There's a lot riding on the PlayStation VR. Sony's VR ambitions. Maybe the VR industry as a whole.
With more than 46 million PS4s in households already, it's common knowledge that it'll probably completely trash Oculus Rift and HTC Vive sales. How many people do you know who could afford more to drop than $1,000 on a PC and high-end headset? How many people do you know who could afford a PS VR? Exactly.
Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games
But that also means it will be most people's introduction to 'good' VR. With compromises made on the hardware to achieve that price, PlayStation VR is not perfect. But it's going after console gamers hard and ultimately, it is still a truly awesome PS4 accessory.
We're going to try to not compare the PlayStation VR to a VR system essentially twice its price – the HTC Vive – but with nothing else in the PS VR's category of quality but affordable VR, that is the benchmark. We'll update this review after PlayStation VR launch day and revisit it in a few months because this will live and die on the games.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Initial set-up
Sony really has found a sweet spot in terms of keeping the PS VR practical and accessible. If you already have a PS4, setting up the PlayStation VR is super simple. Just set up your PlayStation Camera first – this is required to play, not an extra like the Move controllers – then follow the instructions to connect all the correct cables from the Processor Unit to your PS4.
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The main thing to remember is that it becomes a pass-through for your HDMIs – one goes from the TV into the unit, another from the unit to the PS4. One small niggle: this does affect HDR performance on your TV.
Then just connect the headset itself to the Processor Unit – we'd recommend going with the longer cable here so you can turn around comfortably – and power on the PlayStation VR via the in-line controls which also include volume and mic buttons.
Sure it's not wireless like a mobile VR headset but you (probably) won't need to rearrange your furniture either. There's no room mapping needed, you just need to tinker with the Camera to line it up with your head once you've plonked your new VR gaming chair where you want it to be. Sony recommends playing PS VR seated rather than standing, sitting 5 feet from the Camera with enough room on either side for you to lunge/duck/turn, and that's about right.
It helps if your PS4 is close to your TV as the standard PlayStation Camera wire is pretty short and this needs to both hook up to your console and be able to see your face. You might think this goes without saying, but in my flat we have the PS4 and other consoles and boxes tucked away in a corner of the open plan lounge/kitchen with the HDMIs going through the walls from the wall mounted TV down the other end of the room. It was tricky but I still made it work.
Our only beef in fact is that if you're a little precious about having no wires in the living room, it's tricky to make everything look neat – there's the HDMIs going to the headset, for instance, and depending on which PS4 you have USBs on the front too which means cables looped around from there too. It's not a dealbreaker for me but our editor-in-chief Paul Lamkin was a little more unhappy.
Setup is easy and you also always know where you are with the menus – once you've downloaded some VR games (which can take a while) they just appear in your regular PS4 menu for you to select. This appears in VR too using PlayStation's Cinematic Mode – it's a 2D screen floating in blank 3D space and you can press the PS button on your DualShock to quit apps and games and get back to it at any time, which is reassuring.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Design and comfort
We have a soft spot for the PlayStation VR's design which we're just gonna go ahead and call stylish. With its blue lights (which act as head tracking points), the padded crown section on your forehead and the black and white finish, this looks like a complete consumer headset from the near future. When newbies see it, they want to put it on their heads… like now.
Once it's on, it's feels very light, at 610g, and doesn't feel like it's going to slip down your face or bother your nose like other high-end headsets can. That's even after an hour or so of playing. There's no pass-through camera to see what's going on in the real world but there is a super handy button on the bottom of the headset that slides the screen back and forth to get a secure fit or check up on the room you're in without taking the whole thing off.
The wire also doesn't get in the way, especially as you won't tend to be stood up moving around – we've only managed to disconnect the PSVR once by moving and that's just because it was trapped under the chair leg.
It's easy to get to grips with but that doesn't mean the design is perfect. Because there are no adjustable straps and a cushioned band instead, it can be quite uncomfortable to get on and off, catching your hair (if you have it) when you pull it off without extending the band again for instance. There is a button round the back to control this, as well as a dial to tighten it up, but often you'll forget and just yank it off.
