Promises and failure: Hands-on with the Sony PlayStation VR

While Sony stumbles with the delivery on its virtual reality headset, there's certainly potential for pure gems in the future.

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Promises and failure: Hands-on with the Sony PlayStation VR

This weekend at the Indian Games Expo (IGX 2016) I had the rare chance to preview Sony’s new virtual reality headset, the PlayStation VR.

The device itself definitely hits all the right design points. A sleek white body with a black faceplate, the headset definitely looks cool, even if the performance is a bit of a let down, but we’ll get to that in a second. There’s definitely some thought put into comfort, the wide forehead-rest with ample padding, the rubber nose supports, and the adjustable rear headband all make me believe I could wear the PSVR for hours perfectly comfortably. However, whether I would want to is another story.

As far as the tracking  goes, the PSVR uses a  total of 9 LEDs and the PlayStation camera to map your movements, similar to how the PlayStation Move motion controllers work. Sure, this might seem tame in comparison to the array of sensors available on the oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but it definitely gets the job done just fine. So, why then am I disappointed? That’s because all of that promise and hype has delivered a watered down bounty.

Take the first demo I tried out with the PSVR, Driveclub. Now, while the game may not be able to compete with the likes of Forza Horizon 3, it still usually looks pretty great on its own. As Irony would have it, the demo console running Driveclub just outside Sony’s VR area actually seemed more appealing. That of course, is until actually tried the game. But while Driveclub in VR may seem pretty straightforward, there’s so much more possible than just sitting in a chair and completing the race.

I have to be honest here, the PlayStation VR as it stands right now is a serious let down. The headset uses a 5.7-inch 1080p OLED display panel. You can wear  the headset with your glasses, and adjust the focal length to your comfort, all good points for the hardware. The problem here then lies in the way games are rendered for the headset. Jagged edges, low-res textures, objects popping into existence, all of these seriously break the immersion of VR, and all of them are problems caused by the console itself.

But if you can look past the display problems, ignore that resolution for just a little bit, the promise is definitely there. Despite being just a demo version, Driveclub for the PSVR is a boatload of fun. The head tracking works perfectly, meaning that you can be rounding a corner in first place and physically look to your mirrors to see your opponents behind you. Heck, I found myself leaning up and over the hood of my car to get a better view of the vehicle’s front, and even craned my neck to the side to peer at the outside of the door.

So it’s a shame then to see all the potential for VR games, wasted by a view that could look so much better. Even the controllers could use an update. Sure, using the DualShock controllers is the most ideal choice for a racing game, but we were given the same controller to test out the Batman Arkham VR demo as well. Here, more finely tuned movements are required as I progress through the explorative experience. While the Move controllers sitting nearby may have made the experience more comfortable, I somehow highly doubt that. The Move is great for swinging motions like in tennis or a VR hack and slash, but trying to carefully point at and grasp an object with them would be more infuriating than the DualShocks.

As it currently stands, VR is far from impossible on the PlayStation. It’s just going to take a little work to do right. The hardware is currently available in the US, though there’s no talk of it reaching India anytime soon. In the meantime, you can safely hold onto your money, (a lot of it) and hope that Sony finds a way to tweak how games are rendered on it’s promising VR headset.

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