Sony wasn’t going to sit by and let Oculus have all the virtual reality gaming fun. This week the company unveiled its own prototype VR headset, dubbed Project Morpheus. Sony claims to have spent three years working on the upcoming device, which packs a 1080p screen and stereo audio as well as full positional head-tracking.
So what did our compadres in the tech and gaming press who got some hands-on time with Morpheus make of it? We’ve rounded up all their opinions below.
CNET’s Eric Franklin got a chance to don the Morpheus headset and delve into two of Sony’s tech demos: Castle and The Deep. The latter casts you as a diver inside a shark cage, which limits movement, but Franklin was reasonably impressed by how Morpheus’ positional tracking allowed his real-life movements to be translated into the virtual world: “You could look down and see your character's legs and bending both knees caused your avatar to do so as well. At one point I sat in a real-life chair and my avatar looked to be squatting. I could even see my chest from this position. It felt quite immersive.”
Graphically, he describes The Deep as “decent”, cautioning that he could see jaggy aliasing on the cage’s bars. However: “Once the shark made its appearance … things got a lot more interesting, and there were moments when I had to remind myself that this was only an approximation of real-life.” Sounds scarily good.
He found the Castle demo, in which you hold a Move controller in each hand, far more enjoyable. Using these controllers to punch or grab an empty suit of armour in a courtyard, Franklin “was particularly impressed by the system's ability to track how fast and therefore how hard I was punching the suit.”
In terms of build and comfort, Franklin says the headset is “fairly light” and had a better focal point than the Oculus Rift, allowing the screen to be positioned further from the wearer’s eyes. He did, however, find it got sweaty inside more quickly than the Rift.
Overall he was impressed with his brief hands-on but, like a lot of people, feels that VR gaming will succeed or fail based on the software available. These limited tech demos are a fun diversion – but truly compelling games are a must.
Image credit: CNET
Get up, stand up
Over at Polygon, Ben Kuchera seemed a lot more impressed by Morpheus. He did caution that the fit of the headset allowed some light to bleed in from under the screen and that the “less than perfect” field of view meant black bars were visible on the left and right sides. He also found the Move control of the Castle demo problematic, because while when it works it’s great, as soon as there’s a glitch and “your hand jumps five feet in the wrong direction [it] takes you completely out of the experience, and can almost make you sick.”
That said, he feels like these things can be fixed in the run-up to launch, and was mighty impressed by Morpheus on the whole: “Sony has nailed the hard parts of virtual reality, and now it's just a matter of finishing the hardware and shoring up software support. Based on these early demos, they're onto something special.” He also praised the fact that both demos encouraged the player to stand up and move around freely, whereas Oculus Rift demos thus far are generally a sit-down experience.
Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton was also impressed by the headset, saying that it feels similar to the Oculus Rift (a good thing) and that it fitted quite well even over his glasses. You can watch the demo in the video above.
Writing for IGN, Scott Lowe says that, while Morpheus is “still rough around the edges” it “meets and in some ways exceeds the kind of VR experiences we’ve seen from Oculus”.
He describes the visuals as “exceptional”: “despite the additional load on the system’s processing resources, [it] runs smoothly with detailed characters, objects and environments”. He does however note that the field of view is narrower than the new Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, and that the visible frame edges make the experience less immersive.
Lowe was impressed by the comfiness of the design: “Instead of most of the pressure around your eye sockets, the top-mounted forehead rest and rear frame evenly distribute the weight, so it’s often tough to tell you’re wearing anything at all.”
Image credit: IGN
At SlashGear, meanwhile, Chris Davies notes that while the prototype is “incomplete today, there’s plenty to warrant excitement”. Davies says the headset is “not uncomfortable” and his time with The Deep suggests Morpheus has a bright future as a tool for “virtual tourism”: “Combined with rich audio, it certainly proved to be immersive, though the fact that the display is grainer compared to Oculus Rift does jar a little at times.” He believes that, with Morpheus, Sony has certainly stolen the show at GDC 2014.
Devin Connors from The Escapist had this to say: “The hardware shows the effort that Sony has put in over the last few years, although I think it's a small step behind where Oculus is currently, especially with the release of the second Developer Kit. There's a small amount of motion blur, but it's not as bad as say, the first Oculus HD prototype. I expect it to be gone on whatever prototype Sony has going six or so months from now.”
Connors also delves into the integration of the PS Move controller in detail, calling it Morpheus’ “biggest advantage, and most serious weakness”. He says the glitches with Move suggest it still needs a lot of work, but that’s forgiveable in a prototype and overall it’s “wholly better than I expected it to be”.
There seems to be a clear consensus concerning Project Morpheus: it’s not perfect but for a work-in-progress prototype it’s very impressive indeed. There are kinks that need to be ironed out – but it seems that Sony’s work in VR has got it to a point where its hardware is on par with (or very close to) Oculus Rift. And that’s no mean feat.
READ MORE: Oculus Rift preview
Image credit: The Escapist