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Sunday, July 15, 2018

PlayStation VR Review

PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $399.99
Sony’s PlayStation VR headset has been a talking point ever since it was first revealed in 2014, boasting the ability to provide a great VR experience without the need for a high-end PC.


In fact, the PlayStation VR headset is compatible with any of the millions of PS4s around the world, along with the slimline PS4 and of course, the PS4 Pro. After over two years of waiting, the PlayStation VR headset is finally here. I’ve spent some time with Sony’s PlayStation VR, and here’s what I experienced.

UK PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
After years of secrecy, Sony announced in June 2016 that the PlayStation VR headset would be available to buy around the world from 13 October 2016. That date has come and gone, and the VR headset is now readily available to buy from several retailers.

The PlayStation VR headset will set gamers back £349, £150 less than the £499 Oculus Rift and £250 cheaper than the £599 HTC Vive. Amazon is stocking the PlayStation VR headset, which can be found for £326.99.

Amazon isn't the only option though - GAME (£339.99), Argos (£349.99), John Lewis (£339.99) and Currys PC World (£349.99) are also accepting orders for the PlayStation VR headset.  

While the price point attracts interest, all is not as it seems as Sony left out one vital piece of information.

Yes, the PlayStation VR headset costs ~£349 in the UK, but it doesn’t come with a PlayStation Camera, a vital element that’s required for VR use. The official PlayStation 4 Camera costs £36 on Amazon at the time of writing.

It’s the same story with the PlayStation Move controllers too, although these aren’t required to use the VR headset as all VR content will be compatible with Sony’s DualShock 4 controller. Despite the fact that the PlayStation Move controllers used with the PlayStation VR are the same controllers used with the PS3, the Move batons are currently being sold on Amazon for £60.

DESIGN AND BUILD
The PlayStation VR headset is mainly white with black accents, and is clad with blue lights used to track the headset in conjunction with a number of built-in sensors. It’s fairly bulky and before using the headset for the first time, I assumed that it’d be pretty heavy too – however, I was mistaken.

I was surprised at just how lightweight the PlayStation VR headset was, especially when considering the size. It’s not as sleek and sexy as, say, the Oculus Rift, but it’s lightweight and comfortable. I experienced no irritation around the edges of the headset where it came into contact with my skin (with the nose being an issue with some headsets), even when using the headset for hours at a time.

Why? I’m sure that it has something to do with the plastic headband used by the PlayStation VR headset, compared to the fabric headbands used by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

The solid headband provides enough support to allow the adjustment of the distance between the display and the headband. This means that the headset can be fastened into place without your eyes being covered, then you simply pull the display towards your eyes when you’re ready to get started.

It also means the headset isn’t tightly fastened to your face, helping to alleviate sweatiness and skin irritation over time – two common issues in VR. It may not seem like a huge point to make, but it shows that Sony has considered all elements of use when designing the headset, even the way you put it on and take it off. It also means that glasses-wearers can use the PlayStation VR with no problem – something I can personally attest to.

Light leakage isn’t much of an issue with the PlayStation VR headset either, as the headset features several soft rubber flaps around the edges of the HMD that mould to the shape of your face when wearing the headset. This ingenious design feature allows the headset to stop light leaking into the headset without it being so close to your face that it becomes uncomfortable to wear.

Like many other VR headsets on the market, the PlayStation VR headset is wired and must be plugged into a PlayStation 4 console to be used. The cable was long enough for us to sit comfortably far away from the TV, and as many PlayStation VR games are to be played sat down, it’s not as much of an issue as it is with the room-scale tracking HTC Vive.

The cable features headset controls, much like the in-line media controls found on many smartphone headphones, offering a headphone jack for your headphones along with volume controls and a power button.
One complaint about the design of the headset? It’s a bit complicated to put on - at first, anyway. When I first tried to put the headset on, it took me around five minutes (including on-screen prompts showing me how to do it) to properly fasten the headset and align the display, while I had no such issue with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. It means that it’s a little awkward to show to friends and family at first, however, much like riding a bike, once you find the knack for it, you’ll be able to put it on with ease.

