PlayStation VR has finally arrived. The virtual reality headset that promises to bring this new technology into the mainstream is now available to buy for £349.
Sony has its work cut out for it. While the technology is now at a stage where it truly works, there have historically been a number of barriers which stop a person from simply going to Amazon, buying a headset and getting stuck in.
PlayStation VR hopes to remedy this. It’s powered by the PlayStation 4 (owned by more than 40 million people), it’s also relatively cheap and it boasts an impressive line-up of new games.
Ultimately though the question everyone will be asking is this: After all the faff of setting it up, getting it working and finally fitting it onto your head, is it worth it?
Here’s what we think:
PlayStation VR is without doubt one of the most futuristic-looking gadgets we’ve seen in a long time.
Looking like a prop from the new Star Trek films it’s a white and black ensemble with bright blue lights dotted all over.
Subtly emblazoned around it are the PlayStation logos giving you some small clue that this gadget is actually for playing video games.
It is also the most comfortable VR headset we’ve ever worn. It feels lighter than both the Vive and Oculus Rift thanks to some ingenious design wizardry from Sony which means that a large portion of the headset’s weight is actually placed on the band itself rather than in the screen.
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What that means in real-world use is that you don’t feel your head constantly wanting to nod forward because there’s a massive great display strapped to your face.
This increased comfort is absolutely vital to the success of the medium, and it’s the removal of a major barrier that has kept many at bay from trying it. Does it hold up over long periods of time? That entirely depends on the game, but physically, the headset is sound.
Now this is where you might find yourself shelling out a bit more money than you had originally planned.
You see PlayStation VR won’t work out of the box with the PlayStation 4.
What’s mandatory is PlayStation Camera, a £39 addition which allows the PS4 to actually track the headset and controller’s movements.
Speaking of which if you want to play games that require hands you’ll need two PlayStation Move controllers, the pair of which will set you back an addition £69.
Once you have the Camera however, setting up PlayStation VR is a lot easier than a) both Vive and Oculus b) PlayStation’s own instructions showing you how to set it up.
Yes, there are a lot of cables, but they’re all numbered and once it’s done the entire system takes up the least amount of space in the living room.
There’s simply one main cable that leads from the processing box to the headset, from there you can attach some headphones via the in-line remote and that’s it. Everything else is either plugged into the PS4 or can be tucked away behind your TV.
Once you’re all set you simply pop the headset on and follow the on-screen instructions using your PS4 controller.
Virtual reality is notoriously hard to perfect when putting the headset on but thankfully Sony’s is really easy to get right. One aspect that definitely helps is the display is actually slidable meaning you can move it closer or further away from your face.
This is invaluable for glasses-wearers but also if you need to see what’s going on in the real world without completely changing the position of the headset.
So what is PlayStation VR actually like to use? Well we’re going to get one thing out of the way right now.
Virtual reality looks a bit old school.
What we mean is that the resolution of PlayStation VR is not that high. You will be able to see individual pixels and it won’t look anywhere near as graphically stunning as games like Uncharted 4.
Now this can be jarring at first, especially if you’re used to seeing images in Full-HD or 4K but don’t worry, it quickly passes. The graphics are better than we expected and it immediately becomes clear that it’s simply a drop in resolution, nothing else.
So why does it look this way? Well the reason for this is that quite simply your poor old PS4 is having to render an incredibly complex, fully virtual environment. This is spectacularly difficult to do unless of course you have a £3,000 high-end gaming PC.
As a result of this the headset has one of the lower resolution displays compared to say HTC Vive or Oculus. In fact you’re likely to get a visually clearer VR experience on your smartphone at the moment because they’re the only gadgets with screens of a high enough resolution. Of course the graphics won’t be anywhere near as good.
After 10 minutes of playing it you’re actually not going to care about the pixels that much, you see when a game or experience comes along and works flawlessly with PlayStation’s hardware it’s a truly spellbinding experience.
Batman’s Arkham VR deserves a special mention here. It is a woefully short experience, but for the brief hour or so that you’re playing time quite literally stops and all you’ll care about is exploring Rocksteady’s incredible version of Gotham.
It’s a tantalising glimpse at how virtual reality can lift storytelling through video games to a whole new level. The medium is elevated to a point where it can place deep emotional emphasis on you the player; your decisions have far greater impact when you physically inhabit the world where you’re making them.
In other examples, such as Eve: Valkyrie or RIGS: Mechanized Combat League we see the powerful potential for VR as a simulator, placing you into the cockpit of an impossibly fast-moving spaceship or a giant wearable robot.
It is in both of these however that we see the limitations of VR, not graphically, but physically. Both games are exhausting in their immersion, your brain will on some small level be convinced that you are in fact flying a ship upside down at 1000mph and while you might well be on the safety of your sofa, doing this for long periods of time can result in you feeling drained.
PlayStation VR easily has a truly enviable games lineup at launch, and while Sony should be applauded for making this as such, few of them feel truly like standalone experiences.
RIGS and Eve: Valkyrie stand out as fully fledged games, but as we mentioned before Batman is incredibly short. Games like Robinson: The Journey and Farpoint both look to be comprehensive games but it looks like the run up to Christmas will mostly be filled with short, but jaw-dropping VR experiences tied into some of your favourite games.
This is a contentious issue, because in many ways PlayStation VR is one of the cheapest entry points into virtual reality.
The headset costs just £349, which when combined with the camera and controllers will give current PS4 owners a final price tag of around £450.
That’s a lot of money, and that’s before you’ve even bought a single game.
Speaking of which, the games range in price which is just as well because as mentioned before, only a few feel like built-from-the-ground-up experiences.
Batman will set you back £15, while more complete games like RIGS will cost the standard £49 asking price for a PS4 game.
Who should buy PlayStation VR?
At the moment, if you own a PS4 and are desperately excited to get into virtual reality, PlayStation VR is the only place to start. It’s comfortable, gloriously easy to use and when the hardware and software work in harmony it’s an utterly breathtaking experience. Visceral, emotional and yet entirely accessible, it’s a technological marvel.
Who shouldn’t buy PlayStation VR?
It’s cheaper than Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. That being said it’s still over £450, and that’s only if you own a PS4. That’s a lot of money, and while we would agree that PlayStation VR is far from a gimmick, it still feels like it needs a few more months for developers to truly work out what it is they want to do with VR, and what the public is comfortable playing. We know that’s not really an answer, but to be honest the obvious one goes without saying: If you’re not interested in VR, don’t buy it.
Note: Whether you’re a die-hard VR fan or just interested we highly recommend that you try it out before you even consider buying one, virtual reality just won’t work for some, even if you love the idea of it.