Covering consumer technology news isn’t just about what gets published — it’s also about what doesn’t get published, either because it’s too minor for readers to care about, or likely to be inaccurate. As a journalist, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I uncritically shared every piece of nonsense that came across my desk, and I always try to respect my readers’ time by focusing on stories that both matter, and have long-term credibility.
One of the toughest calls I have to make each week is passing on a story that would be interesting if true, and might be worthy of your attention, but likely isn’t accurate based on other facts I’m aware of. In those cases, I either choose to write something to put the new claim in context, or write nothing. The latter option is a calculation — a belief that the report’s original author can write whatever he or she wants, but will turn out to be both wrong and largely ignored, harming no one except his or her own readers, and then hopefully not much.
Several days ago, I passed on covering a highly questionable story about Sony’s upcoming PlayStation VR 2, because it so obviously failed the sniff test that it wasn’t even worth commenting on. In short, the story claimed that the new headset will cost $250, be “completely wireless” with five hours of battery life, and have a 2,560 by 1,440 resolution display with a 220-degree field of view and eye tracking.
If the combination of those details alone wasn’t enough to set off red flags, the report linked to its sources for the claims — the “epic leak” of “a text file uploaded onto Pastebin in December,” combined with various Sony patent filings. From my perspective, passing on the “news” was a given, but soon thereafter, other publications parroted and headlined the story as signaling “good news for PlayStation VR fans,” even if they suggested taking it “with a pinch of salt for now.”
Anyone who has covered technology for a few years should consider the following points to be obvious: Patents don’t equal products, random text files posted on Pastebin aren’t sources, and for god’s sake, aggregating a half-dozen or dozen possibilities into one mega-product doesn’t mean everything will actually happen, let alone at an unthinkably low price point.
In this particular case, we already knew before this week’s “good news” that you’d wind up consuming an ocean full of salt waiting for the magical $250 wireless PSVR 2 to arrive. That’s because Sony’s Mark Cerny and Dominic Mallinson have actually spoken recently on the topic of PSVR 2, guiding VR fans’ expectations with some fairly concrete details.
- PSVR 2 probably isn’t coming this year or next year, Cerny suggested, since Sony needs to space out the PS5’s 2020 launch separately from the PSVR 2. He also confirmed that the current PSVR will work with the PS5.
- Expect a 120-degree field of view, said Mallinson, up around 20% from the current 100-degree norm. That’s very plausible, unlike the questionable report’s suggested 80%+ increase to a 220-degree field of view, which would be wider than even Pimax’s roughly 200-degree FOV headsets.
- Mallinson says resolution will “roughly double” from the current hardware. Since the PSVR has a 2.07-megapixel (1,920 by 1,080) display, moving up to a 3.69-megapixel (2,560 by 1,440) display would be right in line. This part of the “good news” isn’t facially insane, but given hardware already released by other VR device makers, it’s not exciting, either.
- Wireless support will almost certainly be available as an option, and not be included with the base model. Mallinson notes that including 60GHz wireless hardware and a headset battery “will be more costly than with the cable” — enough so to make dual SKUs necessary.
- Expect eye tracking to be included in the base model, since Mallinson says it’s about to be critically important to next-generation VR: “[H]aving gaze as a user input is going to be as fundamental as each of those changes we’ve had in the past.” But eye tracking isn’t free or cheap: Tobii sells a standalone eye tracker for $169, and though the hardware is being integrated into VR development platforms and professional VR headsets, it tends to come at a $200 premium.
Surely neither technology nor prices will stand still between now and when PSVR 2 launches. It’s entirely possible that Sony will be able to whittle the prices of nearly 4-megapixel screens, eye-tracking hardware, and millimeter wave wireless chips it needs down somewhat from current levels. But putting all of those features (and all the other technology Sony needs to include) in an ultra-wide FOV $250 headset next year is implausible. Anyone who says otherwise, particularly in a headline, is just trying to get attention.
My best guess right now would be that a wired version of PSVR 2 will ship in 2021 for around $300, alongside a $400 to $500 wireless model, unless Sony decides that it’s willing to cut its profit margins to spur early adoption. In that case, there could be a wired model for $250 and a wireless one for $350, but I wouldn’t hold my breath: Sony hasn’t been slashing PlayStation hardware prices with that sort of vigor, and even in this generation hasn’t given away VR headsets just to sell more software.
Optimism is great, especially when it comes to new VR hardware, because there’s a lot to get excited about. But balance your excitement for virtual reality with some actual reality, and you won’t be disappointed when the new headsets actually ship with features and prices that are practical rather than speculative or imaginary.