The rubber sections around your face, and particularly to the sides, feel flimsy and don't give you that secure feeling of being enclosed as with the cushioned Vive or even a Gear VR. Essentially, even though they don't let any light in, if you bash the side by accident during a game, say, it can flex and let some of the world around in which is exactly what you don't want. Maybe we'll see future accessories to address this but for now, it can be slightly distracting, not to mention a little sweaty.
Then there's the fog – Sony hasn't quite managed to solve this problem of when you first put the headset on or use it in a new temperature/room. It's not too much of a problem and it does disappear but, as a first impression, it's not ideal.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Display
As we said, the PlayStation VR sits smack bang in the middle of high-end and mobile VR headsets. The display is a single 5.7-inch 1920 x 1080 OLED – both Rift and Vive have two displays a-piece and what we have here is a similar size to a Note phone in a Gear VR. It's a 100 degree field of view which is slightly smaller than Rift or Vive (and some mobile VR headsets now).
Still, Sony has a couple of things going for it with an (up to) 90Hz, or even 120Hz, refresh rate (using its 'reprojection' tech when games aren't running natively at those rates) and RGB sub-pixels designed to increase the overall immersion of the picture.
The VR worlds we saw via this headset look rich, vibrant and immersive on the display and as Sony boasts, we encountered very little visible lag in the images thanks to its less than 18ms latency. If this was higher-res, it would be dazzling. When viewing objects close up, in particular, the con starts to crumble but to be fair this is something that even the high-end Rift and Vive make compromises on.
And we'll probably say this more than once: if you've been spoiled by Vive, you'll notice the difference immediately. But the truth is that many people haven't used Vive yet and/or can't afford it, and PS VR will be enough to bowl them over. There's also a slight screen door effect here. You'll spot it in the intros of games, in particular, before they get going and you're looking around at abstract 3D menus. But once games get going, you'll forget all about it as you concentrate on the gameplay at hand.
So it's not the most mindblowing VR headset display but, combined with a compelling game narrative, it's more than good enough to help you feel like you're in that VR world.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Tracking and performance
This is not a VR system built for lots of physical input and that's okay. If you're happy sitting down and getting the thrill of moving your head, ducking and turning round to shoot in different directions, then you are well served here – just don't expect to be running around your living room. The 1:1 head tracking by the PlayStation Camera is superb and, in games where you can see the DualShock as an animation in VR (like Tumble VR), this is tracked very well in terms of turns and micro movements.
Note: We've been testing the PS VR with both the now outdated PlayStation Camera and the redesigned Camera accessory. If you don't already have one, get the new Camera as it comes with a nice tiltable stand which will – seriously – save you a lot of time and faffing about.
So here's where things trip up a little: the Camera is supposed to be able to track your head if you turn around, as it's 360 degree and there are head tracking points on the back of the band. But if you're in something like London Heist where the action is all around and you might want to look over a desk to shoot or turn back to see an exploding van, you can quickly find yourself 'outside the play area'.
If you switch players of different heights or fancy standing up, you'll also have to recalibrate the Camera which quickly becomes annoying and essentially involves two people. When you're in a game, you can hold down 'options' on a DualShock to reset to your view, though, which is quick and works like a charm.
When 'picking' up blocks to solve laser or stacking puzzles in Tumble or grabbing guns and other objects, the controller tracking and in-game movements don't match up as well as something like Vive can offer. It's good enough to work and offer some clever, delightful tricks like 3D audio taking advantage of you holding a phone to your ear (when using headphones, of course). And again the more impressive tech is over double the price plus the cost of a gaming PC.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Controllers
A real plus point for the PlayStation VR is that you can just play with your DualShock controller that you already own (thus saving money) or your Move Motion controllers if you have those. It's worth saying that it's awesome that you can start playing with controls you're already used to from years of gaming.
If you don't already own the Moves, you can buy the new redesigned, rebranded stick controllers either as a launch bundle or at a later date. There's a lot of freedom and the PS VR Aim controller – the gun shaped one which will work with upcoming sci-fi game Farpoint – will join the options soon enough too.
Generally, the PlayStation Camera tracked the Move controllers well enough not to get annoying. We played Job Simulator, for instance, which we've played on the HTC Vive and though it wasn't quite as slick an experience on PS VR, it was pretty damn close. As ever, we had to 'grab' items a few times on occasion but this goes for all VR right now.
