PlayStation VR: $399, October 13, and it looks pretty good to us

/ Updated: June 13, 2016 6:44 PM PDT
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Sony's got its own virtual-reality hardware for the PlayStation 4, and it's called the PlayStation VR. And now we know it costs less than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and isn't arriving until later this year. But it could be the most accessible high-end VR hardware of all. The PlayStation VR costs $399, £349 or AU$550, and will arrive on October 13 2016.

You still need a PS4 to use it: All you get for that price is the headset, and necessary connector hardware and cables. While it works with the PS4 and its DualShock 4 controllers, the motion-tracking Move controllers and PlayStation Camera ($60, £39, AU$75) don't come packaged in. You need the camera, so expect to pay for one, and you'll probably want the controllers, unless you still have them lying around from the PS3.

Sony promises that the PSVR will come with up to 50 games at launch. Many that Sony teased are familiar from other VR demos we've seen, such as Job Simulator and Eve: Valkyrie. A good handful, like a newly announced Star Wars Battlefront game, look like exclusives, at least for now.

The PlayStation VR headset still looks similar to what we tried below during previous sessions with it. While wearing the headset you'll be able to access the PS4's menus and features. You can even enter "cinematic mode" and play any game or app in a simulated 16:9 screen.

So far, what we've seen looks pretty good.

The headset

  • 5.7-inch 1080p OLED display
  • 100-degree field of view
  • 120Hz refresh rate

Sony's PlayStation VR is a different type of VR headset. Some VR headsets run off phones. Others use high-end PCs. By connecting to a PlayStation 4 -- 40 million of which have been sold around the world -- PSVR could be an instant option for people who just don't have and will never buy an expensive PC for games. And what we realized, after playing more of the PSVR's games, is that it's really good at what it does.

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The PSVR headset feels pretty comfy.

Josh Miller/CNET

Like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the other two high-profile virtual-reality systems you should expect to see in 2016, the PlayStation VR is a tethered headset that uses special curved lenses to magnify and stretch a 5.7-inch screen across your field of vision.

Like those other headsets, it also uses a host of sensors to tell which way your head is pointing at all times. That way, no matter where you look (even if you turn around and look behind you), you see the portion of a virtual world that you'd expect to see if you were actually there, looking at it with your own eyes.

No, the PSVR isn't as high-res or graphically superpowered as the top-end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. But we're not sure you'll notice. Games run smoothly and look crisp on the headset's clear, bright display. You can see pixels, yes, and sometimes games or videos can look blurry, but for many games it just works, like the Nintendo Wii used to just work. Forgive that analogy, because it's meant in a good way. The PSVR seems like a more family-friendly kind of virtual reality than its more serious competitors.

The PSVR's headset fits better than the tight scuba-goggle designs of Vive or Rift. A simple headband, and gentle rubber eyepieces fit over glasses easily. The display doesn't fog up, and while the porthole-style field of view can sometimes seem narrow, you forget about it and take in the games, and suddenly become immersed.

Sony has far more experience building consumer electronics (including earlier headsets) than its competitors, and it shows in the PlayStation VR's comfortable design. The well-padded headset easily and securely cinches up to your head, just by turning a clicky, bike-helmet like dial on the back of the device.

The front section, the part that goes over your eyes, can slide toward your face or away from it with the press of a button. That means it can easily accommodate people who wear glasses, or allow you to briefly peek at the real world around you without fully removing the headset from your skull.

Adjusting the headset to fit.

Nate Ralph/CNET

The PlayStation VR plugs into your PS4 with a breakout box that includes an HDMI splitter, so you can hook up the headset and a TV at the same time. That way, friends and family can see a portion of what you're seeing, and play certain kinds of games together.

The controllers

  • DualShock 4 gamepad for many games
  • PlayStation Move wand controllers to simulate hands
  • PlayStation Camera to track everything

How do you control yourself while using the PlayStation VR? So far, Sony's been showing the headset off with some controllers you might already be familiar with: The PlayStation Camera, DualShock 4 gamepad and the wand-like PlayStation Move motion controllers that were designed for the last-generation PS3 console nearly five years ago.

The camera can track the bright blue LEDs on the headset and the ones in the gamepad as well as the Move wands simultaneously: We've seen up to one headset and two controllers at a time.

A pair of PlayStation Move controllers in use.

Nate Ralph/CNET

The wands mean you can not only turn your head in a virtual world, but also have a pair of basic hands to pick up and drop virtual objects, fire virtual guns or manipulate all kinds of virtual tools. Problem is, at least in the demos we've tried, the Move controllers haven't been particularly great at that job.