FEATURES AND SPEC
The PlayStation VR headset boasts pretty impressive specs for a £349 headset, which should get prospective VR gamers excited. The PSVR headset can be powered by any of the 44 million PS4 consoles currently on the market, and can provide a higher quality experience when powered by Sony’s new PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s an impressive feat when you consider that high-end PC VR headsets require a powerful PC that’ll cost at least £500-600 to run smoothly.

The PlayStation VR headset boasts a 5.7in 1920x1080 full-HD OLED display, equating to 960x1080 per eye. While it’s not quite as high as the HTC Vive’s 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye) resolution, it still provides users with an immersive VR experience that isn’t that different to the high-end VR headsets.
The display is coupled with a 100-degree field of view and an 18ms response time provides users with an experience indistinguishable from real life – although that will rely in some part on the graphics of the game/experience played. Sony's virtual reality headset also features a 120Hz refresh rate and thus has the potential to render games at 120fps, which is notably higher than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive's 90Hz offering. Although I didn’t experience such a high frame-rate during my time with the headset, I still had no complaints about screen tearing or any kind of frame rate issues when looking around and interacting with the virtual environment powered by both the standard PS4 and the PS4 Pro.

In fact, in some ways, Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is better than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The “screen door effect” is an issue that both high-end headsets suffer with – but what is that? Simply put, the screen door effect refers to the gap between individual pixels that appear when looking closely at a display. The gaps cause an effect that looks like the mesh used in screen doors, and can hinder the ability to read text, amongst other things, in VR.

I was incredibly impressed when using PlayStation VR as the screen door effect is hardly noticeable – even when trying to focus on the individual pixels on the display, it was hard to pick them out. This is due to Sony using an RGB display that offers three RGB subpixels per pixel, helping the pixels to blend together as one. It may not seem like much, but it’s extremely impressive and really enhanced my overall experience of the VR headset.

The PlayStation 4 system is easily able to track movement thanks to built-in accelerometers and LED side lights detectable by a connected PlayStation camera. Sony claims that the PlayStation Camera can track the PSVR headset up to 1,000 times per second, which, in my experience, provided me with a level of tracking rivalled by the likes of the HTC Vive, although the tracking is only great when the PS Camera can see you.

The design of the headset also allows users to turn their heads 360 degrees in-game, allowing gamers to look behind them when inevitably being chased by a weapon-wielding enemy. This is possible thanks to sensors on the back of the headset, which lets the system know when you’re looking behind you.

Along with the PlayStation VR headset, users can buy the optional Move batons. Now if you’re thinking that they look familiar, you’d be right – they’re the Move batons used with the PS3, repurposed for VR. While this means that many users will already have the batons and won’t need to fork out for them again, it also means that the technology included isn’t as impressive as the HTC Vive controllers, or the Oculus Touch controllers. Firstly, the baton tracking isn’t 1:1 and is therefore not as accurate as the high-end systems, causing the controllers to jump around in-game from time to time when the camera loses tracking.

Due to the relatively narrow field of view of the PlayStation Camera, it’s entirely possible that certain elements within the VR experience will be beyond your reach. This happened to me while playing London Heist – I tried to reach for a drawer, but the light at the end of the baton was just outside the camera’s field of view and as such, couldn’t be tracked. This meant that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the drawer open and I must admit, it ruined the experience a little bit.

While the Move batons can sometimes be a little bit fiddly and awkward to use, we still feel that they are an integral part of the PlayStation VR experience. Yes, using a DualShock 4 controller to interact with the virtual world is okay, but it’s just not as immersive as reaching out and interacting with the virtual environment, even if the hands jitter around every now and again.

It’s important to remember that the headset is much cheaper than the high-end HTC Vive, so not everything will be perfect. But for first time VR users and those interested in the world of VR, this shouldn’t matter too much, and I recommend investing in a pair of Move batons for use with the VR headset. Not all games and experience feature Move baton support, but it’ll enhance the experience of those that do.  

