Sony’s clearly enjoying itself in interviews at the moment. Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida has been dropping hints regarding a hypothetical PlayStation 4 headset harder than the beats in a Skrillex song, but no one appears to have read too deeply into the comments. “We’ve got a couple of [Oculus Rift] development kits,” he cheekily told Engadget earlier in the year. “I’ve tried it out and I love it.” When asked about the technology by CVG at GamesCom last month, he made an even more suggestive statement. “We are doing a lot of things that we can't talk about,” he grinned.
Only over the past couple of days, though, have the rumours intensified. Eurogamer.net started the ball rolling, reporting that the company is deep into development on its own wearable technology. The peripheral is supposedly already up and running in DriveClub, which suggests that the initiative is being spearhead by the same Liverpool-based research and development division that drove the PlayStation 3’s adoption of stereoscopic 3D. Allegedly, the firm has been showing the peripheral to third-party publishers during secret meetings – something that it intends to continue at the Tokyo Game Show. According to Games Industry International, the Japanese giant wants to entice ample third-party support before announcing the product in the New Year. But even with strong publisher backing, is it something that you’d actually buy?
It’s important that we clarify the type of technology that’s actually being touted first. Rumours have pegged Sony’s device as similar to the Oculus Rift, which separates it from the organisation’s own HMZ line and products such as the Virtual Boy. The proposed headset will purportedly function alongside the PlayStation Eye, tracking bobbles on the outside of the unit to detect its position. Much like with Oculus VR’s semi-established device, this head tracking feature will allow you to “look” around, manipulating the image that you see on the device’s screen. This means that in first-person games, you won’t need to move the right analogue stick to get a view of your surroundings – you’ll simply crane your neck in the direction of things that you want to examine in more detail.
Imagine being able to judge a tricky bend by looking out of your window in DriveClub, or keeping check of chasing racers by glancing behind you
It’s easy to imagine how this feature could be applied in PS4 games. Evolution Studios, for example, has been keen to highlight the cockpit viewpoint of its upcoming next generation racer. With an Oculus Rift-esque headset, you’d be able to physically look around these lavishly recreated vehicle interiors by simply moving your head. Furthermore, you’d be able to judge a tricky bend by looking out of your window, or keep check of chasing drivers by glancing directly behind you. It doesn’t sound like especially great news for physiotherapists, but it promises a level of immersion that, up until now, has simply not existed in games. Of course, there are downsides.
In its current guise, the Oculus Rift is very blurry. The low resolution of the onboard screen means that it can feel like you’re looking through tissue paper at times. Fortunately, the manufacturer has already solved this issue internally by a constructing a higher resolution device that it intends to ship to consumers in the future, and it’s safe to assume that Sony’s proposed headset would also share this upgrade or risk getting left behind. However, one issue that’s less easy to solve is the nauseating sensation that this kind of technology inherently creates. Even if you’re relatively comfortable with 3D in the cinema, ten minutes in a virtual reality game world can make your stomach feel like it’s about to do backflips. Couple this with the uncommon neck strain that wearing a weighty piece of hardware on your head prompts, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be using the device during lengthy play sessions.
And then there’s the small matter of price. An Oculus Rift development kit currently retails for around $300 (£191), with the company targeting a similar cost for consumer models. Sony, meanwhile, has just announced that its latest personal 3D viewer will sell for around £1,300 ($2,029). Without knowing the specifications of the PS4’s proposed headset, it’s difficult to make a judgment on how much it will cost, but it’s safe to assume that it will be a considered purchase. With the PS4 already retailing for $399, and a PlayStation Eye camera supposedly required to get the headset working, it’s not going to be a cheap option. Should that high price point end up stilting the peripheral’s adoption rate, it could result in the manufacturer struggling to convince third-party publishers to actually support the device in the first place. And as frustrated PlayStation Vita owners will no doubt testify, content is always king.
These are all issues that the platform holder will have foreseen, of course, and it sounds like it’s going to push ahead with the product anyway. According to Games Industry International’s sources, the firm is betting big on the unannounced hardware, and is planning a push on a scale much larger than the PlayStation Move. A cynic would argue that that isn’t exactly encouraging, but it’s worth remembering that the motion wand was a pivotal part of the platform holder’s PlayStation 3 strategy for a good couple of years. The big question is: will its foray into the world of virtual reality make a bigger impact? We suspect that that very much depends on whether the mainstream market is ready for this kind of technology – and whether any of you are actually willing to invest in it.
How much would you pay for an Oculus Rift-esque peripheral for the PS4? Are you even interested in the technology? What challenges do you think that the hypothetical headset faces? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.
Would you buy a virtual reality headset for your PS4? (63 votes)
- Yes, I would definitely purchase one without hesitation29%
- I really like the idea, but I’d have to try it out and consider the cost first57%
- No, I’m perfectly happy playing games on my television14%
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