Sony’s PlayStation VR 2 virtual reality headset debuts on February 22 as the biggest technological upgrade yet for Sony’s PlayStation 5 console, which debuted more than two years ago in November 2020.
It represents a big opportunity for Sony to differentiate the PS5 from Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S and the Nintendo Switch. That’s important, as we’re in a downturn that has hurt gaming demand and a time when systems are becoming more broadly available. A couple of years ago, no one could get their hands on a system. Now they are plentiful, but the question is whether gamers will really still want a system.
That individual buying decision is still based on the availability of great games for any given console. But I’m sure Sony will take the opportunity to tout the PSVR 2 as a shot in the arm that makes its console seem like the shiny new thing. This story conveys my impressions so far and it does not have a review score.
My impression is that the PSVR 2 is a way for Sony to differentiate its ecosystem compared to the others. But it’s not a huge advantage. As of today, there are only 13 game available on the PSVR 2, and there will be 30 by the end of the month. But many of those are VR titles that available on other systems, like Beat Saber and Pistol Whip. Those are great reasons to get into VR, but they are not unique to PSVR 2.
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The hardware experience
When I pulled the PSVR 2 headset from the box, I noticed how light it was compared to other VR headsets I’ve worn. For the modern VR era, it is on the heavier side. (The Oculus Rift was a third light at 1.04 pounds back in 2015). Still, the latest headset I’ve worn is the Meta Quest Pro and the PSVR 2 is lighter.
It incorporates lessons from those past headsets. For instance, you can listen to sounds from speakers built into the band that goes around your head. But you can easily attach stereo headphones attached to wired earbuds. When you put those in your ear, the outside world goes away and your companions are thankful they don’t have to hear what you hear while playing in VR. The earbuds come in three sizes for better comfort.
The setup is wonderful because all you do is take the USB-C cable attached to your headset and plug it into your PlayStation VR. Then it sets up the headset to work with your console automatically. You charge the hand controllers and then you’re ready to jump into VR.
Setting up the headset is a bit more complicated, but the software on the TV screen or VR headset shows you how to do it.
You can make various adjustments to ensure that you get a snug fit. You can adjust the interpapillary distance (the distance between your eyes) by moving the lenses. You do so by dialing a track wheel that is on the top of the headset. A visual program shows you how to do this, and it tells you when the distance is correct so you don’t have to take a guess.
Another button on the top of the headset adjusts the fit of the headset to your face. You don’t want this to smash your face, especially if you are wearing glasses. But you want it to be tight, and a rubber drape around the headset serves to block any light from getting into your field of view from the outside world. There is a band around your head and you can loosen it by pressing the button at the very back of the band. You can also tighten the headset on your head by tightening the wheel around this button. Getting this fit right is very important if you want to see a clear VR scene and not a blurry one.
On the bottom of the front of the headset are a few buttons. One is a microphone — not really a button, but it looks like one. The center is the power button for turning on or off the headset. And the left one is a function button that you use to make things happen, particularly if you don’t have controllers handy. It can, for instance, switch the view from the TV screen to the VR screen.
While wearing the headset over your eyes, you can see the outside world from a camera view via a passthrough screen, where the cameras show you the outside world. That’s good when you need to locate where your hand controllers are.
The controllers are pretty bulky because there is a ring of plastic that surrounds the actual controller in your hand. The ring is there because it has the IR sensors that are hidden in the plastic and tell the machine exactly where your hands are. The ring (as well as a strap) can also protect your hand in case you get too crazy with swinging your arms around.
On the controllers themselves, there are analog sticks on both controllers, as well as two buttons on each controller and two triggers. You have the triangle and square buttons on the right side, and the circle and X button on the other side. You use your index fingers for L2 and R2 triggers, and you use your middle finger for the L1 and R1 triggers. I found it was easy to forget about these triggers. The grip has haptic feedback actuators that give you tactile sensations on your hands. The old Rumble is back.
Once you get the adjustments ready — a process that takes just a few minutes — you’re ready to play. It may seem a bit complicated, but it’s not overwhelming if you follow the directions and don’t rush it.
I’ve only begun to try out the variety of games that are available right now.
I tried out the Tetris Effect: Connected VR game first to get a feel for the PSVR 2. It was a fine experience, but I didn’t last long in it. I started thinking about comfort and whether the headset was on correctly so that my vision was optimal.
I felt these things while I was trying to play what was an ordinary Tetris game in VR. It was clearly easier to play this flat two-dimensional game on a 2D screen with a game controller, rather than using gestures with hand controllers in VR. What was the point? This type of game isn’t why we need VR.
And you can have a great time playing some of the established hits out there like Beat Saber and Pistol Whip. But you can play those fine on the Meta Quest 2, which is cheaper than the PSVR 2 and doesn’t require that you own a $400-plus console.
Horizon: Call of the Mountain
Then I tried Sony’s Horizon: Call of the Mountain. This is the make-or-break launch title for the PSVR 2. Based on the same virtual world as Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017) and Horizon: Forbidden West (2022), Call of the Mountain is a new chapter with new characters in a VR setting.
The first scene of Horizon: Call of the Mountain was an explosion of colors and scenery. It was amazing to see the water of the stream, distant waterfalls, flying beasts, jungle greenery and towering mountains as you can visualize in the scene above. It looks so stunning that it’s weird to see these things all in quick succession as you cruise quietly down the river.
At first, I realized that I could never really get comfortable with wearing the PSVR 2 over my eyeglasses. So I would highly recommend that you use contact lenses if you have that option. That way, the glasses don’t really mash into your face or get fogged up. I wondered if there was something weird about the shape of my head. But it got better as I tightened the circular control on the band that goes around my head. It still wasn’t perfect. But then I remembered the other control, the scope button on the top right side of the headset, which also was a way to make it feel more comfortable.
