Virtual reality headsets have been all the rage since TV companies realised no one wanted to wear 3D glasses. While I’m still not 100% sold on the idea of needing to wear a bulky headset to have more immersive entertainment, the tech in the PSVR 2 blew me away.
Every aspect of the technology has been overhauled from the first attempt at a PlayStation VR headset back in 2016, with the team clearly taking all the criticism on board. The original PSVR 1 seemed like a novelty, a nice idea, while the PSVR 2 seems more like something people will actually use and enjoy long term, and that’s an exciting prospect for the evolution of gaming. If Sony can nail the next crucial part, that is…
I remember the launch of the original PlayStation VR headset. The year was 2016, and VR still seemed like such a novelty. People didn’t yet know what to expect or what to really do with VR, other than that it was a big screen strapped to your face and that was good for some reason. As a result, the first generation had a terrible 1080p resolution screen, an uncomfortable headset, and truly terrible controllers. I still have a box of those Move controllers and the accessories, like the big plastic guns, and the PlayStation Eye cameras required for the headset to work.
The original PlayStation VR headset felt like a hastily thrown-together first draft, made out of random accessories PlayStation developers found around the office and cobbled together. While it sold well enough, it never really took off because it didn’t properly scratch the itch of virtual reality in the way Oculus and other premium PC VR headsets did.
In that way, the new PlayStation VR2 headset is the complete opposite of the original. The thought and care that has gone into it is apparent. While it still needs to be plugged into the console, it now has cameras built into the headset, doing away with the need for a separate camera, and making the setup more intuitive and immersive.
The headphones that come with the headset can be properly tethered to the headband, so they don’t distract the wearer. There’s lots of padding around the headband, and the whole thing is very adjustable to fit a range of head shapes. Plus, the controllers are a joy to use. The panel is OLED with a 90Hz/120Hz refresh rate and 2000×2400 resolution per eye. I can still make out the pixels, but they’re smaller and more pleasant than the previous monstrosity. The lens separation is adjustable to better suit different faces.
On the head shapes thing, though, it does look like it’s not great for those with smaller heads. I have what I would consider to be a pretty medium-sized head. I have to adjust headphone headbands to be a bit bigger, but I don’t have to extend them all the way, if that helps you visualise the size.
My wife, on the other hand, is tiny, and because of that, she experienced more blur on the headset while playing than I did. That could be because she had trouble adjusting it to properly fit her head because it’s not designed for smaller heads, or perhaps because her eyesight isn’t as good as she thinks it is. Either way, it’s something for people with smaller heads to consider and perhaps test out before purchasing.
In all, it’s good. Very, very good. On paper, the specs are significantly better than comparable headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index. Plus, it hits just about everything on my wish list, though I would like a higher resolution panel and some kind of solution for those of us with poor eyesight who are too chicken to use contacts.
Eye tracking: ridiculously cool
The best new feature of PSVR 2 is eye tracking. Its eye tracking is extremely accurate, which seemed spooky at first, but is so much more natural for choosing dialogue options, browsing menus and selecting things in-world. It’s only going to be utilised by games made by first-party PlayStation developers for now, but the possibilities for this technology are almost endless.
This is also a premium feature that isn’t available in even the more expensive PC VR headsets, and to find that in a headset this reasonably priced (yes, I know it’s expensive, but this is actually pretty cheap for a VR headset this good), is incredible.
It’ll be really interesting to see how future developers use eye tracking in games, I suspect games like Horizon Call of the Mountain have barely scratched the surface.
The controllers: thank God Move is dead
Confession: the first thing I said as I unboxed the PSVR 2 was “Thank Rao Move is dead”.
The old Move Controllers on PSVR 1 served their purpose (making the most of a previous accessory that wasn’t as popular as PlayStation had hoped), but they were never great. The original aim of Move when it was first launched in 2010 for PS3 was to replicate the movement controls of the Nintendo Wii, they were never designed to feel natural in a VR situation.
In comparison, the new Sense controller is purpose-designed for VR and it shows. They feel natural to hold, they’re easy to use without looking at them, and they have so many sensors that they can be used for so many different things in-game. It’s going to be years before developers find every way to take advantage of these controllers, and that’s really exciting.
They achieve their aim of keeping you in the game and helping you navigate through it. They’re frankly the best VR controllers I’ve ever used.
But will there be games?
The problem with accessories like PSVR 2 is that it doesn’t really matter how good they are. It just matters that good games are made for them to get people to buy them.
There were a lot of problems with the original PSVR, and one key one was that there weren’t enough great, must-have games for it. Because of that, not enough people bought it to make it worth investing in creating big games for the headset, so then more people didn’t buy it.
There are more PC VR titles available now and, presumably, they can be ported to PlayStation with relative ease, so there is less of a barrier. But the expectations of console gamers can be different to PC gamers, so it’ll be interesting to see how that translates.
At launch, there is a pretty decent slate, including Horizon Call of the Wild (set in the same universe as Horizon Forbidden West), a Gran Turismo 7 VR mode (which is excellent), Jurassic World Aftermath, Resident Evil Village, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, Tetris Effect, and Moss 1 & 2 (one of my favourite PSVR 1 games). Highlights coming soon are No Man’s Sky and The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners: Ch 2: Retribution. But launch games tend to be more tech demos than experiences that fully and subtly utilise the power of a new device, so it’s the batch of games that come out later in the year that will be extra interesting to see.
The good news is that there are lots of games for early adopters to play. It’s just that the Christmas line-up will be the true test of how mainstream PSVR 2 will be.
Would I buy the PSVR 2?
This is the headset that finally made me “get” VR. I’ve tried fancier, more expensive headsets that have better quality technology (like multi-directional treadmills) and show a more idealised version of what virtual reality can be, but they’re not something that will be accessible to most people, probably ever. PlayStation VR 2, while expensive, is the first truly mainstream headset that seems worth the effort.
Considering I already own a PS5, if I had room in my budget for it, and was interested in spending a lot of time in PSVR 2 games, I think I would buy it. The set-up cost of getting a PS5 and a PSVR 2 headset, while high, is certainly lower than buying a PC VR headset with an appropriately powerful PC to use it with. It now just comes down to the games.
PlayStation VR 2
An excellent console virtual reality headset, the PSVR 2 now just needs a strong games release schedule to back it up.