The answer is obvious: cost. The Oculus Rift will set you back S$820, while the Vive is S$1100. Both require an almost S$1800 PC. Ouch.
That’s why us VR fans (and I am very much a VR fan) have been chomping at the bit for the PlayStation VR.
At S$600 no-one’s calling it cheap, but it sure looks it next to those other options, especially when you consider that it’s designed to run on the standard PS4 that around 45 million people around the world already own. And If you don’t already own a PS4 you can now pick one up for a very reasonable S$450. Even when you factor in the required PS Camera, which costs S$90, you’ve got a vastly lower entry point than that of Vive and Rift.
If your assumption is that Sony must have compromised to hit that price, you’d be right. The company’s made no secret of the PS VR’s specs, which are predictably lower than those of the more expensive options, and no-one thinks a PS4 is as powerful as an almost S$1100 PC either.
In short, we’ve gone into this fully expecting a lower resolution experience, and prepared to forgive Sony for that given the price point.
Unfortunately, while PlayStation VR is brilliant at times, it also seems to have a few teething problems - and they’re ones that can’t be written off quite so easily.
Sony PlayStation VR design: the stuff of sci-fi
But let’s start with a major positive: as a thing to touch, behold and wear, the Sony PlayStation VR is really rather awesome. Unlike the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, which are essentially black goggles with elastic straps that keep them attached to your face, PlayStation VR is smooth and sculpted, and kept on your head by a sort of halo that places the weight on your crown rather than your brow and nose.
To put the headset on, you hold in a button at the back of the halo to stretch it out then settle it on your noggin. Next, you push in another button on the bottom-right of the goggles to move the lenses closer to your eyes. That second bit of adjustment works on notches that are a little far apart, so the lenses can feel a bit too close or too far away at first, but this is generally something you get used to.
The rubbery shroud that extends from the edges of the goggles to stop outside light spoiling your view also takes some getting used to, but overall this is a more comfortable headset than the other two. It’s less tight and more airy around the eyes, and that means you avoid what we’ve come to refer to as ‘sweaty socket syndrome’ after a long VR session. Nor will you suffer from the red pressure lines that a Rift can leave you with.
What’s more, the blue lights around the goggles and rear band, which are used for positional tracking, make the thing look like a Tron prop - and that can only be good thing.
Sony PlayStation VR setup: not short of wires
There’s a lot involved in getting your new PlayStation VR ready to rock. That’s mostly because you don’t plug it directly into your PS4, but instead into a Processor Unit that in turn connects to the main console.
The Processor Unit itself has been designed to fit in with the rest of the PS4 family (matte black finish, ridge running down the middle) but it feels very light and plasticky by comparison.
The HDMI cable that previously ran from your TV to your PS4 now runs to this instead, with an extra, bundled HDMI lead then running from this to the PS4. The Processor Unit from now on will work as a passthrough, sending video to the headset and your TV (so anyone else can see what you’re up to) when playing VR, and just to your TV when the headset’s switched off.
The idea here is that you don’t have to plug in and unplug cables to switch modes. Unfortunately, that’s rather undermined by the fact that the Processor Unit can’t pass-through HDR (you know, that awesome video feature that every PS4 just got), so you will have to do an irritating cable shuffle whenever you want to switch from VR to HDR gaming and vice versa. That seems a really baffling oversight to me, and one that’s only going to get more irritating as HDR games and TVs become more prevalent.
Anyway, back to the cables, because we’re sure as heck not done yet. No, don’t go - it’s interesting, honest.
As well as the HDMI, the Processor Unit also needs to be connected to your PS4 via USB. The rub here is that while the PU has a USB port on its rear, the standard PS4 and PS4 Slim do not, so you have to run the cable to the front of your console. Having a cable permanently dangling out of the front of your console might not be a huge deal, but it does feel like another example of surprisingly thoughtless design. FYI, the upcoming PS4 Pro does have a rear USB, and can also give a visual boost to your VR games.
Once all of the connections to the PS4 have been made, you need to wire the headset itself to the Processor Unit. No, the headset isn’t wireless and no-one expected it to be - VR relies on very low latency to not make you throw up, and low latency demands cables.
The one coming from the headset is about 1.5m long and splits into two HDMI-looking connectors at the end. These are plugged into a little box (the connectors are colour-coded and shaped so you can’t get it wrong) that’s attached to its own 3m cable, which again splits into two ends that you plug into the front of the Processor Unit.
You’re also going to need to plug a PlayStation Camera into your PS4. If you don’t already have one (and who does?) that’s going to set you back £39 for the new version, which is identical to the old one in terms of specs but has a neater design that features an integrated stand/clip for easier positioning on top or in front of your TV.
Finally, you’re going to need sound to go with the VR visuals, and that means headphones. A pair of plasticky in-ears is bundled in the box, but any stereo headphones with a standard connector will work. All you do is plug them into the inline control unit that dangles a few inches along the cable running from the headset. Note that ‘standard connector’ means that if you’ve got headphones with their own mic and/or controls for iOS or Android, they may not work here. Wireless cans are out, too, as they bypass the Processor Unit, which is where the 3D audio is produced.
If all of this setting up sounds really complicated, fear not - there’s an extremely simple and clear step-by-step guide. But if it all sounds rather messy, it is. Having a VR headset and keeping your lounge neat and tidy are incompatible life goals. No more so here than with Oculus Rift or Vive.