As I fixed the comfort level, I didn’t worry about that so much and got more immersed into the experience.
In this game, you plays as Ryas, a disgraced former soldier of the Carja. Ryas is held captive at the outset by two soldiers who are taking him by canoe through a river in a vibrant jungle. This is the place that gives you the explosion of colors, from the jungle greenery to the bright colors of the soldiers and the dinosaur-like machines that patrol the area.
You get a real sense for the sense of scale in VR right away as a giant Tallneck, like a mechanical giraffe but so much bigger, walks by and almost stomps on you in an oblivious way. This is something that you can only experience in VR in terms of the scale of the beast relative to your own size. And it was smart of the developers to put this into the very beginning of the game.
While there are some pre-game adjustments you make, such as using the Tobii-based eye-tracking to choose menu items — or not — the developers gently walk you into the experience of controlling the game in VR. Your initial weapon is a bow and arrow. You can wield the bow in your left hand or stow it on your back by reaching with your left arm and pulling the R2 button with your index finger. You can fetch it fast by reaching back. Then you can nock an arrow in place by reaching behind your back with your right hand. Then you set the arrow on the bow and pull your arm back, aim at the target and let it go by pulling and letting go of the right controller R2 trigger.
Your first target is trying to hit the eyeball/cameras of the mechanical beasts that have discovered you are trespassing in their space. It felt like I had to use a lot of arrows to take them down. Just like in the game, you have to aim at their vulnerable spots to knock off armor and bring them down faster. Except it is a lot more laborious and harder to take them down in VR compared to just mashing buttons, sticks and pads with a regular game controller in a 2D-screen experience.
Did it feel more immersive, though? I would say yes. You panic a little more and feel the sense of urgency when a beast is charging at you in VR in comparison to a traditional console game. And it is more physically taxing.
For instance, one of the things you do right away is start climbing cliffs and ladders in the game. Like in an Uncharted game, there are areas marked with white chalk on the orange-red cliffs where you can grab rocks and climb. You move your arms and pull the R2 and L2 triggers to traverse one step at a time. You pull yourself up a rock by pulling your arms and pulling or letting go of triggers. This takes energy, and you feel a little tired when you finish climbing to a peak.
I am not sure if I want to do this for many many hours in VR. But it is different, and it is something that I can only do in VR. But I would note that there are things that I do in VR, like fight and block and dodge and shoot arrows, that I can definitely do better and more easily with a traditional controller and a 2D screen. Would-be developers would be good to remember that as they craft unique VR experiences.
The game trains you how to fight at the outset and it throws a lot at you. But I felt like it was manageable and worth moving deeper into the game. The visuals were outstanding, and I found myself stopping a lot and just looking around a 3D landscape — something I don’t always do with 2D screens.
There are some small appearances from Aloy, the Nora who is the hero of the Horizon games, but you play as Ryas in this experience. I’m looking forward to getting deeper into this experience so I can render judgment as a full game.
Comparison to the Meta Quest Pro
There aren’t many things you can properly compare the PSVR 2 to yet. But I have tried out the Meta Quest Pro, which is targeted at the enterprise market yet enables you to play VR games. It’s not exactly a fair comparison as the devices are targeted at very different markets. But the choices are interesting.
One of the interesting things about the comparison is that you can see some of the decisions Sony made to benefit gamers by pairing the PSVR 2 with the PlayStation 5 when you compare Sony’s device to Meta’s Meta Quest Pro, which launched last fall.
While the Meta Quest Pro at $1,500 is completely wireless, the PSVR 2 at $550 has to be plugged
into the PlayStation 5 via a four-meter USB-C cable. That means the PS5 handles the processing of games and can deliver a better overall gaming experience. It can, for instance, offer a wider field of view at 110 degrees versus 105 degrees on the Meta Quest Pro.
The Meta Quest Pro has a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2-Plus processor and 256GB of storage space. The Meta Quest Pro only has a max of two hours of battery life, while the PSVR 2 has no limit as it gets its power from the USB-C cable and PS 5.
The Meta Quest Pro is also heavier at 1.58 pounds (720 grams) versus 600 grams for the PSVR 2. The PSVR 2 also outdoes the Meta Quest Pro’s controllers, which have no haptic feedback. The PSVR 2 Sense controllers come with haptic feedback, finger touch detection, and adaptive triggers. Both headsets now use inside-out tracking, so no external camera is needed (as was necessary with the PSVR 1).
The PSVR 2 has a resolution of 2000 X 2040 pixels per eye, versus the slightly worse 1800 X 1920 per eye for the Meta Quest Pro. And the PSVR 2 has 4K OLED HDR for its display while the Meta Quest Pro uses LCD.
Overall, you can see what advantages the PSVR 2 gets from offloading processing to the PS 5 — at the small price of tethering. Since that tether is four meters long, you aren’t likely to have a problem. But there is a chance of getting tangled if you spin around a lot. Also, since the Meta Quest Pro has cameras in its controllers, it can still track where your hands are when they are behind your back. The PSVR 2 uses IR detection in its controllers, and so it could potentially lose the locations of your hands.
I don’t have a conclusion to share yet, but it’s a true gaming experience that is hard to replicate anywhere else. We’re still in the early days of VR, even though we are about seven years into the modern VR era. The Horizon: Call of the Mountain experience is all about gaming, not some other magical promise of VR.
There aren’t many experiences that point to the next generation of VR. But Horizon: Call of the Mountain should be enough to whet the appetites of VR enthusiasts and get them over the hump of adopting something new. I think the new era of immersion is underway with the launch of the PSVR 2, and that’s going to be a good thing for the gaming market, even if it isn’t the savior that leads us to metaverse nirvana.
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