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.

 

VR has me hook, line & sinker

20160526_220240When I bought a Samsung GearVR headset, I didn’t really expect that I’d get sucked into the world of VR so much. How wrong I was.

If I’m being completely honest, I thought I’d play around with the VR for a little bit then get bored and move onto something else. Well, I haven’t. VR has me hook, line & sinker.  I don’t even care how silly I look sitting in my lounge room, on my computer desk chair, wearing the headset. I’m just really digging the VR experience.

I’ve got a handful of games for my GearVR: Minecraft (which makes me a little motion sick, to be honest, if I play it for too long), Eve Gunjack, Land’s End, Darket, Esper 2, and End Space, as well as the Netflix app, Samsung’s Internet app and Oculus Video.

I’ve done videos of Eve Gunjack, Land’s End and Esper 2 on this site already (sadly, without audio as the Galaxy S7’s in-built capture utility doesn’t capture audio: I hope this gets sorted soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll have to come up with a solution) and End Space is quickly becoming my favourite space sim. I’ll get footage of that up when I can. I’ve only had Darknet for a couple of days (it’s a hacking game where you have to infiltrate a computer network by hacking nodes with viruses) so I haven’t made up my mind on it yet but I’m liking what I’ve played so far.

I also bought a Bluetooth controller. A controller isn’t a necessity for a lot of  VR games (Land’s End for example) but for some games, Minecraft and End Space tell you a controller is required. It’s good advice. I wouldn’t even attempt to play either of those without a controller (in fact, I’m not even sure you can?).  You don’t have to spend a fortune on a Bluetooth controller, though: I bought a Nyko Cygnus controller based on a recommendation by an online friend for less than $40 from Amazon. It works like a charm and connects to my Samsung Galaxy S7 every time.

I never thought I’d like the VR experience as much as I do. I don’t think VR is a fad unlike 3D. My smart TV can do 3D and I’ve never used that feature once (the two pairs of 3D glasses that came with the TV are still actually in the box they came with). 3D was a fad whereas VR is actually something that I really think will gain more momentum as it becomes more mainstream. Sure, there’s that slight anti-social aspect to it and the weird aspect with you wearing a screen on your face, but as it becomes more mainstream, it’ll seem less weird and less anti-social.

I’ve found that my eyes don’t always play ball when I put on my VR headset: Sometimes things are blurry so I know it’s not the time to go VR but other nights, I can plonk on the headset, fire up Esper 2 or End Space and complete a mission or puzzle or two then be done for the night. I’m happy.

The thing I like about my GearVR is its portability. I can take it with me anywhere and the VR experience is amazing. It’s really hard to tell people what it’s like without them actually experiencing it. Videos give a far better impression but you really need to experience it for yourself to understand what I’m talking about.

Ultimately, though, I want to get a PlayStation VR but, as much as I’d like one Day One, it’s not imperative that I’m one of first adopters. I’m waiting to see if PlayStation announces any bundles for New Zealand that includes a PS Eye camera and a Move controller or two before I commit. [Oh, who am I kidding? Just myself, probably.  I’ll probably buckle in the next few weeks and pre-order a PS VR. Seriously] Hopefully, with its good showing at E3, PlayStation will announce some competitively priced PSVR bundles.

Look, I don’t know how long VR will remain fashionable or whether VR is going to turn us into the passengers on that cruise spaceship in the movie Wall E. You know, where they’re all fat and sitting in automated chairs and always looking at a screen in front of their face rather than looking at what’s around them. Or whether VR will eventually turn into our reality and we never leave the house to go to work or socialise and just live in VR set-ups (was that in the book Ready, Player One. I can’t remember)

Whatever the answers, and where VR will head in future I have no idea but for now, I’m just having fun with the experiences VR is giving me. Even if I do look slightly stupid wearing a VR headset.

 

 

 

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.

Samsung Gear VR: Virtual Reality in your living room

I’m standing in a shark cage, steel bars inches from my face. Bubbles rise to the surface of the crystal-clear water. I turn my head 360 degrees and see nothing but ocean and the rising bubbles. It’s a serene scene.

After a few moments, there’s movement in the distance. A dark shape slowly moves towards the cage. Then another.  I can’t make them out at first they become clear soon enough. They’re great white sharks.

