Review: PlayStation VR

Consoles Join the Virtual Realm

 psvr-box
With virtual reality being all the rage right now, it should come as no surprise that console manufacturers want a piece of the pie. With the official releases of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in early-to-mid 2016, PC players have had the opportunity to go hands-on for several months. Now, Sony has entered the market with the PlayStation VR—a virtual reality solution that leverages the PlayStation 4 to give console owners a crack at the virtual space. After a week or so with the unit, here’s what we thought.
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Requirements and Cost

Not taking the VR hardware into account, the Vive and Rift require moderately powerful PCs with graphics cards that cost $250-300 on the low end to operate. Conversely, the PlayStation VR requires a PlayStation 4 console, which can be alternatively grabbed a similar price of $300. On top of that, the Vive and Rift cost $800 and $600, respectively, where the PlayStation VR headset can be purchased for $400 (though you’ll need at least a PlayStation 4 Camera ($60).
If you’re coming at it from scratch, you’ll be in for a bare minimum of ~$760 to get the PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR headset, and a PS Camera. Compare that with ~$1,300+ for a PC setup ($600 for the Rift, $300 for a VR-ready headset, and $500 for the other parts and components) and, financially, the PlayStation VR is hands-down the more economical option.

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Hardware

The PlayStation VR headset itself is a great piece of kit. It’s sturdy and can adjust to fit large heads (or heads full of hair) with the press of a button. Even so, it’s lightweight and fantastically comfortable. You can tell Sony’s put quite a bit of care into designing something folks won’t mind having on their heads for a good, long time. The headband has a cushion along the back and as well as a cushioned piece for your forehead to maintain comfort while wearing the device. It also offers two adjustment mechanisms: one for getting just the right fit of the unit on your head, and another for easily adjusting the distance of the unit from your face.
The core viewing unit itself looks and feels great. It has soft rubber all around the piece that fits against your face, including a soft, pliable nosepiece that keeps the unit from weighing against your face—again for maintaining comfort. That said, rubber doesn’t necessarily breathe well, but the unit is designed to facilitate airflow quite nicely.
One of my favorite features of the the PlayStation VR’s design, however, is the fact that it fits over my glasses without any issues at all. When I’ve worn other headsets, I had to work around this issue, but with the PlayStation VR it’s a non-issue. Editor’s Note: I second this sentiment, and feel that it is worth emphasizing for our geeky audience. I at first attempted to demo the headset without my eyeglasses, but the draw distance of PSVR display felt akin to reading letters at an optometrist’s office. I begrudgingly replaced my my spectacles, but was pleasantly surprised at the accommodating comfort of the headset. 
In regards to what you’re seeing, the quality of the on-screen image can feel somewhat lower-resolution at times. If you don’t have the headset adjusted just right, things can look a bit blurry. That said, the PSVR is slightly lower-res than its counterparts, utilizing one 1920×1080 screen in its headset where its counterparts have a 1080×1200 screen dedicated to each eye. The vast majority of the time, however, games look fantastic and you’ll likely rarely notice the effect. Speaking of effects, I’ve often heard folks refer to a “screen door effect” when looking through these headsets. Despite its overall lower resolution, I only ever felt that with the PSVR when I was at an all-black loading screen.

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Unboxing and Setup

When you take the basic $400 PlayStation VR home, you’ll have to get everything out, assemble it, and attach it to your PlayStation 4. In the box you have:
  • PlayStation VR headset
  • PlayStation VR Demo Disc
  • Processor unit/breakout box
  • PSVR connection cable/adapter
  • HDMI cable
  • USB cable
  • Stereo earbuds
  • Power cord
If you purchase the $500 launch bundle, you’ll get some extra goodies in the box:
  • PS Camera ($60 Retail)
  • PlayStation Move controllers (2, $30 Retail each)
  • PlayStation VR Worlds game ($40 retail)
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The PlayStation VR setup is relatively quick and simple, though it will involve several cables. Components are all packaged with numbers on them. The included instructions take you through step by step, showing you how to hook up everything using the numbers on the related boxes/components. From start to finish, you ought to be able to be able to be up and running in 10-15 minutes, tops, though some cable management may not be a bad idea. Also keep in mind: your PlayStation 4 only has two USB slots and the PSVR will require one of those at all times.
Besides the in-the-box setup, you’ll have to tweak your PS Camera, lighting, and the play area. The official documentation recommends you have a space about 10’x6′. Once you have all of that setup, you should be good to go. You’ll even still be able to output to the TV, allowing folks to see what you’re seeing (and hey, you can stream or capture footage if you’d like, too).

