The new age of virtual reality (VR) has begun. 2016 saw an influx of new VR devices for mobile, personal computers, gaming consoles, and more. As I’m writing this, there are more VR devices on the market than I have seen in my whole lifetime. Walk into your neighborhood Best Buy or other major electronics store and see how many you can count; The number is impressive. But even with so many VR devices on the market for you to choose from, the reality is that VR is still in its infancy stage. Billions are being poured into research to make the devices better. A coalition of companies has been formed to share research and progress. But what about now? What about the devices we have to choose from now? Are they any good? For sure, some are amazing, others may leave you in want.
Sony PlayStation is one of the major companies in the spotlight who has taken the leap of faith in this market. Previously known as Project Morpheus, Sony released its gaming VR headset in October, simply known as PlayStation VR (PS VR). PS VR was one of the most highly anticipated virtual reality devices in 2016. I got it on launch and you may have already seen my unboxing video but I wanted to take my time while reviewing this headset. I wanted to see its longevity. I wanted the novelty of having it to pass. I wanted to see if I felt the same about the headset, a few months in, the way I felt when I first tried it back at E3 2014. Did it stand the test of time?
Comfort and Design
First thing’s first. Let’s get this part out of the way as it’s one of a few negatives I can find with the headset. CABLES. OH! THE CABLES! Before you can use your PS VR, you have to set it up and while setup is relatively easy, there are a lot of wires. I mean a lot. You already have to own a PS4 to use PS VR and the PS4 has its wires but get ready to add a whole new slew of wires to your collection. PS VR requires that you hook up a PlayStation Camera as well as plugging in a processing box to your PS4, TV, then hooking up your VR headset’s cable to that box. Be prepared to have about six new cables to hook up. I hope you have somewhere that you can make them look not so messy. It’s a little cumbersome and unsightly but necessary for the VR headset to work with your PS4. I’m sure when the PS5 comes next, it will be VR ready and you won’t have to plug in as many cables. However, this is the first PlayStation VR headset, the first generation, so if you’re planning on being an early adopter of this tech, then also be prepared to deal with its few annoyances. Still on the note of the cables, the headset itself has a long cable running from it that splits into two and plugs into the processor. This cable can get in the way as its coming from the left rear side of the headset and usually ends up being strung over shoulders or looped around your back as most people will have their PS4 in front of them and not behind them. If the PS4 was behind, then this wouldn’t be as much of an issue since the cord would just go straight behind your person. Add to the fact that a wired audio headset needs to be plugged into an audio control input on that cable, you’re in adding just one more wire to a number of wires. Got all that? One more time: WIRES! But don’t run away yet! Even with all of those cables hanging around, the VR headset is surprisingly comfortable.
From my first experience with PS VR almost three years ago and down to this day as an owner of the device, the one thing that has always stood out to me is its comfort. PlayStation’s VR headset is probably the most comfortable VR headset I’ve put on. The device even makes it possible for us to customize our comfort level by allowing us to tighten or expand the headband and giving us the ability to slide the focal lenses closer or further away from our face. It has a gentle and flexible rubber guard for our nose and a padded memory foam-like rest for our forehead. There is also another pad at the rear of the headband which offers a comfortable and protected resting place for the headset wherever it meets your head. The design makes the balance almost perfect. You would think that the front of the headset would weigh down your face but on the contrary, it is balanced so well that you barely feel any weight. You’re unlikely to get any neck-strain from the headset, even if you play longer than the recommended time without a break (but please, rest your eyes!). After multiple uses over the past few months this has not changed. PS VR excels in comfort, an important part of making the VR experience enjoyable.
What about people with glasses? Fear not, you can keep your glasses on, my fellow blind brethren. As someone who needs glasses to function daily, I was initially worried how it would work with my glasses on. From the first demo I tried in 2014, it worked and fit comfortably over my specs without risk of breaking them or pressing them into my face. That design can still be found in the final consumer version. I wear my glasses every time with the headset except maybe once when I wore contacts (which I rarely use) and have no issue at all.
Overall, the PlayStation VR headset is just a sleek and attractive device. If it wasn’t for all the cables hanging around it would look perfect. I even have mine hanging on a pretty sweet display stand to show it off. But looks aren’t everything, it’s what’s on the inside – the things that make it work – that counts.
If you have ever tried a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift running on a high-end PC, you’ll see the difference in gameplay quality with the PS VR. It is what it is. Let’s face the facts: PlayStation VR is a mid-range gaming VR headset. PlayStation’s goal was to make an accessible VR experience for millions of PS4 owners around the world. That’s kind of what console gaming has always done. If you want the biggest and the best, well, be prepared to pay for it. PlayStation VR starts at $399.99 for the standalone headset and while that may sound like a lot of money, it’s comparatively on the low-end of pricing for the quality you receive. Having tried the aforementioned VR headsets, I can’t say that they are leaps and bounds above the quality you get with PlayStation VR. The resolution of games through the headset is a bit lower than what you’ll see displayed on the TV but if Batman Arkham VR (rated M for mature) taught me anything, it’s up to the developer to really bring out the quality of the game’s visuals. The headset itself has the capability of displaying great looking games if the game developer puts in the work.