For a moment, I actually flinch a little when a shark gets too close to the cage. Welcome to the world of virtual reality thanks to Samsung.

.I’ve used a pair of cardboard VR goggles from the back of a cereal box before (they were pretty useless) but Samsung’s VR headset is my first experience with a modern, affordable VR headset.

20151222_145751The headset looks like a fancy pair of goggles and is quite bulky but it’s solidly built and, surprisingly, fit comfortably on my head. A Samsung phone (in this case an S6) clicks into the front of the unit using two latches, one of which has a connector that fits into the phone’s mini USB port. There’s a scroll wheel that lets you adjust the focus. You plug headphones into the phone’s headset port..

[Update: Someone has asked me how I found the image quality: Whether I found things blurry. Some times it was a little blurry, but I wonder whether part of that was down to my deteriorating eyesight. A professional lifetime of staring at computer screens might be starting to take its toll …]

When you put the headset onto your head the phone’s software and the Oculus operating system kicks in, and this is your first experience of virtual reality. You find yourself in a large, cavernous room/apartment, with a pool at one end and wooden floors below you. I found myself rotating my computer chair so that I could take in everything around me. It’s fascinating (I really recommend if you’re going to use a VR headset, do it seated in a chair that can rotate. It helps with the experience)..

It’s hard to describe what VR is like without seeing it for yourself. You have to experience it for yourself to actually “get it” and see what it’s like. I could rabbit on for hours and hours on how I found it but you have to experience it for yourself to really understand what it’s like.

The view from the front of Gear VR. The phone clips in front of the two lenses.

The view from the front of Gear VR. The phone clips in front of the two lenses.

The Gear VR proved a hit with my family, too, with older members reaching out and trying to touch dinosaurs that weren’t there and  “Oohh” when dolphins swam past them. It showed to me that VR has no barriers and Samsung has made it accessible to the masses.

Perhaps the strangest sensation with the underwater demo is that you can’t see your hands or feet, or any part of your body. It’s quite disorientating not being able to see your limbs as you look around a virtual space but your mind is tricked into thinking you’re actually in the scene strapped to your head.

I was watching an episode of Mad Men using the Netflix apps (yes, you can watch Netflix using the Gear VR) and you’re transported to a chalet in the mountains. Out the window to your left are snowy mountains, To your right are movie posters. There’s a log fire, a plush leather sofa and a wall-mounted TV surrounded by stone columns. It’s sort of holiday cabin I wish I could afford.

Anyway, at one point, my mind started believing what I was seeing and I tried to put something I was holding in my right hand onto the right hand side of the couch. I actually believed I was siting on a couch, watching Netflix.

I demoed some first-person shooters using a supplied bluetooth controller but the technology isn’t quite there yet to create a really immersive experience. My friend Ross, who recently tested out a Samsung Gear VR as well, was able to get a VR version of Quake running. I couldn’t work it out. One thing I noticed was that I couldn’t use the headset for too long or else my eyes started getting sore.

Virtual Reality is in its infancy but if announcements at gaming trade shows is anything to go by VR is the in-tech at the moment: Is it the next 3D?

Here's me wearing the Samsung Gear VR. It's hard to look cool wearing a VR headset, to be honest.

Here’s me wearing the Samsung Gear VR. It’s hard to look cool wearing a VR headset, to be honest.

What Samsung VR headset has done is bring virtual reality to the living room at an affordable price.  The headset unit will set you back $200, which I think is pretty reasonable for the hardware. Of course, you’ll need a 2015 Samsung phone but lots of people have those nowadays.

I haven’t tried a Oculus Rift unit so I can’t compare the two and say whether one’s better than the other but I was impressed with the Gear VR and how immersed I felt in its virtual reality worlds. And at $199, it’s affordable but there’s one caveat: You have to have a 2015 Samsung smart phone to make it work. I don’t so I’d have to buy a Samsung phone as well as the headset so it could get pricey!

I wasn’t sure what I thought about VR until I’d tried out the Samsung Gear VR and now I’m sold. VR still has a way to go to go to make it a truly immersive experience but there’s something about being able to fool your brain into thinking that you’re actually watching a dinosaur waking up or sitting in a shark cage, surrounded by aquatic life.