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Experience / Library

Overall, I’ve had a great time with my PlayStation VR so far. Though the controller(s) required varies from game to game, everything has been easy to pick up and just get going. I will say that as I’ve played, I’ve learned my own limitations with the environment. I tend to suffer some motion sickness with games that utilize head-tracking to turn (Scavenger’s; Odyssey; RIGS—though this one can be made totally controller-based) while stationary games or controller-based games without the head-tracking movement (Eve: Valkyrie) have no issues. That said, because the PSVR only uses a single camera (where Vive uses two across the room), there is some loss of controller fidelity at times. Like the PlayStation 3’s motion controls before it, you’ll find yourself occasionally re-calibrating yourself and the camera to maintain the experience’s quality.
It’s been interesting exposing myself to so many different genres and experiences, testing the limits of the hardware, and I’ve fallen in love. The platform’s software library has already come out strong with over 20 titles for early adopters to enjoy that take on experiences of all shapes and sizes:
  • 100ft Robot Golf
  • Ace Banana
  • Batman: Arkham VR
  • Battlezone
  • Driveclub VR
  • EVE: Valkyrie
  • Hatsune Miku VR
  • Headmaster
  • Hustle Kings VR
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • Pixel Gear
  • PlayStation VR Worlds (includes London Heist, Scavengers Odyssey, Ocean Descent, VR Luge, and Danger Ball)
  • Rez Infinite
  • RIGS
  • SUPERHYPERCUBE
  • Thumper
  • Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
  • Wayward Sky
  • …and more!
Though there are a handful of significant experiences on the platform, right now most of the library feels like glorified tech demos and, frankly, many of them are overpriced. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had experiencing video games in a completely new way, and your family and friends will want to try it out for themselves. Just remember—these headsets are *not* recommended for children under 13 years of age.

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Negatives

As with any platform, especially with relatively new technology, there are definitely issues to experience. At $400 just to get your foot in the door, cost is certainly an issue you’ll have to come to terms with. It’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s much more affordable than its PC equivalents. There are physical space limitations to take into consideration as well. Not everyone will have 10’x6′ of open area to utilize. At that point, you’ll have to decide whether to compromise your experience or forego it altogether. Given that Sony is able to keep costs down by re-using their existing peripherals, I’m really quite impressed with everything the PlayStation VR can do. With that in mind, having the Move controllers lose their tracking on occasion and requiring users to reset their center-point can be somewhat frustrating and takes gamers out of the immersion they’re going for in the first place.
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Conclusion

When its all said and done, I believe the PlayStation VR is a fantastic platform. The headset is comfortable and well-designed and the launch library offers a variety of fun games to experience. While not technically as advanced as its PC counterparts, it works in all the right ways. At $400 (or more), it can’t be written off as a cheap form of entry to virtual reality, however it is handily more affordable than other similar platforms on the market.
If you’re looking to get involved in virtual reality gaming, I believe the PlayStation VR is a great choice. Sony’s support of the platform remains to be seen, but this is one sector I would love to see continue to offer new experiences for years to come.

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The Bottom Line

The PlayStation VR is a great way to break into the virtual reality gaming space. It's very comfortable, immersive with high fidelity, and relatively inexpensive compared to its competitors. On top of that, there's a solid launch lineup of games to play. The Move controllers occasionally have issues but overall, things look and feel great. Just be mindful that controller requirements change on a game-by-game basis.

 

7.5

Joe Morgan

Gamer, software developer, dog lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace or CrossConsoleGamers, you can find him streaming at Twitch.tv/JoeKnowethGames

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