THE EXPERIENCE
I’ve spent more time than I care to admit playing a variety of games on PlayStation VR, and here’s where I’ll tell you a little bit about what I experienced. But first, I thought it’d be a good idea to address the differences in gameplay when running a PS4 Pro-powered VR game and a standard PS4-powered VR game. 

PlayStation 4 vs PlayStation 4 Pro: VR experience
Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that owning a PS4 Pro alone won’t provide you with a library of enhanced VR games. Just like with standard PS4 games, the developers have to specifically add in support for the console and until that time comes, the game will look the exact same as if it was running on a standard PS4.

The standard PS4 VR experience isn’t to be sniffed at though, as it provides users with a decent VR experience. Textures are detailed enough for the experience to be believable, the frame rate never dropped beneath 60fps (in my experience, anyway!) with no visible lag or screen tearing.

That’s impressive when you consider it’s powered by a console that was first released in 2013 – the same cannot be said about the majority of PCs that were released in the same year. Yeah sure, the 3D models are sometimes pixelated and when inspecting the environment up-close you may find it isn’t as clearly defined as you thought, but it’s good enough to provide a satisfactory VR experience.

However, when running a Pro-supported VR game like PlayStation Worlds (of which London Heist is a mini game) on a PS4 Pro, the PlayStation VR headset comes into its own. As the resolution of the headset can’t be upped any higher, developers can put the extra graphical power into higher quality textures, better lighting and other features that make the experience more immersive.

The difference is immediately noticeable; models are rarely pixelated, textures look real enough to touch and the experience is much more enjoyable. I even went to lean on a virtual table once, because it looked so real and I simply forgot that I was in a game.

It’s amazing to see the little details produced by the extra power provided by the PS4 Pro in VR, and I’d go as far as to say that the Pro-powered PlayStation VR experience could compete with high-end VR headsets – in games where the extra power is used effectively, anyway. Of course, the quality may vary from game to game, but the potential for amazing VR experiences on the PlayStation VR headset is possible.

When you consider that the HTC Vive costs the same as the PlayStation VR headset and PlayStation 4 Pro console combined, Sony has achieved something remarkable.

So, let's move on to the games! While I played a variety of PlayStation VR games, here are a few of my favourites:

Farpoint
The first game I played was the upcoming PSVR exclusive, Farpoint. Farpoint is different from the rest of the PSVR lineup as it's currently the only game that has a dedicated accessory - PSVR Aim. Aim is essentially a gun, complete with triggers, buttons and a sensor to be used in virtual reality, and provides a much more realistic experience than using the Move controllers.

While the tracking isn't quite 1:1, feeling the gun in our hands and aiming as we would in real life really immersed us in the extra-terrestrial world of Farpoint, and made the overall experience that much better. What isn't clear at this time is whether the controller will work with other shooters, or whether it's exclusive to Farpoint.

Anyway, I digress. I find myself stranded on an alien planet with "standard issue equipment" to keep me alive, and the objective of reaching The Pilgrim, a downed space station. The catch? The planet is swarming with aliens of all different shapes and sizes, from small spider-like animals that spit and jump at you to huge behemoths that charge at you with devistating effect. You're supplied with a single weapon at the beginning of the game, and gain more as you advance, helping to keep the game fresh and exciting. 

One worry I had going into this experience was motion sickness, as moving virtually while standing on the spot can cause discomfort for some. However after an extended amount of time in-game, I can happily say that I felt no kind of motion sickness, although I'm not quite sure whether it's down to smart game movement design or the PSVR headset itself. I even found myself running backwards while shooting aliens that were chasing me without any kind of nausea.

Robinson: The Journey
Robinson: The Journey is possibly the most hyped PlayStation VR game to date, and I can see why. From the moment the game started and I found myself in my emergency pod, detail of the textures and environment blew me away. Crytek is famous for creating games with spectacular graphics, and Robinson: The Journey didn’t disappoint.

The graphics are superb and the environment feels ‘alive’, so much so that I felt that I became the lone explorer as I wandered around the jungle searching for HIGS units to scan, and played hide and seek with my pet T-Rex.
The environment is huge and filled with objects to interact with, along with a huge library of pre-historic animals to discover and document. The various puzzles you have to solve throughout the game should keep you engrossed for hours, as it did with me.

