PlayStation VR review: Features and spec

The PlayStation VR headset boasts pretty impressive specs for a £349 headset, which should get prospective VR gamers excited. The PSVR headset can be powered by any of the 44 million PS4 consoles currently on the market, and can provide a higher quality experience when powered by Sony’s new PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s an impressive feat when you consider that high-end PC VR headsets require a powerful PC that’ll cost at least £500-600 to run smoothly.

The PlayStation VR headset boasts a 5.7in 1920x1080 full-HD OLED display, equating to 960x1080 per eye. While it’s not quite as high as the HTC Vive’s 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye) resolution, it still provides users with an immersive VR experience that isn’t that different to the high-end VR headsets.

The display is coupled with a 100-degree field of view and an 18ms response time provides users with an experience indistinguishable from real life – although that will rely in some part on the graphics of the game/experience played. Sony's virtual reality headset also features a 120Hz refresh rate and thus has the potential to render games at 120fps, which is notably higher than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive's 90Hz offering. Although I didn’t experience such a high frame-rate during my time with the headset, I still had no complaints about screen tearing or any kind of frame rate issues when looking around and interacting with the virtual environment powered by both the standard PS4 and the PS4 Pro.

In fact, in some ways, Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is better than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The “screen door effect” is an issue that both high-end headsets suffer with – but what is that? Simply put, the screen door effect refers to the gap between individual pixels that appear when looking closely at a display. The gaps cause an effect that looks like the mesh used in screen doors, and can hinder the ability to read text, amongst other things, in VR.

I was incredibly impressed when using PlayStation VR as the screen door effect is hardly noticeable – even when trying to focus on the individual pixels on the display, it was hard to pick them out. This is due to Sony using an RGB display that offers three RGB subpixels per pixel, helping the pixels to blend together as one. It may not seem like much, but it’s extremely impressive and really enhanced my overall experience of the VR headset.

The PlayStation 4 system is easily able to track movement thanks to built-in accelerometers and LED side lights detectable by a connected PlayStation camera. Sony claims that the PlayStation Camera can track the PSVR headset up to 1,000 times per second, which, in my experience, provided me with a level of tracking rivalled by the likes of the HTC Vive, although the tracking is only great when the PS Camera can see you.

The design of the headset also allows users to turn their heads 360 degrees in-game, allowing gamers to look behind them when inevitably being chased by a weapon-wielding enemy. This is possible thanks to sensors on the back of the headset, which lets the system know when you’re looking behind you.

Along with the PlayStation VR headset, users can buy the optional Move batons. Now if you’re thinking that they look familiar, you’d be right – they’re the Move batons used with the PS3, repurposed for VR. While this means that many users will already have the batons and won’t need to fork out for them again, it also means that the technology included isn’t as impressive as the HTC Vive controllers, or the Oculus Touch controllers. Firstly, the baton tracking isn’t 1:1 and is therefore not as accurate as the high-end systems, causing the controllers to jump around in-game from time to time when the camera loses tracking.

Due to the relatively narrow field of view of the PlayStation Camera, it’s entirely possible that certain elements within the VR experience will be beyond your reach. This happened to me while playing London Heist – I tried to reach for a drawer, but the light at the end of the baton was just outside the camera’s field of view and as such, couldn’t be tracked. This meant that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the drawer open and I must admit, it ruined the experience a little bit.

While the Move batons can sometimes be a little bit fiddly and awkward to use, we still feel that they are an integral part of the PlayStation VR experience. Yes, using a DualShock 4 controller to interact with the virtual world is okay, but it’s just not as immersive as reaching out and interacting with the virtual environment, even if the hands jitter around every now and again.

It’s important to remember that the headset is much cheaper than the high-end HTC Vive, so not everything will be perfect. But for first time VR users and those interested in the world of VR, this shouldn’t matter too much, and I recommend investing in a pair of Move batons for use with the VR headset. Not all games and experience feature Move baton support, but it’ll enhance the experience of those that do.  

PlayStation VR review: The experience

I’ve spent more time than I care to admit playing a variety of games on PlayStation VR, and here’s where I’ll tell you a little bit about what I experienced. But first, I thought it’d be a good idea to address the differences in gameplay when running a PS4 Pro-powered VR game and a standard PS4-powered VR game. 

PlayStation 4 vs PlayStation 4 Pro: VR experience

Before I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that owning a PS4 Pro alone won’t provide you with a library of enhanced VR games. Just like with standard PS4 games, the developers have to specifically add in support for the console and until that time comes, the game will look the exact same as if it was running on a standard PS4.

The standard PS4 VR experience isn’t to be sniffed at though, as it provides users with a decent VR experience. Textures are detailed enough for the experience to be believable, the frame rate never dropped beneath 60fps (in my experience, anyway!) with no visible lag or screen tearing.

That’s impressive when you consider it’s powered by a console that was first released in 2013 – the same cannot be said about the majority of PCs that were released in the same year. Yeah sure, the 3D models are sometimes pixelated and when inspecting the environment up-close you may find it isn’t as clearly defined as you thought, but it’s good enough to provide a satisfactory VR experience.

However, when running a Pro-supported VR game like PlayStation Worlds (of which London Heist is a mini game) on a PS4 Pro, the PlayStation VR headset comes into its own. As the resolution of the headset can’t be upped any higher, developers can put the extra graphical power into higher quality textures, better lighting and other features that make the experience more immersive.

The difference is immediately noticeable; models are rarely pixelated, textures look real enough to touch and the experience is much more enjoyable. I even went to lean on a virtual table once, because it looked so real and I simply forgot that I was in a game.

It’s amazing to see the little details produced by the extra power provided by the PS4 Pro in VR, and I’d go as far as to say that the Pro-powered PlayStation VR experience could compete with high-end VR headsets – in games where the extra power is used effectively, anyway. Of course, the quality may vary from game to game, but the potential for amazing VR experiences on the PlayStation VR headset is possible.

When you consider that the HTC Vive costs the same as the PlayStation VR headset and PlayStation 4 Pro console combined, Sony has achieved something remarkable.