PlayStation VR hands-on review | A great virtual reality experience

PlayStation VR hands-on review | A great virtual reality experience

Sony’s PlayStation VR headset has been a talking point ever since it was first revealed in 2014, boasting the ability to provide a great VR experience without the need for a high-end PC. In fact, the PlayStation VR headset will work with any of the 44 million PS4s around the world, according to the company. After over two years of waiting, we finally have a release date and pricing information for the PlayStation VR headset. I recently went hands-on with the PlayStation VR headset during a press event, and here are my initial thoughts about the headset along with what I experienced. Also see: HTC Vive review

PlayStation VR UK pricing and availability: When is PlayStation VR coming out and how much will it cost?

The biggest question is “When will I be able to buy the PlayStation VR?” and Sony’s PlayStation VR-themed event on 15 March 2016 answered that question. Sony CEO Andrew House stepped out on stage at GDC 2016 and announced that the PlayStation VR headset will be available to buy in the UK from October 2016, but gave no specific date. This was followed up at E3 2016 with the announcement of the official release date, which is 13 October 2016 in the UK.

An October 2016 release puts the PlayStation VR six months behind the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, arguably Sony’s biggest VR competitors. Although with this being said, it could be a smart decision from Sony – allow Oculus and HTC to take the brunt of early VR issues, then step in later in the year with a polished product.

During the PlayStation VR event at GDC 2016, Sony CEO Andrew House announced that the PlayStation VR headset will set gamers back £349, £150 less than the £499 Oculus Rift and over £200 cheaper than the £689 HTC Vive – in fact, HTC’s offering costs almost double the amount of Sony’s headset. Amazon is accepting pre-orders for the PlayStation VR headset ahead of its October 2016 release, which can be found at the time of writing on Amazon for £349.99. Amazon isn't the only option though – Zavvi is also accepting pre-orders for the PlayStation VR for £349.99.

While the price point attracted applause from those present at the event, all was not as it seemed as the CEO left out one vital piece of information. Yes, the PlayStation VR headset will cost £349 in the UK, but it doesn’t come with a PlayStation Camera, a vital element that’s required for VR use. The official PlayStation 4 Camera costs £39 on Amazon at the time of writing, which brings the total cost of the PlayStation VR headset to £389 – still a competitive price for a VR headset, but not as cheap as first thought. If buying the headset and camera separately isn't for you, you'll be happy to know that Zavvi is offering a PlayStation VR & PlayStation Camera bundle for £399.98..

It’s the same story with the PlayStation Move controllers too, although these aren’t required to use the VR headset as all VR content will be compatible with Sony’s DualShock 4 controller. The good news is that the PlayStation Move controllers used with the PlayStation VR are the same controllers used with the PS3, and can be found online for a fairly decent price.

Read next: Complete guide to VR

PlayStation VR hands-on review: Design and build

The PlayStation VR headset is mainly white in colour, with black accents and is embedded with blue lights used to track the headset in conjunction with a number of built-in sensors. It’s fairly bulky and before going hands-on, I assumed that it’d be pretty heavy too – however, I was mistaken. I was surprised at just how lightweight the PlayStation VR headset was – especially considering the size. It’s not as sleek and sexy as, say, the Oculus Rift, but as long as it’s lightweight it should be comfortable to use over extended periods of time. I experienced no irritation around the edges of the headset where it come into contact with my skin (with the nose being an issue with some headsets), although I can’t yet comment on irritation over long periods of gameplay.

It also has a solid headband compared to the fabric headbands used by the PlayStation VR’s main competitors, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but for a good reason. The solid headband provides enough support to allow the adjustment of the distance between the display and the headband. This means that the headset can be fully fastened into place without your eyes being covered, then you simply pull the display towards your eyes when you’re ready to get started. It may not seem like a huge point to make, but it shows that Sony has considered all elements of use when designing the headset, even the way you put it on and take it off. It also means that glasses-wearers can use the PlayStation VR with no problem.

PlayStation VR hands-on review: Features and spec

The PlayStation VR headset boasts pretty impressive specs for a £350 headset, which should get prospective VR gamers excited. Firstly, it boasts a 5.7in 1920×1080 full-HD OLED display, equating to 960×1080 per eye. While it’s not quite as high as the HTC Vive’s 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye) resolution and it is noticeable in use, it still provides users with an immersive VR experience – although you might not be able to pick up on some of the smaller details of the games/experiences.

The display is coupled with a 100-degree field of view and an 18ms response time that, in theory, should provide users with an experience indistinguishable from real life – although that will rely in some part on the graphics of the game/experience played. Sony's virtual reality headset also features a 120Hz refresh rate and thus has the potential to render games at 120fps, which is notably higher than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive's 90Hz offering. I didn’t experience this during my time with the headset though (I imagine that’ll be powered by the upcoming PS4 Neo), although I still had no complaints about screen tearing or any kind of frame rate issues when looking around and interacting with the virtual environment powered by a standard PS4.

