At least I can say I have lived.
Sony's award-winning 1999 commercial hinged on one simple, indelible message: PlayStation has the power to transform you into someone you're not; the capacity to transport you to places that you've never been to before. And in the near-two decades since that promise was made, the Japanese giant's pushed forward with its pledge of providing players with a so-called "double life"; technological advancements have not only enhanced the way that we interact with games, but also the fidelity that we see on the screen.
But somewhere along the way, that double life's slowly started to lose its lustre.
As development budgets increase and team sizes bloat, the PlayStation 4 has thus far proven itself to be a generation of evolution rather than revolution. We're still seeing the exact same brands dominate the bestsellers lists, and while the games are more polished than they've ever been, there's very little underlying innovations anymore; we're essentially enjoying better versions of the titles that we previously played on the PlayStation 3. Many of you will be satisfied with that, and that's fine – but PlayStation, being a brand that's defined by forward-thinking, must always be looking intently to the future.
And PlayStation VR is the next big step.
PSVR Review: What's Virtual Reality Like?
But why is it such a big deal? Games, as you play them today, are limited by the television screen that you're seeing them on. It doesn't matter how good – or, indeed, big – your display is, because it'll never be able to replicate the experience that PlayStation VR provides. And if you haven't tried it yet, then we're going to try and paint you a picture of what it's like.
PlayStation, being a brand that's defined by forward-thinking, must always be looking to the future
Imagine sitting in a bubble, where the game world is not restricted to the screen in front of you, but instead surrounds you. Now envisage being able to look around you in every direction, leaning in and out to examine every texture in intricate detail. Consider also that this 3D world is employing stereoscopic images to add depth to the picture that you'd only previously get on select screens.
This is PlayStation VR.
It's a challenge to describe with words, but its power becomes immediately apparent when you experience it for yourself. Despite the lower-resolution of the headset, worlds feel real in a way that they never can on a standard display, and the sense of scale is unlike anything that you'll have ever experienced before. In, for example, PlayStation VR Worlds' flagship The London Heist demo, when a thug attempts to intimidate you in an East End lockup, he towers over you – looking every inch the six foot meathead that you'd encounter in real-life. Environments, too, appear enormous – Battlezone's introductory hangar being a particularly potent example.
Pair all of this with binaural audio which responds to the position of your head and lag-less motion tracking, and what you end up with is "presence" – the idea that you're so immersed in the game world that it actually deceives your brain into believing that it's real. This means that, when the aforementioned brute flicks a cigarette in your face, your body will automatically recoil; it means that when you look down from a towering height, you'll feel the same pangs of vertigo that you would in the real-world.
PSVR Review: What Are PlayStation VR's Technical Specifications?
But as with any burgeoning technology, it's not yet perfect. PlayStation VR's primary feature is its 5.7-inch 1920 x RGB x 1080 display. This means that it's running at a lower resolution than both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and the result is a blurrier image than you may be used to when sitting at a safe distance away from your high-definition television. In the Sony headset's defence, it does employ nifty screen technology, which enables true RGB per pixel – something that the other two devices don't yet possess. This reduces what's known as the "screendoor" effect – the idea that your eyes are pressed so close to the display that you can actually see the grain of the pixels – and while it's still present in low-light areas, it actually does offer a fairly comparable experience to its aforementioned competitors, which is an incredible achievement given its much lower price point.
PlayStation VR offers a comparable experience to its competitors, which is incredible given its much lower price
The display is capable of refreshing at 90Hz or 120Hz, which is essential to keeping latency as low as possible. This means that you when you turn your head to look around, the screen moves instantaneously, giving the illusion that you're examining a real space rather than a virtual one. Sony's also concocted a clever reprojection technique, which essentially boosts the framerate of games from 60 frames-per-second to 120 frames-per-second. While developers will obviously have the option to develop their software at a locked 120 frames-per-second – The Playroom VR is one such title that employs this – reprojection essentially takes the mean image between two frames and inserts it in the middle. The end result, if you're lost, is a very smooth, lag-free experience.
Again, it's not flawless, though. Text suffers the most when your head's in motion, as the sharpness of the font tends to lose its clarity if you whip your head around at pace. This is particularly problematic when a game demands you read information while in active motion, though this seems like something that developers simply need to be more aware of; the issue can easily be designed around in order to mitigate it.
