Eventually, virtual reality will transform the world. We’ll all be commuting to the VR room in our homes instead of the office on the other side of town or sitting on our couch to watch movies in a virtual theater with family members across the globe. First, however, VR will transform gaming, and the process is already underway.
VR for Every Budget
Modern virtual reality can be divided into three tiers. At the upper end are top-quality head-mounted displays (HMDs) like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Thanks to high-quality optics and sensor setups with advanced head tracking, these devices come as close as we’ve gotten to Star Trek’s holodeck. They also require top-tier gaming PCs to operate and cost between $600 and $800, not including the price of the computer. It’s a huge barrier to entry, but the results are stellar, offering transformative experiences for those who can afford it.
The budget end of the spectrum is filled with smartphone-powered rigs like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. These are HMDs without the display – mounts that use your smartphone as the screen, supplementing it with extra motion sensors inside the rig for better head tracking. They tend to fall in the $100 range.
Right in the middle is console VR. None have been released just yet, but both Microsoft and Sony are building support for VR into their best game consoles. Sony is actually releasing the PlayStation VR for its PlayStation 4 later this year. The goal of PSVR is to bring the mass market a virtual reality experience that’s very close to what the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer. It won’t be quite on par with either of those systems, but it should still be impressive.
A Quick Refresher
To understand PSVR, it’s worth taking a look at the HMDs it’s closest to. Right now the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big players in the VR game. The Vive, at $800, is significantly more expensive than the $600 Oculus Rift, but it offers room-scale VR: the ability to get up and move around a space up to five meters from corner to corner, ducking and leaning and walking back and forth to your heart’s content. It even has wand-style controllers that let you move your hands in virtual space and interact with objects.
The Rift, on the other hand, is designed to be a seated experience. You can still move your head around and lean back and forth in your chair, but there aren’t any touch controllers (yet) that let you interact with objects with your hands; instead, you use an included Xbox One controller. Likewise, there’s no ability to get up and move around your environment; to move a character in-game, you have to use the controller.
Like the Oculus Rift, the PSVR is a seated experience. From your couch, you use a gaming console controller to move around the game world and interact with objects. You can turn your head and lean back and forth, getting an immersive view of your surroundings, but getting up and moving around the game environment won’t really be possible – not officially, anyway. The biggest difference between the PSVR and the Rift is fidelity: The Rift’s screens inside the headset have higher resolutions and a wider field of view. On the other hand, it can take some fiddling to get the Rift set up; PSVR will be as close to plug and play as possible.
PlayStation VR: Price, Specs & Release Date
The consumer edition of the PSVR has already been spotted on trade show floors, so we have a good idea of what it’ll include when it releases on October 13, 2016. The display is a single, 5.7-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. When split vertically and focused through the eye lenses in the headset, each eye will get 960 x 1080 pixels to play with. It’s a little less than what the Rift and the Vive offer (two separate 1080 x 1200 screens), but the field of view is also a little lower at just 100 degrees instead of 110. This means that the pixel density will be about the same; you’ll just lose out on a bit more of your peripheral vision.
The main headset will cost just $400, half the price of a Vive and $200 less than the Rift. However, you’ll need to own a PlayStation Camera to make it work, so if you don’t already have one, be sure to budget another $60 for it.
Although PSVR won’t support room-scale VR like the HTC Vive, there are a couple options for intuitive control within the game, thanks to the PlayStation Move and PlayStation Aim controllers. The Move controllers are little wands that let you track your hands in virtual space like the Vive. They’re a separate $54 purchase ($27 per controller) and aren’t required to play any PSVR games, but they can give you a bit more interactivity if you want it. PlayStation Aim is an additional controller that looks vaguely like a gun and is meant for shooters. It doesn’t have a price point just yet, but we expect it to come in the $50 to $60 range.
If you don’t already own either a PlayStation Camera or the PlayStation Move controllers, Sony is selling a $500 PSVR bundle that includes the headset, two Move controllers, the PlayStation Camera and the exclusive PlayStation VR Worlds game. It’s a great buy any way you slice it and is available for preorder right now. You’ll still need to own Sony’s video game console, of course, but even counting that extra cost, the whole package will still be cheaper than VR on a PC.