The PlayStation 4 system is easily able to track movement thanks to built-in accelerometers and LED side lights detectable by a connected PlayStation camera. Sony claims that the PlayStation Camera can track the PSVR headset up to 1,000 times per second, which, in my experience, provided me with a level of tracking rivalled by the likes of the HTC Vive, although the tracking is only great when the PS Camera can see you and if your headset or Move controllers move out of its field of view, tracking is lost.

The design of the headset also allows users to turn their heads 360 degrees in-game, allowing gamers to look behind them when inevitably being chased by a weapon-wielding enemy. This is possible thanks to sensors on the back of the headset, which lets the system know when you’re looking behind you.

Read next: Best VR games and experiences coming out in 2016

PlayStation VR hands-on review: The experience

I recently spent a bit of hands-on time with the PlayStation VR at a media event, and while my time with the headset wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, I was impressed by what I saw.

I was treated to a demo of upcoming PlayStation VR exclusive The London Heist, and found myself in the passenger seat of a white transit van next to a typical East London gangster complete with a bald head and thick cockney accent. I was given PlayStation Move batons, which allowed me to reach out and interact with the environment around me. The first thing I did? Pick up an empty can and throw it at the driver’s head, of course. Anyway, me and my cockney pal were being chased by a rival gang (I assume) on bikes and in cars, and it was up to us to stop the pursuit. The cockney gangster slid an SMG across the dashboard and I instinctively reached out and grabbed it without even thinking about it, and opened fire.

Now this is where I noticed my first issue with the PlayStation VR – the PlayStation Camera. While the camera tracking is great (although it’s not quite 1:1 with the Move controllers), as soon as you move outside of its field of view the tracking stops. While this is understandable, it’s not ideal to lose controller tracking when shooting at gangsters leaning out of the window of a car, as it did to me. As soon as I retracted from the window, tracking returned and I carried on, but it’s not the point – the immersive feeling I’d felt up until that point had been temporarily lost. Still, I carried on and within seconds had forgotten about the tracking issues.

The game is fairly immersive and realistic, thanks in part to manual reloading. As I had full control of both of my virtual hands, it was up to me to reload the SMG when it ran out of bullets (which it did frequently, as I unleashed a flurry of bullets at our pursuers) by reaching out, grabbing an ammo clip from the bag next to me and shoving it into the bottom of the SMG.

As exploding cars flipped around us and bodies went flying, I completely forgot that I was in the middle of a press event. As far as I was concerned, I was a gun-toting East London gangster shooting up a rival gang on an empty motorway – and it was great. I even had a slightly thicker-than-normal cockney accent after the experience finished, but let’s be honest, I’m not cut out for the gangster life and that’s why PlayStation VR is great.

It let me experience something that I’m never going to experience in my life, and it was thrilling. The graphics aren’t as detailed as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift but those are more expensive and require a computer two or three times more expensive than a PlayStation 4 to run. It didn’t really matter either, as within seconds of putting the headset on I was fully immersed and stopped caring about things like screen resolution and high-quality textures.

The world that PlayStation VR is going to open for gamers around the world is exciting, and is much more affordable than the high end VR headsets without trading in on the experience, my biggest worry about PlayStation VR prior to trying it out. Now? I’m fairly confident that gamers will enjoy what Sony is offering with the PlayStation VR, and with so many developers actively developing for the platform, it looks to be a solid contender in the VR popularity race – but we’ll have to wait and see once it’s out later this year.

I’ll be going hands-on with the PlayStation VR in August for a more in-depth look, so make sure you check back soon for a more detailed look at the VR headset and the kinds of experiences it provides.

Read next: Best upcoming PlayStation VR games

Sony PlayStation VR: Specs

  • 5.7in 1080p OLED display
  • 1080×1200 per eye
  • 100-degree field of view
  • 18ms response time
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Tracks movement via PlayStation Camera
  • DualShock 4 controller
  • PlayStation Move controller compatible
  • Powered by PlayStation 4
  • 5.7in 1080p OLED display
  • 1080×1200 per eye
  • 100-degree field of view
  • 18ms response time
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Tracks movement via PlayStation Camera
  • DualShock 4 controller
  • PlayStation Move controller compatible
  • Powered by PlayStation 4

OUR VERDICT

I was impressed by my initial hands-on with the PlayStation VR, and I still felt immersed in the virtual world around me despite the limitations of the PS4 in terms of graphics and resolution. The headset is comfortable to use, and ‘The London Heist’ is a great showcase of what Sony is capable of providing with the PlayStation VR headset. Make sure you check back here in August once we’ve gone for a more thorough hands-on with Sony’s upcoming VR headset.

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