and I eagerly opened the box to finally go hands-on with my own VR headset.

Sony seems to be taking cues from Apple with regards to elegant and simple packaging. A square box with a cloth strap allows the box to open but not flop like a gaping maw exposing all of the cables, processing unit, and the headset itself. Each cable is labeled and maps to the quick setup guide also included in the box. One nit picky thing about my unboxing experience was all cables but one were bundled together with nice and neat twist ties. For some reason the cable that actually runs from the processing unit and connects to the VR headset was wrapped in plastic, which was taped tightly down with thick pieces of heavy tape. I’m loathe to use a knife or any other sharp object around electrical cables—especially ones that connect to $400 VR toys–so this was a hassle to remove.

Setup is fairly straightforward. The HDMI cable typically running from the PS4 to the TV is unplugged from the PS4 and slotted into the processing unit. A new HDMI cable is then run from the processing unit to the PS4, while a USB cable goes from the PS4 to the processing unit (which is a bit of a bummer since that eats up one of the console’s only two USB slots). A power cord plugs into the wall outlet and connects the AC adapter to the processing unit with another long cable. The headset then plugs into the processor.

Putting the headset on is very simple. The headset actually fits well even while wearing glasses (which is not something I can say about the Rift). A band that fits over the head is spring compressed and can be pulled back from the lens housing to let the unit sit on the user’s head. The lens housing has a button which extends the unit away from your face, or closes it back down to seal out light. Part of the cable that comes off of the headset has a power/volume breakout, which also allows for headphones/headsets to plug into. This is the only way to get true 3D audio; users with high end wireless headsets are SOL. Fortunately for me, I have some decent Turtle Beach wired cans that I’ve been using, and once I slip them on I am totally immersed in the magic of VR.

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The headset itself is extremely comfortable to wear. For those with a smaller head, a gear in the back of the band that goes around the head allows for the headset to be tightened down so that it won’t fly off when playing certain games. As for the actual visual fidelity of the display, there are soft rubber shields that snug up against the face (on the sides and below the lens unit) that help to block out any external light without feeling a tight compression. Wearing glasses, as mentioned before, is a non issue with the PSVR because of how the lens unit sides forward and back. Only after several hours of intense play did I ever find myself exhausted from use.

There are some downsides you’ll quickly need to learn to adjust for. For starters, you can’t see anything once the PSVR is properly in place. Unlike the Vive, which has a camera allowing for players to see the surrounding room, the PSVR blinds the user to anything other than the UI of the PS4 dashboard. Another minor nuisance is the fact that trophies are not visible while using the PSVR, which is a little strange since you can hear the achieved trophy popping without knowing what you actually accomplished. Setting up the PSVR also creates sort of a snaking mess of cables. Having the cables from the headphones and the processor unit wrap around your arms and tangle at your feet is a bothersome issue to get used to. Additionally, I sometimes found that my camera was pointed too low (or just right for seated play) but not high enough for games that recommended standing while playing. Having to take off the headset to better adjust the positioning of the camera, get back into the game, and then hope it is better is a minor frustration.

After they’ve been collecting dust in recent years, getting back into using the Move motion controllers takes a bit of a re-adjustment. While all of the face buttons are on the Move controllers, remembering which button is which (without being able to actually see them due to the VR unit sitting on your face) is a challenge. For anyone who streams via the native PS4 Share button, either to Twitch, YouTube, or Dailymotion, the typical quartering of the screen to see if anyone is watching the broadcast and see comments is missing. Obviously streaming without being able to see chat to help interact with your audience is key, so folks may want to look at using 3rd party solutions to help stream while using the PSVR.

One of the cool things that you can do is play Netflix or Amazon Streaming (or even normal video games) with the PSVR headset strapped on. While it isn’t ideal, the sensation is akin to playing a game while sitting in the first two rows of a very large movie theater screen. The really cool but totally lazy thing that PSVR allows for is to use the headset while laying on the couch and having the PSVR provide a screen directly in front of your face. This, of course, only works for non-VR related media. Anything VR specific requires being center and trackable from the PlayStation Camera.

Early on at least, Sony has a really strong movement behind getting a lot of unique and interesting games to its platform. As for gameplay performance, I’m in progress playing through a large portion of the PSVR launch lineup and will be reviewing titles in the days and weeks ahead to share my thoughts on how individual games perform with PSVR. Games I’ve reviewed so far include the following (list will be updated with links as new reviews go up):

Headmaster
Super Hypercube
PlayStation VR Worlds
Ace Banana
Batman: Arkham VR
Weeping Doll
Thumper
Waddle Home
Robinson: The Journey
Pinball FX2 VR
Wayward Sky

Overall, I am truly impressed with just how well the PlayStation VR performs. At times the visuals are a bit muddy or swimmy, a better way to describe how objects appear but don’t have the same clarity that a 1080p (or presumably 4k) display offers. However, playing a game that takes advantage of the VR headset is something truly to behold. From time to time, I still feel a twinge of vertigo when a game initially starts up, but I’m guessing that has more to do with my own head trying to process going from being on a chair in the middle of my living room to suddenly being in a mech suit or tank and having a full 360-degree view of a completely different landscape than my boring house. Cable tangles aside, the PSVR is entirely comfortable and impressive given that the PS4 at this point is three-year-old tech. Head tracking is so well done; turning around to look at something behind you in VR is tracked without any problem. If you’ve got a few hundred dollars to burn, I would without hesitation recommend buying a PSVR.

Pros:
+ Comfortable headset
+ Easy setup
+ Large demo disc to sample a variety of games
+ Non-VR games and media can be played in “theater mode”

Cons:
– Core unit doesn’t come with VR Worlds
– Cable management can be a bit of a chore
– Trophy pops aren’t visible while in VR
– Streaming while using PSVR limits player visibility to their audience

Source: PlayStation VR Core Headset purchased by reviewer.

Buy From: Amazon.com

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.