And now it's Sony's turn to enter the ring, following in the footsteps of notable headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, bringing with them 40 million VR-ready consoles and the backing of a range of first- and third-party developers. PlayStation VR is here, it's competitively priced, and it comes with a solid launch lineup. But, the question on everybody's lips: is it here to stay?
We'd be lying if we said we knew for sure. The PSVR headset launches with a decent selection of titles, offering a range of virtual reality experiences no doubt to suit a multitude of tastes. It's also got the distinct advantage of being the cheapest of the big three, and by quite a way (although the price point gets a bit more complicated if you're not equipped with all the relevant gear beforehand, but more on that later). There's also the small matter of Sony's impressive track record of building and manufacturing hardware, which certainly has a bearing on this generation of the technology and will again for possible future iterations. In short, PSVR has a lot of positives going for it.
Is that enough, though? Just like when we reviewed the HTC Vive earlier this year, we have to be upfront with the caveat that virtual reality isn't for everyone, and as we did back then we're going to recommend that you try a headset for yourself before you stump up the money needed to get your hands on this tech, because some people simply don't gel with VR and find being shut off from the real world to be quite affecting, and on top of that there are some games that'll have you reaching for the sick bucket unless your stomach is made of steel.
But before we start talking about software and the overall experience, let's first delve into the headset, how it performs, and what you get out the box. First up, for your £350 you get a headset, a receiver box, a bunch of cables, in-ear buds, a demo disk with eight demos on it (in the UK at least), and access to Playroom VR (although we've not been able to download this at the time of writing). There's a couple of other bits and pieces in there, but that's the main bulk of it. However, and this is important, buying that headset alone doesn't mean that you're VR ready, and at the very least you need a PlayStation 4 Camera (around £40) and you may also want a pair of Move controllers (around £70). If you don't have this kit and you want the full experience, it drives up the cost of PSVR considerably, making it much closer in price to its nearest competitor, the Oculus Rift (which is around £550).
You have to consider the true cost of PSVR, then, because it's not as simple as splashing out £350 and getting stuck in (and you only get Playroom VR and a demo disc, which is worth bearing in mind as you'll also want to grab some games too). The counter argument is the relatively low cost of the hardware as opposed to the sizeable investment required if you want a VR ready PC. The PlayStation 4 Slim will set you back around £260 (and there's the PS4 Pro on the horizon too, don't forget), which means the overall cost of getting into VR is much, much lower on console than it is on PC. However, there are certain drawbacks to that tempting truth.
For a start, PSVR feels a little less luxurious than its PC counterparts. Fair play to Sony, they've still done a good job, and the headset is smartly designed and looks futuristic. It's lightweight, robust, and it feels like it's more suited to the living room than Oculus Rift or the Vive. It's also quite comfortable, with two soft rubber-covered plates - one on the forehead, the other around the back - that make for a snug fit. There's a dial at the rear that can be used to tighten the headset, and you can angle it for comfort, pulling the back strap lower if you prefer. A button that sits underneath the visor also allows you to make adjustments and draw the screen closer to your face. Simply put, it's a smartly designed, well made piece of kit, and its curved form and striking finish ensures that it's the most eye-catching top tier headset currently on the market, even if it doesn't feel as high end as its competitors.
For those among you with glasses, the PSVR headset is reasonably comfortable, but after an extended session it can get a bit uncomfortable (we'd offer the same advice to everyone, though: take frequent breaks). The headset presses on the glasses, pushes down on top of them, or just moves when playing, so you may need to regularly adjust to maintain optimum comfort. It's not ideal, but the headset definitely works with glasses and wearing specs shouldn't put players off. In terms of fitting the headset around your face, glasses or no, there's rubber casing around the OLED screen that for the most part keeps the player in the dark, and even if there's a little light creeping out at the start of session it soon settles into position and cloaks you in immersive darkness. We were, at first, worried that the rubber might get sweaty after extended play, but this wasn't a major issue when the room temperature was steady, although the screen can steam up a little if your skin is warmer than normal.
Given the price disparity it'll come as no surprise to hear that the overall quality of the VR is less than what you'll get on PC. The 1920 x RGB x 1080 OLED screen makes for less pixels per eye than the competition (amendment: this isn't strictly true if you take into account subpixels, of which PSVR boasts more than Vive and Oculus Rift), but it's actually the lack of heft behind the PS4's CPU that's the main drawback. Anything visually complicated looks decidedly old-gen, and as such we're really interested in seeing what kind of bump we're going to get from the PS4 Pro. On the bright side, the 120Hz (or sometimes 90Hz) refresh rate makes for a smooth experience, and while we didn't test the individual frame-rates on all the software we've played so far, we didn't notice any massive drops and the we'd say that almost everything was silky smooth. The field of view is a relatively narrow 100 degrees, but we didn't find that to be an issue either. The 3D audio works nicely, and adds to the sense of immersion that we encountered in several of the games we tried (and the in-ear buds that came with the headset were perfectly fine).