PS VR on Stuff's gormless Tom Parsons
This is also where Sony announced the price, and it's pretty good news for VR fans: at US$400 it undercuts Oculus Rift and Vive. Those other VR offerings require a powerful PC, too - one costing around US$1500 and up, whereas PS VR runs off the PS4 that 40 million people around the world already own.
That could make it the people's champion of VR headsets, but is it as good as those other options, and how are the games shaping up? As release draws closer, we're starting to get a pretty good idea.
Goggled-up and ready for action
The ring that keeps the headset in position sits on your crown, taking the weight off your forehead and nose
The PS VR package in full - note the little processor unit and stereo headset
To get the complete PS VR experience you'll want all of this kit, and the Move controllers and Camera are not part of the bundle
The design of PlayStation VR (does anyone else miss the Morpheus name that was used during early development?) has always been a little more unusual and futuristic than that of its rivals, with the halo-like ring sitting quite high up on your head and the goggles themselves hanging down from there. You need the headset to be in just the right position for the image to appear super-sharp, but adjustment of the mount is really simple, and once you've got the angle right you can bring the goggles right up to your eyes using a button on the bottom-right.
Compared to the early prototypes, PS VR is smaller and lighter than before, and it's really easy to forget you're wearing it. The little weight that is there rests mostly on your crown rather than your forehead or nose, and while all of our sessions so far have been relatively brief, I've got no reason to think it wouldn't sit comfortably on your noggin for as long as you want to play.
But the headset doesn't come on its own. In the box you also get all of the required cables, a stereo headset, and a processor unit.
The last of those things is really rather interesting, especially as it looks like a smaller, cuter PS4. What it does is handle the PS VR's connections, sending video to both the VR headset and to the TV. This will usually be the same video, but some games send different streams to each device so that TV viewers can play games with the headset wearer - more on that below.
The processor unit also handles the processing of 3D sound for the headset wearer. This ensures that as you turn your head the audio responds accordingly so that all of the sound feels as though it's coming from the correct direction. In action this works really well, and is vital to creating a truly immersive VR experience.
What you don't get in the box are the PS4 Camera or PlayStation Move controllers. The Move controllers aren't essential but will be utilised by some games. The PS4 Camera, on the other hand, is essential as it tracks the movement of the headset, and to some people its exclusion from the package is a disappointment. Consider, though, that there are quite a lot of people out there who already have the Camera, so raising the price of the package to include one would be a little unfair on them. Besides, Sony will almost certainly create some kind of bundle that includes one for a discounted price.
The specs of the specs
There's a predictable downgrade in quality from Oculus to PS VR, but that doesn't mean the latter isn't capable of pretty games
So how does PS VR fair against its PC-based rivals in the war of specs? In some ways well, in some ways less so, and the unfortunate but unsurprising truth is that in action there is a pretty obvious qualitative step down from Oculus to PS VR.
First, the good stuff: not only can the PlayStation VR's screen match the 90Hz refresh rate of the Rift and Vive, it can trump them with a 120Hz mode. Fast refresh rates are utterly vital in creating a satisfactory VR experience - even the 60Hz refresh rate that's currently considered the benchmark for screen-based gaming would create a VR experience just choppy enough to pull you out of the experience and potentially make you queasy.
In truth, one wonders if 120Hz will really be all that common with PS VR, given the extra processing that will also be required, but the fact that the screen itself can handle it is still impressive in its own right.
But now the bad: PS VR uses a single, 5.7in display with a 1920x1080 resolution, which means you get 960x1080 for each eye. Both Vive and Rift use twin displays with a 1080x1200 resolution, and in action, the difference is pretty clear. At times even the higher resolution sets look a little pixelated - your eyes are extremely close to the screens after all - and that's something that's exacerbated by the lower-resolution display of the PlayStation VR headset.
Combine that lower resolution with the fact that the machine powering the whole experience is also less, well, powerful, and you get an experience that is understandably a bit compromised.
For me this was most clearly emphasised by a demo of Eve: Valkyrie. This is one of a number of games that will be available on all three VR headsets, and having played it on Oculus less than a day earlier, the drop in quality on PS VR was pretty clear.
The game puts you in the shoes (and helmet and jumpsuit) of a spaceship fighter pilot, and as I looked around my cockpit in PS VR I was struck by the relative lack of clarity and sharpness compared to Oculus - the jagged edges of my ship's two protruding canons being particularly troublesome.
In fairness to both Valkyrie and PS VR, once the action starts those graphical downgrades become immediately irrelevant, as the game is supremely good fun, and just as fast and fluid as I remembered it from the day before.
