PlayStation VR: my verdict

Despite being in its infancy, for many gamers, VR is the future.

Oculus, HTC, Samsung and now PlayStation have an entrant in the virtual reality market but is it the second coming of gaming? After spending a considerable amount of time with PlayStation’s VR headset, I’m not convinced we’re there yet.

Yeah, that's me using the PSVR at Sony NZ's headquarters in Auckland.

Yeah, that’s me using the PSVR at Sony NZ’s headquarters in Auckland.

I’ve already blogged about my first hands-on with the PSVR: At a controlled event while I was up in Auckland last month. I was wanting to test the headset in a normal home environment where things wouldn’t be perfect so thanks to PlayStation NZ, I got the option late last month when it sent me down a review unit PSVR for a week or so (it has since gone back to Sony).

Set up was probably about 20 minutes, all up from unpacking from the courier box to switching it on,  which I didn’t think was too bad.

I really didn’t appreciate how many cables are involved with the PSVR There are a lot of cables: HDMI cables from the TV to the PS4; cables from the processing box that decodes the signal from the PS4 to the headset; the cables from the processing box to the headset.

Just keep in mind there are cables when you’re “in the zone” and using the headset. You can flick the cables out of the way so you don’t trip over them but I demoed the PSVR to a group of 12 and 13 year olds at my wife’s school and a couple of times children almost got tangled in the cables. Just be aware.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.The headset is comfortable but, for some reason, it just didn’t feel as comfortable as when I wore a headset at PlayStation. At home, I had to have the back part up quite high on the back of my head, meaning at times light crept underneath the front of the unit.

Something I did notice using the headset at home that I didn’t notice during my hands-on with PlayStation was a quite pronounced screen door effect when transitioning between scenes and waiting for games to load. I’ve read the PSVR doesn’t have a screen door effect but I definitely saw it here.

After a couple of weeks using the PSVR the question is: Would I rush out and buy one? Not right now, no, and here’s why.

My reasoning for that is because while the headset is comfortable and PlayStation is making VR accessible to a mainstream audience I still think the price is higher than it needs to be, especially given that in New Zealand you have to buy (or already own) the PS4 camera and Move controllers. There isn’t a pack that contains everything you need. You don’t need the Move controllers for all the games, though,  so you can save some money by not buying any, I guess.

Personally, thought, I don’t think there are enough good games/experiences to make it worth purchasing right now. Eve Valkyrie is a great space sim that really draws you in with its visuals but it’s MP mostly.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood a surprisingly good VR game on the PSVR.

batmanarkhamvrBatman Arkham VR also worth a look (but it’s not long). Job Simulator was a lot of fun but I got bored with Battlezone quickly. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is probably the most impressive experience, and it is genuinely scary and a nice extension of Until Dawn.

The PSVR does come with VR Worlds, but it’s just seemed to be a disc of demos that you can buy to unlock the full experience. It’s a good tech demo of what VR is capable of but won’t keep you occupied for long.

I also played Hustle Kings, a pool game, but for some reason, I had to use the PS4 controller rather than the Move controllers to play. It just didn’t seem right using the controller for a pool game.

After about a week, I was using the PSVR less and less: I was getting less enthusiastic about the games. Until the big titles start appearing, I don’t see the PSVR, as good as the technology is, as a must-have for gamers. It’s good fun, for a bit, but then you’ll put it down and go back to your traditional gaming formats.

Look, give PSVR a year and I think the price would have dropped and there will be an awesome selection of games to show off what it can really do, but right now, I wouldn’t buy one and it’s not going to replace me gaming with my consoles or PC anytime soon.

 

PlayStation Neo becomes … PS4 Pro

sony-announces-playstation-4-pro-147328048462I watched the PlayStation event this morning and, if I’m being completely honest, I was left a little underwhelmed. It was a low-key briefing – it only lasted about 45 minutes – with lots of talking, but I didn’t go away from the briefing yelling at the top of my lungs, “Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna pre-order me a PS4 Pro.”

The briefing revealed the aforementioned PS4 Pro  and also perhaps one of the worst kept secrets as far as PlayStation was concerned, the PS4 Slim which everyone knew about weeks ago but PlayStation acted at the event as if it was a surprise when they announced it today. That was just a little weird. The PS4 Slim will launch in NZ from September 16 for $489.95 for a 500GB console or $569.95 for  1TB model (September 29).

The PS4 Pro will retail in New Zealand for $639.95 and launch on November 10. That’s a really sharp price but the owner of a current PS4 that does all I need it to, I won’t be upgrading any time soon.

