I went to Best Buy at the Mall of America last night and found them demoing the Playstation VR, due for release in October. This is the one I’ll be buying, but I hadn’t yet seen it in action.
Having had the odd experience through the week of not being able to use the Oculus Rift due to the size of my glasses (which really are not all that big), I initially wondered if it just wasn’t gonna happen for me, but the fears were unfounded. Not only is the headset pretty cool looking in a Daft Punk kinda way:
it’s light, and fits comfortably, and wearing glasses is not an issue. From what I can recall, the Oculus has a slider which increases or decreases the lateral space between the lenses, where the Playstation headset moves the lenses forward or backward.
While someone was using it, I was able to take the time to talk with the employee running the demo, but he pretty much told me what I already knew about it – I was also able to take the time to look at the hardware itself. The headset plugs into a small box that connects to the PS4 itself – but I didn’t spend as much time looking at that as I should have. The initial bundle will come with the Playstation camera, two wands, and over the head earphones, and retail for around $500. It sounds like a pretty good deal, considering the cost of the headset alone is looking to sell for $399.
Given that the earphones go over the retaining bar on top of the headset, I wondered how comfortable that would be too, but when it was finally my turn to wear it, it wasn’t intrusive or uncomfortable. When I placed the headset over my glasses, there was a lot of space around the sides and bottom of the headset, but I was easily able to move the headset back against my face close enough that the space was minimized, and when the demo started, it was very easy to ignore – in fact, I forgot it was there. I think this small remaining gap was caused by the glasses – without glasses, the headset should rest up directly on the face.
Of the four available demos, I chose EVE-Valkyrie, a space dogfight shooter that I had also tried on Samsung’s Gear VR. Here’s some actual gameplay footage. I wasn’t greatly impressed by the clarity of the visuals, I have to say – it seemed to be closer to the low-res version I played on the Gear VR than the 1080p I was expecting. The genre itself isn’t one I’m crazy about either, but I thought it would be a decent showcase for the kind of VR experience I’m looking for. It’s possible that the game will look better played on the upcoming 4K-ready Playstation 4.5, but I suspect I was playing an early alpha, not the actual release.
Here, you use the regular PS4 controller, and at least in this game, you don’t see a virtual controller in the display, you have to rely on your handling of the controller outside of the VR environment – it’s not an issue. Who looks at their controllers while playing a game anyway? The handling is smooth and the game is responsive – and like I said, while the content isn’t my cup of tea, and might get tiresome and repetitive quickly, the initial wow factor can’t be denied. The VR is extremely immersive. Even knowing that I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in Best Buy, the ability to move my head all around and look in all directions with no sense of motion blur or lagging was very impressive. With gameplay itself, when I performed barrel rolls with (I think) the L1 and R1 buttons, the sense of vertigo and actual sideways movement was extremely vivid. No doubt I was moving my head to the side also, but not to the extent that I was pitching within the game.
The demo over, I left pretty satisfied with the experience. I’ve long felt that successful VR will revolutionize the entertainment spectrum – games first, of course, but I can totally see the cinematic experience changing too, even if that just means wearing a headset to watch a regular movie in order to bring that sense of personal viewing back to cinemas. When I watched Hardcore Henry the other night, it’s clear that this kind of moviemaking could expand with the proliferation of VR systems. Science applications too, are obvious.
I was sold on the concept of VR a long time ago, and I’m now sold specifically on Sony’s version. As the years go by and the headset continues to be refined, it’ll get smaller, more powerful, and even less intrusive. Thinking of this, I’m reminded of the movie Brainstorm, starring Christopher Walken, from 1983.
The headset there starts off as a giant liquid cooled helmet connected to a powerful processing unit with thick cables, but as the design evolves through the course of the movie, it eventually becomes a lightweight, inoccuous headset.
If you haven’t watched Brainstorm, I highly recommend it. The subject matter has the effect of rendering the movie suddenly relevant, but it also features one of Walken’s best performances, and is a fine example of low-fi science fiction.