Using PS VR is very immersive. Despite lowered visuals for many games, the level of immersion makes up for it. You soon forget the initial thoughts of “wow, this doesn’t look that great” and you’re sucked into a vast world of exploration and adventure. You really feel a sense of presence in most games that you’d never be able to feel without the VR. This truly is the future of not only gaming but I can see it being used for a number of other applications and simulations – which VR tech is being used for right now. PS VR helps solidify that belief. This is no fleeting emotion. Three years after my first experience and now on a regular basis, I still believe this to be true. VR is a large part of the future of technology and entertainment.
Head and motion tracking is also pretty accurate. PS VR makes use of gyroscopes and the PlayStation Camera to track movement and I haven’t had many issues except for occasionally getting out of the view of the camera and the game will let you know you’re out of view so you can readjust your position. Most games can be played from a seated position, so going out of view of the camera is not something one has to worry too much about. Motion tracking also works for some game with the Dualshock 4 lightbar and PlayStation Move motion controllers used in conjunction with the headset. Depending on the game, this leads to a much more immersive experience instead of just using motions of your head. These work in both bright and dark rooms with the lights on and off. On the note of brightness, that’s relative brightness as I’m not using a 100,000 lumens spotlight but rather rooms with anywhere between 250 – 4,000 cumulative lumens based on the LED and halogen bulbs in the respective rooms (yes, we tried the headsets functionality in about 4 different type of rooms!).
3D audio works well in conjunction with the headset. Your movements are tracked and the sound with it. This allows the player to truly feel they are in the game and experiencing everything around them. While I wish the ability for wireless audio headsets was available for PS VR and more headset that can fit over the VR headset, the audio quality and functionality seemed to work pretty well on each game and video we tried. But keep in mind, while you may have an audio headset with a 3.5 mm cable, not all can fit over the PS VR headset comfortably. Several manufacturers are now making over the ear audio headsets to work along with the VR. If you do a Google search, you should be able to find which ones are out there. I personally mostly use my PS4 Gold Wireless headphones. They are not ideal and I do have to stretch them a bit but they work well enough for me.
PlayStation VR is first and foremost a video gaming peripheral. Its main purpose is to play video games. You’ll find a number of games to play on the PS VR right now and more are to come soon. But there are other apps and functions that the headset can be used for as well.
PS VR doubles as a gaming device and a private entertainment device. Maybe you’re at home watching your favorite Netflix show and your significant other comes by and wants to watch their regularly scheduled cable program? Well, hand over the remote because PS VR can work in “cinema” mode. This allows you to not only play games that aren’t VR ready on the headset but it also lets you watch videos through your PS4 on it. You can access all the PS4’s menus and functions through the VR headset and use it as a screen. With the focal length, it’s almost like sitting in a cinema and playing your PS4 on it. The quality? Not great. If you have the option, I’d probably wait to enjoy your favorite TV show when you have a screen with a better resolution.
One issue I have encountered with cinema mode is that the screen consistently gets off-center while playing games and even sometimes while watching videos. While this can be corrected by holding down the options button on the Dualshock 4 controller, it does get a bit distracting and annoying having to do it over and over – even when I’m not moving myself!
Other than games though, there are a few native VR interactive videos and experiences that PS VR has to offer through the PlayStation Network store. Some of these experiences are a free download, others are there for purchase. Either way, they offer more options for interactive VR experiences that aren’t video games.
While I can’t judge the quality of the headset by the quality of the games, what use is the headset without good games? Fortunately, PS VR has the backing of many developers and a number of games that you can download or purchase at retail. I have found myself replaying a few repeatedly and showing off to friends and family. There are full game experiences, games with high replay value and multiplayer, but mostly the games available right now are a little more bite sized. I’m generally happy with the selection of games now as VR isn’t my primary source for gaming experiences but a supplement to the hobby.
Hopefully the support will continue flowing for PS VR as other large gaming companies, like Microsoft Xbox also get into the VR market and give more incentive to developers to make these games.
Will these games make you sick? Possibly. I won’t try to hide this unfortunate truth about Virtual Reality, some games will make you sick. Nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. may be caused by some of these games. Again, this is a game design issue and not one necessarily of the headset as some games, you’ll have no issue, others, grab a bucket! Some people have different reactions with different games. My best advice is to do as much research on particular games before you buy them for the VR and see how many are complaining about getting sick with that game. In addition, if you can download a demo, download the demo. There are many VR demos on the PlayStation Network and the headset comes with a demo disc so you can try before you buy. This way, you can get a feel for games and know whether or not you’ll be wasting your money buying a game that will make you sick beforehand.
Unless you have a gold mine and can get all the options out there, PlayStation VR is probably the best option for VR gaming as it stands. The headset offers wide selection of games, developer support, comfort, and immersion. While cables may get in the way and cinema mode leaves a bit to be desired, the overall quality is worth dealing with the slight nuisance. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend someone buys a PS4 just for PS VR at this point but if you already have a PS4 and want to elevate your gaming experiences, PS VR is the way to go. Don’t just take my word for it either. For the past several months, Sony has been demoing the headset at retail stores around the world. If you haven’t had a chance to try it yet, check out their site to find the nearest demo location to you!
I’m looking forward to where VR will take us in the future and I’m more excited now than ever. Each time I use my PS VR headset, it solidifies and intensifies my optimism for the future. If I’m having this great a time with the first generation of VR, imagine what things will be like in just a few years! PS VR? What do I say? I say –
Give it a Try – A good game or device which, although not gaming perfection, offers an enjoyable experience with few negative points.
[Editor’s Note: Find out how WholesomeGamer scores games here.]