If you want the technical specs of the PS4 Pro, you can find them here (thanks Eurogamer) but my take on the PS4 Pro is that unless I have a 4K TV, which I don’t (and I’m not planning on buying one soon), I’m best to stick with the launch PS4 I have. I’m fine with that. The games look great on my PS4 and while Sony says owners of 1080p TVs will notice a difference with the PS4 Pro,  frankly, my eyes are getting so bad I can’t actually see the difference between 4K and 1080p unless I’m up really close and my nose is pressing on the screen (OK, I’m not that bad but, you know, old age …)

PlayStation said a firmware update next week will enable HDR (High Dynamic Range) capabilities on all current PS4’s, which is great, but again, that’s pointless on my 1080p TV as I’m pretty sure it can’t output HDR. Right now in my life, 4K and HDR gaming isn’t an option so I’ll stick with my perfectly fine current generation PS4.

frontps4proPlayStation sees 4K gaming as the future (but showing off 4K content over a 1080p stream is never going to do it justice) and the Pro will do 4K content playback but strangely, it doesn’t come with a 4K Blu Ray drive, and that does seem an odd omission, given that the recently released Xbox One S, which I believe is cheaper, comes with one as standard.

My take on this, though, is clearly Sony doesn’t see the future of 4K entertainment in physical media (ie Blu Ray discs), evidence by PlayStation’s Andrew House pointing out how many hours of 4K content would be on streaming service Netflix by the end of this year.

That said, I can see why PlayStation have come up with the PS4 Pro. It’s releasing its entrant into the VR wars, the PS VR, next month and the PS4 Pro will offer better VR performance than the current PS4. (I’m still tossing up whether I’ll get a PSVR so if/when I do, I’ll perhaps contemplate a PS4 Pro)

Also, if you’ve always thought about buying a PS4, but never got around to it, and do own a 4K TV then it seems November will be your lucky month, won’t it? The cynic in me also wonders whether PlayStation hopes that the PS4 Pro will help sell more of its own 4K TV sets …

Part of me can’t help but wonder whether PlayStation has jumped the gun here with the PS4 Pro in a response to Xbox’s Project Scorpio console which isn’t even due for release until the end of next year. Surely the PS4 Slim could have filled the gap until next year when the company could have announced its competitor to Project Scorpio.

The PS4 Pro will almost be a year old when Xbox’s more powerful console comes to market and I can’t help but feel that Microsoft have the upper hand here, given that Project Scorpio is more powerful than the PS4 Pro already – and  it’s hardware configuration could change dramatically between now and the end of next year.

Speaking of Xbox, the company couldn’t help having a dig at PlayStation in this tweet suggesting its own Xbox One S was a better option:

My son and I were talking about hardware announcement cycles this morning and it seems to me that games consoles are almost going same way as mobile phones, with a new model being announced almost every year.

To be honest, I’m contemplating whether might even just invest the money that I might put into a new console into upgrading my PC’s GPU (it’s got an Intel i7 CPU  and 8GB of Ram so I’m OK on that front. My GTX660Ti, however, is well past its use by date), connect it to my 55-inch TV using Steam’s Big Picture mode and do it that way, meaning I can still game from the couch using a controller (and to all those who  bleat “You’re not a real PC gamer if you use a controller!” I say, bollocks to you).

Right now, I don’t see any benefit for me buying a PS4 Pro console unless a 4K TV magically appears in my lounge to replace my two-year old LED screen, and that’s not going to happen.

I may be proven wrong but right now, I’m not jumping on the PS4 Pro bandwagon just yet. I’ll be watching with interest.

 

PlayStation VR pricing announced

At GDC today, PlayStation showed off and announced pricing for its entrant in the Virtual Reality race, the PSVR, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much PlayStation’s entrant is going to cost: $629.95.

Project-Morpheus-GDC-2015I think that price shocked a lot of people, actually. I mean, $629 is still a lot of money but I was expecting it to be around the $900 to $1000 mark, to be honest (and remember how much consoles cost when they first launched).

PlayStation VR is due to launch in October (which is my birthday, by the way, if anyone wants to buy me a present) and for $629.95 you get the VR headset (which offers a resolution of 1920x 1080), the external processor unit, a headset connection cable, an HDMI cable, a USB cable, stereo headphones, an AC power cord and an AC adapter.  What PlayStation hasn’t mentioned (at least, I don’t think made noise about) is that what isn’t included with the PSVR is the PlayStation Eye camera that you’ll need for the VR headset and Move controllers, which will be needed for some games. Expect to spend another $100 or so to pick up those (it goes without saying that you’ll also need a PlayStation 4).

The system will launch with 50 titles, including Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, a VR version of Eve Valkyrie and a special VR version of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront.

I think the price of the PSVR will make many gamers consider Sony’s offering ahead of Oculus and HTC’s VR headsets but while I’d love to be able to convince the Home Office that I need to buy one (that is a mission in itself requiring military precision and when I mentioned it initially she laughed, which, to be fair, is probably fair enough), it’s unlikely that I will at this stage.

I’ve never been one of those people who must have something on the day of launch, especially hardware.  As much as I’d love to have a PSVR sitting in my hands come October, I rather wait to hear feedback from people on how they found the experience using the headset and, importantly, whether they thought it was worth it.

At the end of the day, it isn’t going to make any difference in my life whether I get a PSVR on launch or two, three or six months later.

There’s no doubt that Sony’s pricing of the PSVR is going to appeal to a lot of people but for me, at the moment, I’m just going to watch from the wings and see what others think after it’s hit the market.