Perhaps the other issue with the headset is that it doesn't quite fill your peripheral vision; it's a bit like a pair of goggles, and if you peer off to the side, you will see the blacks of the rubber where the screen doesn't reach. This isn't a problem when you're focused on what's occurring in front of you, but future iterations will probably improve this area massively.
The headset is light and roomy, with space for spectacles and several very simple adjustment controls
At least it's comfortable, though. The headset is light and roomy, with space for spectacles and some simple adjustment controls. The mask uses a band to distribute weight across the entire head, and you'll forget you're wearing it at times. It also employs nice rubbers and plastics to prevent the headset from chafing or rubbing your skin. The front of the unit can be moved in and out in order to best focus the lenses, while there's a wheel towards the back of the device which allows you to tighten it around your head.
PSVR Review: How Does PlayStation VR Work?
While the PlayStation Move isn't considered one of Sony's greatest success stories, its technology is at the beating heart of PlayStation VR. Working in tandem with the PlayStation Camera – which you'll need to own in order to enable virtual reality – the headset is decorated with nine LEDs which are tracked by the camera. These – in conjunction with accelerometers and gyroscopes – allow the PlayStation Camera to read the position of the headset, thus ensuring that you're able to physically look around the game world.
The tracking is very good in both low light and intense light conditions – though it prefers the former
As with the PlayStation Move (or the DualShock 4 controller) the tracking is very good in both low light and intense light conditions – though it naturally prefers the former. The only instances where it struggles is if you cover one of the lights on the headset, perhaps by holding up a controller or hand in front of it. This causes the image to temporarily jitter until the obstruction is removed.
It means, though, that you can play in pretty small spaces, so there's no Kinect-like room restrictions here. While some games will demand a clear area for you to move around, many of the sitting experiences like Battlezone can be enjoyed in very condensed situations; as long as you're in the camera's cone-like viewing area, then you'll be able to play quite comfortably. And should you step outside of that or lose the tracking for whatever reason, Sony's incorporated a universal panic button that basically enables you to hold down the Options button in order to recalibrate in a flash.
PSVR Review: Does PlayStation VR Have Head Tracking Issues?
A popular Giant Bomb stream watched by thousands had serious technical challenges recently, prompting many to ponder whether the headset had tracking issues. We've played through many of the product's launch titles and haven't encountered any problems anywhere near on the same scale – and that's despite our general disregard for the product's set-up guidelines.
Additional Reading: Does PlayStation VR Really Have Tracking Issues?
We've tried playing the headset in both blaring sunlight and pitch black, and we've found the experience largely the same. The device is very good at tracking your position as long as you can be seen by the PlayStation Camera's cone, and we haven't noticed any jittering unless the unit's lights are obstructed by a hand or a controller.
The PlayStation Move, meanwhile, is more prone to shake, particularly in games that make big use of 3D space, such as Batman: Arkham VR. We haven't found this particularly disorientating, however, and while we hope that future iterations of the hardware will mitigate these issues, we've found the experience to work as advertised for the most part.
PSVR: How Do You Setup PlayStation VR?
The one major issue with PlayStation VR, then, is just how much work needs to be invested in setting it up. The package comes with a half-dozen or so cables, all of which link the headset to the Processing Unit (more on that later), which in turn is connected to your PS4 and your television. The instruction manual is easy to follow – Sony's even numbered the cables – and there's some smart use of subtle iconography to ensure that you're plugging cables into the right place, but it still feels overbearing.
The one major issue with PlayStation VR is just how much work needs to be invested in setting it up
To its credit, once you've got everything plugged in, the headset pretty much just works; there are settings that you can twiddle with in the PS4's interface, but we found our experience to be pretty comfortable out of the box. The greater problem is that, if you've already got a busy entertainment centre, then you're going to have to work with several new, pretty thick cables. Even more annoyingly, because of poor foresight, you'll have to attach some cables to the front of the PS4 and others to the back, which just looks messy. The PS4 Pro solves this problem by adding an additional USB input to the rear of the console, but the problem remains on the PS4 Slim.
You do get plenty of cable so length shouldn't really be an issue, but the Processing Unit has its own power brick, and we found that we had to rearrange our entire entertainment centre just to accommodate the influx of new cables. It's a first-world problem without any shadow of a doubt, but it's certainly something you're going to need to be aware of before bringing your headset home.