It really is a fascinating (if not slightly terrifying) experience to emerge from a cave and look up at a Diplodocus towering above you, chomping away at leaves on trees. You still get the same sense of depth when wearing the PlayStation VR headset, so you really understand just how big those dinosaurs were. It also makes it all the more terrifying when dinosaurs start to charge towards you, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

My only complaint? There’s no Move baton support. This is understandable as you have to explore the environment yourself, but I feel like Crytek could’ve incorporated some kind of teleport system similar to that used by HTC Vive developers. Using a controller to explore is fine and it’s fun to look around the virtual world, but it’d be much more immersive if I had the ability to scan, levitate and interact with the world using my own hands.

Battlezone
Battlezone is a reimagining of the 80s-classic built from the ground up for VR, and is another personal favourite of mine because c’mon, who doesn’t like blowing things up with tanks? The campaign can be undertaken off- or online, where users must make their way across a map of hexagonal tiles with each tile representing a randomly generated mission. While I had a lot of fun playing the campaign offline, it did get lonely after a while. So, of course, I opted for the online variant and didn’t regret it one bit.

The ability to communicate with two other PSVR gamers in a single map allows you to co-ordinate your attack, allowing us to take out waves of enemies quickly and effectively. It allowed me a second to appreciate the small details of the game, like the plethora of displays in your cockpit that display live information about your shields, bullets, etc. The graphics and lighting are impressive, especially in the cockpit, and I can confidently say that this game will bring hours of enjoyment to any PlayStation VR gamer.

The London Heist
The London Heist is a mini-game part of PlayStation VR Worlds, and is hands-down my favourite of them all. At one point in the experience, I found myself in the passenger seat of a white transit van next to a typical East London gangster, complete with a bald head and thick cockney accent. I was able to use the PlayStation Move batons, which allowed me to reach out and interact with the environment around me.

The first thing I did? Pick up an empty can and throw it at the driver’s head, of course. Anyway, me and my cockney pal were being chased by a Russian gang on bikes and in cars, and it was up to us to stop the pursuit. The cockney gangster slid an SMG across the dashboard and I instinctively reached out and grabbed it without even thinking about it, and opened fire.

Now, this is where I first noticed the tracking issues with the Move batons. I tried to lean out of the car window to return fire like the gangster I am, and lost tracking because the controllers were outside of the camera’s field of view. While this is understandable, it’s not ideal to lose controller tracking when shooting at gangsters leaning out of the window of a car.

As soon as I retracted from the window, tracking returned and I carried on, but it’s not the point – the immersive feeling I’d felt up until that point had been temporarily lost. Still, I carried on and within seconds had forgotten about the tracking issues.

The game is fairly immersive and realistic, thanks in part to manual reloading. As I had full control of both of my virtual hands, it was up to me to reload the SMG when it ran out of bullets (which it did frequently, as I unleashed a flurry of bullets at our pursuers) by reaching out, grabbing an ammo clip from the bag next to me and shoving it into the bottom of the SMG.

As exploding cars flipped around us and bodies went flying, I completely forgot that I was in my bedroom. As far as I was concerned, I was a gun-toting East London gangster shooting up a rival gang on an empty motorway – and it was great. I even had a slightly thicker-than-normal cockney accent after the experience finished, but let’s be honest, I’m not cut out for the gangster life and that’s why PlayStation VR is great.

It let me experience something that I’m never going to experience in my life, and it was thrilling. The graphics aren’t quite as detailed as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but those are more expensive and require a computer two or three times more expensive than a PlayStation 4 to run. It didn’t really matter either, as within seconds of putting the headset on I was fully immersed and stopped caring about things like display resolution and high-quality textures.

SPECS
  • 5.7in 1080p OLED display
  • 960x1080 per eye
  • 100-degree field of view
  • 18ms response time
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Tracks movement via PlayStation Camera
  • DualShock 4 controller
  • PlayStation Move controller compatible
  • Powered by PlayStation 4
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