Or should that be eyes on?
As my hands on with this fascinating bit of kit begins, I’m led to a closed off booth and told to take a seat in front of a large TV screen. I do so, looking around at my surroundings. There are around half a dozen different PlayStation VR compatible games on offer but I’ve chosen EVE: Valykrie, a space dogfighting game that sees the player tasked with taking down enemy ships while helping to protect friendly vessels.
A small camera stares at me from the top of the TV screen – this, I’m told, helps track my movements and relay them back to the headset. After a brief chat about my previous experience with virtual reality headsets (very little aside from a hands on with the Oculus Rift a year ago and then earlier that same day, I explain) and a reassurance that if I experience any kind of motion sickness or feel at all uncomfortable I’m to raise my hand and shut my eyes, at which point the headset will be removed, the device itself is put before me.
My first impression is that PlayStation VR is just as sleek looking in person as it is in Sony’s shiny promotional material. It looks and feels like a quality piece of kit. I’m talked through how the headset works and shown what the different parts of it are, how it can be adjusted to fit my head, and how to ensure it sits aligned with my eyes so that everything around me is blocked out.
The moment the headset is properly adjusted, the world around you doesn’t just vanish – the world around you becomes the game.
The headset is then put in front of my eyes and I’m free to adjust it accordingly. A quick readjustment later – little more than seconds – and the real world disappears. I later used the Oculus Rift and found that no matter how much I adjusted it, there was a crack of light underneath both eye pieces that allowed me to see my real body whenever I looked down, breaking the escapism and dampening the experience. Not so with PlayStation VR. The moment the headset is properly adjusted, the world around you doesn’t just vanish – the world around you becomes the game, and only the game. Once the headphones are in place the immersion is complete, and immersive is really the only way to describe the experience.
I start off in a tunnel, sat in the cockpit of my ship where lights blink on the craft’s dashboard and lighting strips on the tunnel walls pulse around me. As I move my head up, left, right, and finally down, my view of the cockpit moves with me. Turning my head back as far as it’ll go reveals a view of the seat my character is sat in. This is my world now. Before long I’m shot out into space in an exhilarating rush of speed, lights blurring past me. The feeling is similar to the rush of putting your foot down on the accelerator while driving, as the brain genuinely believes that you’re rushing forward at speed. The ship slows suddenly and for a moment it feels like I’m drifting as the craft floats serenely in space. This is just the calm before the storm, however, as my commander informs me via the ship’s radio that it’s my job to help take down a fleet of enemy ships. I move my head slowly in all directions again, trying to get used to the sensation of having the game world all around me.
Maybe I’m just easily impressed, perhaps I’ve not become jaded enough to dismiss the technology like many self-proclaimed ‘hardcore’ gamers do on gaming forums across the internet, but for me, the sense of wonder is palpable. To go from having the game world on a screen in front of me to taking up my entire field of vision is simply astounding. And as I duck and dive through waves of enemy ships, it became clear that Sony aren’t messing about when it comes to image quality.
To go from having the game world on a screen in front of me to taking up my entire field of vision is simply astounding.
This latest version of PlayStation VR uses an OLED screen and operates at a refresh rate of 120HZ – higher than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This is complimented by added RGB subpixels, which help smooth out the image. Combined with the headset’s 5.7 inch display and 100-degree field of vision, the PlayStation VR headset creates a clear and sharp image that handles the experience far better than I was expecting. Nine LEDs now adorn the front and sides of the headset, allowing the PS Camera to accurately track the users’ head wherever it turns, and latency has been reduced to less than 18 milliseconds, which makes the player’s movements more responsive and the experience more immersive. The headset also allows for people who wear glasses to keep them on underneath the headset – a source of concern for many gamers that can thankfully now be laid to rest.
To make sure the device can communicate with the PS4, Sony has created a secondary box that connects to the PS4 via USB and HDMI, which also includes an HDMI-out, so you can connect the device to a TV screen and broadcast what you’re seeing to another person in the room. This means anyone sitting in the room with you can watch what you’re doing on a screen and see it as you are – the image appears as it normally would in any standard game and is not split into two duplicated images like an Oculus Rift game.
One of the nicest things about this demo was that it allowed me to actually play a game using the VR headset. Eve: Valkyrie was controlled using a standard PS4 controller which the Sony rep placed in my hand and while this does rely somewhat on the gamer remembering where all the right buttons are, it gave what appears to be a fairly accurate impression of how the games will work alongside VR technology. The Oculus Rift demo, by comparison, featured an on-rails game that allowed the player to look around but not to directly influence the game. The Playstation VR demo gave a much better impression of what it will be like to directly control a game while having a large headset sat on your noggin, and early impressions suggest that it works remarkably well.
It sounds obvious, but comfort is of paramount importance when it comes to having something sat on your face (stop sniggering at the back). For the medium to be more than just a quick play gimmick, for it to appeal to gamers who want to sit and enjoy their games for an extended period of time, it’s vital that wearing a VR headset doesn’t feel like having a brick strapped to your face. Thankfully PlayStation VR is as comfortable as it is sleek, cleverly positioning some of its tech just above the goggles and ensuring that its weight is distributed away from your nose and cheeks. Though I was only wearing it for five minutes or so, the device never registered as an actual weight on my face. Whether or not that would hold true after an hour or two of wear I can’t say, but my experience of the device was that it sits comfortably and naturally. It’s also mercifully easy to get on and off, with a quick-release button allowing the headset to be adjusted or slipped off with ease.[yt_video id=”d7WVyOjaOV0″][/yt_video]
Sound is an important part of any gaming experience and with Sony’s history of making high quality audio devices, you’d expect them to bring their A-game here. Thankfully they haven’t disappointed, and have created a new 3D positional audio engine specifically for their VR system. The device doesn’t come with its own audio per se, but insert a pair of headphones and you’ll get a proper surround sound experience – in the demo I played, you could clearly hear that the thrum of an engine was coming from above you as a spaceship shot overhead.
As my time with the Playstation VR ended and the headset was lifted away from me, I found myself wishing I could have had longer with it, not just to continue what was a highly enjoyable experience, but to continue testing it – how long would it need to be worn to become uncomfortable? How long could I keep playing before the immersion became too much and I needed a break? Would I ever reach that point? These aren’t the sort of questions that can be answered with a five minute playthrough. But was I impressed by the time I did get to spend with Playstation VR? That I can answer with a firm and resounding ‘yes’.