PSVR Review: What Does PlayStation VR's Processing Unit Do?
Another big problem is the Processing Unit itself. This serves a number of purposes – none of which augment the PS4 with additional processing power, as has been incorrectly reported around the web. Instead, this sizeable breakout box works as an intelligent image splitter, enabling asynchronous multiplayer experiences where headset wearers see different images to what's being displayed on the television screen. It also outputs 3D audio, which we'll touch upon elsewhere in the review.
It's hard to shake the feeling that, with all of the cables and parts required, getting virtual reality to work on the existing PS4 demanded a bit of a bodge job
The issue with the Processing Unit is that it's very loud – more so than the new PS4 Slim, which is practically silent when operational. And the issue here is that, unless you want to swap out cables each time that you want to use PlayStation VR, it needs to be turned on whether you're playing a game in virtual reality or not. For those already annoyed by the volume of their standard PS4 – or who upgraded to the PS4 Slim in order to do away with loud fans – then you're going to be really annoyed by the volume that the Processing Unit brings to your media centre.
In many ways, while the breakout box does augment some necessary features to the virtual reality experience, it's a bit of a shame that Sony couldn't find a way to circumvent it, as it does complicate the entire setup. It's hard to shake the feeling that, with all of the cables and parts required, getting virtual reality to work on the existing PS4 demanded a bit of a "bodge job", and while it all functions entirely as expected, it's not exactly a "plug and play" solution by any stretch.
One additional point of note here is that a PlayStation VR revision has actually improved the Processor Unit. If you purchase the model with the serial number CUH-ZVR2 then it’ll allow for HDR passthrough, which is perfect if you’re a PS4 Pro owner with a 4K television. Unfortunately, if you own the model with the serial number CUH-ZVR1, then you’ll have to find alternative solutions for HDR, which may include swapping cables each time you play. It’s not exactly an elegant solution, and it remains one of the product’s biggest oversights.
PSVR Review: How Do You Control Games with PlayStation VR?
At least the control solutions are much more straightforward. Both the DualShock 4 and PlayStation Move can be used depending on the game, with each option providing 3D motion tracking. While every game has been designed with the standard PS4 controller in mind, you'll almost certainly want to enjoy experiences like The London Heist and Batman: Arkham VR with Sony's wands.
While every game has been designed with the DualShock 4, you'll want to enjoy some experiences with Sony's wands
With these connected, you're able to operate each hand independently, which enables some truly immersive gameplay experiences. Reaching out to pick up an object being offered to you feels completely natural, and while the PlayStation Move tracking is far from perfect, it's good enough to provide that all-important sense of immersion and presence.
The only problem with both of the control schemes is that they rely on their respective light sources to be detected by the camera, and if you turn all the way around and use your body to block the bulbs from view, it can impede the motion tracking. Moreover, the lack of analogue control on the PlayStation Move controller still feels like a missed opportunity – as it did in the PS3 days.
PSVR Review: What Is PlayStation VR's 3D Audio Feature About?
While the control and lag-free motion detection is a big part of virtual reality's immersion, a moment must be spared for the 3D audio. With the uprising of ASMR on YouTube, many of you will be familiar with binaural sound already; for those of you who aren't, it's essentially relates to sound being captured exactly as you hear it, with positioning taken into account.
PlayStation VR's audio processing takes things to the next level, by adapting the way in which sound is processed relative to the position of your head
But while many binaural recordings restrict you to being seated in a specific place, PlayStation VR's audio processing takes this to the next level, by adapting the ways in which the sound is processed relative to the positioning of your head. This means that, for example, if you turn your head right around, sounds that you would have predominantly heard in your left ear will now come through your right ear.
PlayStation VR does come with a pair of stereo headphones, but you can hook up your own as long as they have a standard jack. And if you have a really good pair of cans, then you're going to find the immersion is increased ten-fold – it's amazing how much this feature adds to the sense of presence, especially when the audio work is of a high-quality like in The London Heist.
PSVR Review: Does PlayStation VR Support Wireless Headphones?