There are also a couple of games that already look pretty darn stunning on PS VR, and prove that it is capable of glorious graphics. Rigs (hands-down my favourite PS VR game after Valkyrie) is a fast-paced, arena-based, multiplayer mech combat and sports game, and it's fabulously sharp, chunky and colourful. Similarly, Battlezone has an excellent, Tron-inspired aesthetic that looks brilliant on PlayStation's headset.
This suggests to me that while many cross-platform games will take a hit from PC to PlayStation, bespoke PS VR titles can still look pretty magnificent.
Speaking of games...
Playroom VR comes with every headset and is a great example of how multiplayer can work with just one headset
VR Worlds is a collection of stunning VR experiences, including London Heist and The Deep
On stage at GDC, Sony's Andrew House claimed that more than 230 developers and publishers are working on PS VR "software titles" (note that he didn't say "games"), and that there are 160 confirmed titles in development. 230 companies working on 160 titles? Presumably that means some are in the early stages of experimenting with the tech and don't have specific projects to name yet.
Still, 160 is a heck of a lot to be getting on with, especially when you factor in that 50 of them are currently scheduled for launch either at the same time as the headset or before Christmas this year.
So what will you be playing at launch? Playroom VR seems the best bet, seeing as it comes with every PS VR headset. This is a collection of mini games designed to show off PS VR's potential, especially in terms of same-room multiplayer. Using my favourite of the mini games as an example, one player dons the headset, while as many other people as are in the room keep an eye on the TV display. All players are introduced to the setting: a Wild West saloon populated by the cute little Playroom robots.
But it turns out that some of these cute little fellas are actually outlaws and, playing the part of the sheriff, it's up to the headset-wearer to apprehend them with a sticky dart. Thing is, the sheriff doesn't know which of the robots is the bandit, so it's up to the other players to describe him using a picture provided by the bartender. Cue "he's got a cowboy hat with a blue star, a green face and a moustache!", while the VR player scans the room before firing the dart at the apparent bandit.
It's simple, kind of like Guess Who? in game form, but it's also brilliantly good fun, and a great demonstration of how multiplayer can work even when you have just one VR headset.
And then there's VR Worlds. This is another package of experiences that includes a bunch we've played and talked about before, most notably The Deep and London Heist. The former is a truly terrifying face-to-face with a great white shark, the latter is a superb selection of scenes that form a diamond robbery and escape from police.
VR Worlds is exactly the kind of experience you're going to use to show off your flashy new VR headset to your friends and family, and while it's not yet confirmed as being bundled with PS VR, I have a sneaking suspicion it will be when the time comes.
Beyond those I'd heartily recommend the aforementioned Rigs, Eve: Valkyrie and Battlezone, although we'll need to test the finished versions of each game before finalising our list of must-have launch day games.
And what about your existing PS4 stuff?
Using the Cinematic mode you can play your PS4 games on a huge, virtual screen
PlayStation VR also give you a new way to play and watch all of the things you already enjoy on your PS4: by displaying them on a huge, virtual display.
This so-called Cinematic mode is essentially like using your PS4 as normal, but having it shown on a cinema-sized screen. During the hands-on I was able to navigate the PS4's menus, watch a section of a Blu-ray and play standard PS4 game Flower.
I can see this being a useful feature, especially in houses where TV time is at a premium, as it allows you to use your PS4 without hogging a screen. But it also exposes the drop in resolution: compared to the TV screen sitting next to my seat during the demo, the image I could see through the headset was distinctly more jagged.
But perhaps that doesn't matter. After all, projectors are popular for the size of screen they give you, even though they're generally not as sharp as a good TV. Perhaps PS VR will fill a similar role for some PS VR lovers looking to get that cinematic scale at home without the need to paint a whole wall white.
PlayStation VR: the early verdict
PlayStation VR: the early verdict
Is PS VR virtual reality for the masses? It's certainly got more of a shot than Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to my mind, thanks to the number of PS4s already out there, but just because it heavily undercuts those two on price doesn't mean it's actually cheap.
And then there's the performance issue: PS VR's relative lack of power and resolution is inescapable, and with some cross-platform games it's pretty clear to see.
But there are a number of bespoke experiences that prove PS VR is capable of brilliant things, whether that's Rigs, Battlezone or London Heist, while Playroom VR demonstrates the sort of lounge- and family-friendly multiplayer that's so far been completely ignored by the other VR companies.
Let's not forget that Sony's offering also has a few extra months in the oven, and if it really does launch with 50 games there should be something for everyone.
At this early stage, I'd suggest that those people who can afford Rift or Vive should go for it rather than wait for PS VR, but if you (quite reasonably) feel those options are two expensive, Sony's offering could still be just what you're after.