In some games, the two hand controls really make it – reloading guns, holding open the hood of a car with one hand while you tinker around inside etc etc. It all goes towards tricking you into thinking it's real. The potential is hella exciting – they can act as guns, wands, swords, torches and more, all with 1:1 hand tracking.
They aren't as intuitively designed as Oculus Touch and don't have finger tracking but they're smaller, lighter and less unwieldy than Vive's controllers. By pressing 'start' you can recalibrate your view but we found that we used DualShock to navigate menus until we actually got into the game.
As the PS VR Aim shows, the VR peripheral market for PlayStation VR could be huge and quickly gain momentum once the headset launches and more games go live. We also wouldn't be surprised to see more from Sony; the Move controllers weren't built from the ground up for VR but for now they do a decent – if not perfect – job. They need charging pretty often too but if you're playing in front of your PS4, you can play wired with a mini USB.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Motion sickness
We can't ignore motion sickness on the PlayStation VR, and when the headsets ship we predict more than a couple of stories about this. Maybe it's the display resolution or some other technical difference but we've had a few bouts of mild motion sickness with the PS VR; more so than with more expensive headsets like Vive.
Now, it really does depend on the game and how long you've been playing. Various members of the team experienced some nausea ranging from barely noticeable to on the verge of actually throwing up when playing for over an hour. Sony says to take a 15 minute break after an hour and we strongly advise sticking to this, no matter how tempting it is not to.
Some games are more likely to make you motion sick than others – namely any game that artificially moves you and there's a lack of controls as to the speed/direction. So racing games like the VR Luge demo and things like Driveclub VR may be a problem – just see how you feel – as well as the high-speed space dogfights of EVE: Valkyrie or a rollercoaster segment in Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. In games where the action was slower and we stayed in a more static viewpoint, we experienced close to zero motion sickness.
The other thing to keep an eye out for – literally – is headaches and eye strain. Keep blinking, close your eyes during loading screens and take regular breaks.
Sony PlayStation VR review: Games
The PlayStation VR isn't even shipping yet and Sony has already won the VR games war. The big figure is that 50 titles are slated to launch by the end of 2016 and we've already been getting to grips with ten of them pre-launch.
Yes there are still high quality demos that leave you wanting more – see London Heist – but there's already a hell of a lot of variety and quality in the games available at launch and coming soon. There's experimentation with story and controls but there are also games and characters and environments that you'll recognise. Plus it's not all $50 titles so you won't go bankrupt within days.
Read this: The best PlayStation VR games
We've been playing 3D puzzle game Tumble VR and virtual reality staple Battlezone (a timed launch exclusive for PlayStation) but there's also the addictive football heading Headmaster and fun for all the family Job Simulator that makes good use of the Move controllers.
We're talking well-realised, repeat play games; some of which are long-ish and have really strong narratives that truly suck you into the VR with multiplayer for games like the very fun Rigs: Mechanised League and EVE: Valkyrie (which you'll be able to play against Rift users). We're looking forward to playing the hour-long Batman: Arkham VR too.
For now, it's probably missing that one, great, first-person title that offers hours and hours and gameplay – which won't be made quickly or cheaply for VR by anyone – but it's really only a matter of time (and resources).
Another bonus is the PS VR's social and sharing features both in the form of capturing your VR gameplay (it takes the right eye view) and livestreaming to the likes of Twitch or software like The Playroom or the upcoming Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes which we've seen on Gear VR. It's something that Sony has promised to build on too to keep everyone in the room entertained.
We can expect some non-game content as well in the form of shorts and VR films we've seen on other platforms – a Hulu app in the US, Invasion by Baobab Studios, Within's 360-degree live action library, Fox's The Martian and Penrose Studio's Allumette. It'll be interesting to see how much focus is placed on non-game experiences – we'll revisit this when the VR section of the store goes live.
- Close to high-end, affordable
- Awesome VR games already
- Range of controller options
- Multiplayer and social features
- Some motion sickness possible
- Tracking isn’t perfect
- Lower res than high-end VR
- Pay for Camera + Move controllers