As mentioned, PlayStation VR can be used with any headphones – as long as you have a means of connecting them to the devices 3.5mm jack. This includes Sony's own PlayStation Gold Wireless 2.0 Stereo Headset, which comes bundled with the cable that you need to hook it all up.
Additional Reading: Does PlayStation VR Work with Wireless Headphones?
While it may seem annoying adding another wire to the already complicated cable set-up, the reality is that the PlayStation VR headset itself will need to be wired at all times, so the added cable is not going to irritate. More importantly, your headphones plug directly into a control unit built into the PlayStation VR's primary cable itself, so it's all discreetly done.
PSVR Review: What Are the Best PlayStation VR Games?
PlayStation VR has a ginormous selection of software already, but which games should you actually buy? So far, we're preferring the shorter, tailor-made experiences over the more traditional titles, but there's a little something for everyone, and you'll find our favourites in the video embedded below:
You can also find our list of The Best PSVR Games so far through here, which includes must-own titles like SUPERHOT VR and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Alternatively, you can find all of our PlayStation VR reviews through the link.
PSVR Review: Is PlayStation VR's Cinematic Mode Any Good?
Honestly, there's so much to say about PlayStation VR that we could be here all day, but we'll just quickly go into some of the bells and whistles before we exhaust our word limit by a dizzying number. The headset comes with a built-in microphone, which can be used for both gameplay purposes – in The London Heist you can puff on a cigar and blow the smoke back out – while it can also be employed for communication in multiplayer games. There's a toggle on the cable of the headset that allows you to control volume, as well as to turn the headset on or off.
Additional Reading: Playing Non-VR PS4 Games on PlayStation VR
You can play any game on a simulated cinema screen using PlayStation VR, but the lower-resolution makes it a poor option
It's also worth mentioning that you can play any game on a simulated cinema screen using PlayStation VR, but while the scale that this enables is nice, the lower-resolution of the headset screen means that it's not the best way of enjoying your non-virtual reality PS4 games to be honest with you. It's fine for when you need to navigate menus, though.
Speaking of which, the new Quick Menu which was introduced as part of PS4 firmware update v4.00 really shines in virtual reality, as it allows you to glide around the system's user interface without exiting the game – or turning off your PlayStation VR headset. At the time of typing, there are no notifications in-game, however, which means that you'll only get audio prompts for things like Trophy unlocks and messages. Amazingly, all of the Share functionality remains intact, however.
PSVR Review: Do You Need PS4 Pro to Play PlayStation VR?
You don’t need a PS4 Pro to play games with PlayStation VR, as outlined in our full PS4 Pro vs PS4 comparison. However, supported software is improved if you choose to play on Sony’s supercharged system. Typically, these enhancements are achieved via a method called supersampling, which means that the visuals are rendered at a higher resolution than what the headset can actually display, and then scaled back down to provide a cleaner image. Other games also improve texture quality and draw distance, though your mileage will vary depending on the title.
Ultimately, though, all of the features and functionality of PlayStation VR are available on both the PS4 Pro and PS4, so you can be guaranteed a great virtual reality experience whichever console you own.
PSVR Review: Should You Buy PlayStation VR?
PlayStation VR is not perfect, but you could point to much, much worse first-generation products than this. Sony's headset is light and comfortable, and for the price that it's being sold for, it offers a very good virtual reality experience on consumer-grade hardware that you already own. The motion tracking is excellent, the visuals good enough to provide that all-important sense of presence, and the game library already fairly large.
Yes, there can be criticisms levelled at the resolution of the screen – an issue which the more expensive masks on the market also share to a lesser extent – and the sheer number of cables and items required to get the experience running correctly can be headache-inducing. But once you've got it all hooked up – and the noisy Processor Unit placed out of the way – the rewards are unquestionable; the ability to be somewhere else, to be someone else a gigantic stride forward in this industry's capacity to provide true escapism.
Looking far into the future, virtual reality will get better as screen technology improves and processing power increases. But already, in its formative stages, it's an incredible experience. And PlayStation VR, with its low barrier of entry, is achieving things that we could only have imagined a decade ago.
To borrow another famous PlayStation marketing phrase: this is living.
Updated: 15th November, 2017
Are you a fan of PlayStation VR? Have you decided to buy a PSVR headset based on this review? What are your favourite games for the peripheral? Enter a different dimension in the comments section below.