Like other virtual reality headsets on the market, PlayStation VR has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously and then sending them to a headset a few feet away. But unlike the competition who require expensive graphics cards to get the job done, PS VR can do it using only the PlayStation 4’s built-in GPU.
It achieves this by using the PlayStation Camera to track nine different points of light on the headset and the lights on either the Move controllers or on the DualShock 4, depending on which game you’re playing.
It’s surprisingly accurate given the fact that it’s only using a single camera to track what’s happening … but it’s not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination. We’ll cover performance in detail in a minute, but be prepared for the camera to lose track of the controllers. A lot.
But the real bummer here is that because Sony only uses one camera instead of two, it’s harder for PlayStation VR to track you if you get up and walk around than it is for a system like the HTC Vive which can offer true room-scale VR. That said, it still can support you if you decide to get up and wander around, but don’t expect to take more than a few steps in any direction without a warning from the system that you’re straying too far away.
To that end, most PlayStation VR games can recommend that you stay in one of two positions, either sitting down or standing up and stationary. If you’re prone to motion sickness, sitting down might be a bit more comfortable, however, certain games are definitely better played on your feet.
Depending on where and how you angle your camera, switching between the two might not be so easy, so it’s best to find an angle that covers the majority of the room in case you want to switch from one to the other without having to get up, move the camera and recalibrate.
But let’s back up. Up until now, I’ve thrown the words “VR” and “virtual reality” around a lot and haven’t provided much explanation for them.
VR has existed in one form or another for decades, but the modern version of the technology is more immersive and less nausea-inducing than it’s ever been. In more or less words, virtual reality is just that – a virtual world that gives you the experience of being somewhere else in a different time, at a different place, sometimes as far as an alien world, all without ever leaving your home.
And yes, it’s just as cool as it sounds.
If you want to be specific about it, PlayStation VR can handle 1080p games on its 920 x RGB x 1080 OLED display at either 90Hz (meaning that the image refreshes itself 90 times per second) or at 120Hz depending on the VR game or application.
And for those concerned about latency, Sony says that PlayStation VR’s response rate is locked in at around 18ms – which is about 0.002 seconds faster than the highest acceptable latency before you would notice the lag in VR.
Those numbers are great, but they’re matched by both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The one advantage Sony has that neither Oculus nor HTC can claim is that it’s actually a world-class game publisher. While the other two have been trying to create connections with developers over the past few years, Sony already has them.
To that end, Sony is promising 50 new titles on the platform before the end of the year, some of which will be made by Sony’s extremely competent first-party studios. (The first of them, PlayStation VR Worlds, is absolutely incredible – you’ll go from being put in a shark cage to holding up a bank and end by careening downhill on your back, dodging cars while going faster than the bobsled team in Cool Runnings.)