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First Look: Playstation VR

Virtual reality (VR) is the future of gaming. It’s immersive, entertaining, and, in many cases, mind-blowing.

Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) is the only system that works on a game console; reaching a midpoint between systems that run on highly specced computers and simple VR experiences you get via a smartphone. The PSVR is as easy to set-up and run as you’d expect from a game console and the visuals are high quality. But it’s also large, cumbersome, covered in wires and induces vertigo.

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The set-up

I’m used to everything being wireless these days. My PlayStation 4 (PS4) is no different. The controllers for it are wireless. It connects to my WiFi and phone without cables. The only cords attached to it are the HDMI cable connecting it to the TV, the cable to the PlayStation Camera and the power cable. Adding the PSVR increases the number of cables in my living room.

However, the PSVR uses a wired intermediary box between your TV and the PS4. There are two HDMI cables plugged into the back of this box (one goes into the TV and the other into the PS4) and in the front, HDMI and aux cables run to the VR headset.

About 30cm down the cable from the headset is a small control for volume and power and a plug for your headphones. The kit comes with a pair of small earbuds, which give reasonable sound but kept falling out of my ears (you can replace these with your own).

The cables are long enough to allow you freedom of movement, but are also heavy enough that you notice them, especially while standing.

There’s no simple solution to hiding the cables. You end up with a bit of a mess no matter what. If you are particular about how your gaming area looks, you might consider unplugging the headset and storing it when you’re not playing.

The gear

You need a PlayStation Camera for the PSVR to work. The camera tracks the lights on the headset and controllers in three dimensions. The playing space is roughly a 2mx2m cube in front of the camera. Depending on the game and whether you’re sitting or standing, you may need to adjust where the camera is pointing.

Given its size and weight (610g), the PSVR headset is quite comfortable. It has an adjustable headband to support the visor, so once you’ve fitted it properly you won't feel like you need to keep looking down due to the weight, like some other front-heavy systems.

The visor section can be adjusted to fit snugly against your face. It’s also useful as a means of quickly looking out into the real world. I don’t wear spectacles but the set-up implies you can wear them while using it. Even with this, VR is still not accessible by people with vision issues, in the same way as 3D films.

The cables from the PS4 attach at the back, left-hand side of the headset. You need to be facing the camera though, which usually means facing the PS4. So this means the cables snake away in front of you. Something to remember if you take a few steps around.

Depending on which game you’re playing, you’ll use different controllers. More intricate games need you to use both hands and PlayStation Move controllers. These are an optional extra peripheral, and you’ll need two of them. Other games use a regular PS4 controller or simply the headset itself.

The games

There’s a small but varied selection of games for PSVR right now. They range from tank combat to underwater experiences to playing as Batman.

Some games are better standing than sitting. Others, such as ones where you are driving vehicles, are more enjoyable seated. The games generally don’t require too much moving about and the system quickly tells you if you have left the playing area (which at times can be annoying).

The biggest problem for VR games is motion sickness. When your eyes are telling you that you are moving but your inner ears are saying you’re not, your brain gets confused signals and makes you nauseous.

I played Eve: Valkyrie, a spaceship battle game, and it was fine during simple flying but I was almost throwing up when the aerial combat started. Taking the visor off and closing your eyes helps, but recovery can take some time.

There are some basic games in The Playroom VR that come free with the system. These games are more for children but can be played with other players in the room who are not wearing a VR headset.

PlayStation VR Worlds is a series of small games that are a great introduction to VR. From Ocean Discovery – which puts you inside a shark cage and lowers you over the edge of a reef – to The London Heist – a Guy Ritchie-style British gangster game that sees you shooting and reloading pistols.

Batman Arkham VR puts you in the iconic batsuit, investigating the disappearance of Robin. It’s much darker and features more mature content. Even the origin of Batman, told in so many different formats, becomes a lot more visceral when you’re standing in Bruce Wayne’s shoes. And I’ll be honest, it’s pretty cool being Batman.

The experience

Apart from motion sickness, the PSVR was astounding. Even the simplest games wowed me and the best ones made me exclaim out loud or have uncontrolled reactions, like flinching at incoming projectiles.

VR systems are already being used to help people get over their fear of spiders and heights, because the images are so lifelike and trigger real emotions. One of the games put me under water and then turned the lights out, leaving me floating in a dark ocean; an experience that made me yank the helmet off yelling “Nope!”

It’s hard to explain how great the experience is with VR. When you encounter other characters they stand the same height as you, and look you right in the eye. But it also gives you the chance to change perspectives. For example, in Batman’s origin story, you are a child, so you have to look up as all the other characters are taller than you.

The wires are the most annoying aspect. If you’re tidy, you’ll want to figure out a way to hide all those cables when not in use. Maybe get a mannequin head to store the headset?

Is it worth $630 plus the cost of any extra peripherals? That depends on how much you like playing games and how easily you get motion sickness. I’d be interested to see if a wireless version comes out in the next year or two. But right now, if you want to experience VR in your home, this is the most accessible system available.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. This PlayStation VR and games were loaned to the writer by Sony New Zealand.

by Hadyn Green

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