While the HTC Vive's controllers are responsive enough to let you literally juggle virtual pots and pans (no kidding) and the Oculus Rift's upcoming Oculus Touch controllers feel pretty fantastic, too, we've frequently failed to pick up virtual items with the Move.

$399, but you won't get everything

The PSVR sounds affordable, maybe, at first: It undercuts the $600 Oculus Rift and $800 HTC Vive. But hang on, all you get with PSVR is a headset and cables. You don't get any controllers, including the PlayStation Move wands that PlayStation's VR uses for many of its games. You can use a DualShock 4 controller, yes, but that's not included either. But more importantly, you need a PlayStation Camera. That's another add-on. Sony hinted it will offer bundles that include these accessories, but there's a good chance that package will creep back towards at least $500.

You can use it as a second screen for your PS4

The PSVR can run any PlayStation game on its screen, or show your movies or apps, in a cinematic 2D big-screen mode. It may sound silly, but it also means you could use it to play games while someone else has the TV on, like the Wii U and its gamepad.

The PSVR can also play 360-degree videos and show panoramic photos. I looked at a sample video, but it looked pretty blurry. A better, professionally made 3D 360-degree video of Joshua Bell playing a violin solo looked much better, but was shot with Sony's own rig of action cameras and produced solely as a tech demo.

The games look good

PlayStation VR will have 50 games by launch, according to Sony, and hundreds of developers working on titles. The biggest game announced so far is Star Wars Battlefront, but there are other exclusives peppered throughout Sony's announced games so far. Others are games debuting for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

We tried a lot of games we'd never seen. And mostly, the games were really good.

Rez Infinite updates the classic, trippy cyberpunk music game to feel like you're slipping along through a neon dream concert. Rigs, a multiplayer mech-suit sports game where you throw yourself through a metal hoop and blast your opponents, was full of lag last year but now plays silky-smooth and nausea-free. Weird puzzle games like Gnog feel like the types of strange but wonderful PSN games we love, but in 3D VR. Sony's own collection of game franchises, plus a stable of developers, could make a huge difference.

In our experience though, there are already two VR games pretty far along in development that you won't want to miss: Eve: Valkyrie and Job Simulator. They could be killer apps for virtual reality -- reasons you might run out and buy a VR headset to begin with.

Eve: Valkyrie is an incredibly immersive space dogfighting game, one that puts you in the cockpit of a fast-moving fighter and does it damnedest to convince you that you're actually there. Your armed-to-the-teeth space capsule is filled with holographic user interfaces and physical controls that float right in front of your eyes, looking pretty darn realistic.

You can turn your head, look up, down and even over your shoulder to keep a bead on your foes as they whiz past. Wheel your ship about to engage them, and you can lock onto enemy craft with guided missiles as long as you keep your gaze fixed for long enough. Perhaps the most impressive touch is how your in-game body mirrors your actual body, even leaning when you lean in the real world. (You use a gamepad to steer your ship, not your head.)

Job Simulator feels like the polar opposite of Eve: Valkyrie, with no fast-paced dogfighting among the stars. Instead, you're an office drone in the year 2050, tasked with performing jobs that even robots find too menial to bother with (or so we presume). Mostly, though, the game is about messing with as much stuff as possible using the Move controls.

You can grab just about anything in the office, throw it anywhere you like, and just enjoy the zaniness of using your real hands in a virtual world. There's a red Swingline stapler that shoots staples clear across the room, a working computer that plays an Angry Birds clone -- if you plug in the power and find the right disc -- and a dunking bird that'll drink from your coffee mug, just to give an idea of some of the things you can do.

PSVR could also be used to play more experimental storytelling apps and experiences, just like on Rift and Vive. Allumette, from Penrose Studios, is a storybook world telling a tale of a sad girl in a floating city that looks like it's made of stop-motion physical objects. A concept social app threw three of us at CNET into a weird cartoon playground where we threw balls at each other and danced badly, waving giant emoji-like hands.

Would we buy the PSVR?

It's still hard to tell. This is expensive stuff, even if it's cheaper than the Rift or Vive. Sony promises 50 games when the PlayStation VR launches in October. That's plenty, and Sony is also promising entertainment and social apps too. The bar is being set high. But so far, PSVR delivers in its demos, and its games and comfortable headset could be its greatest strengths.

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Sony PlayStation VR (Headset)

Part Number: 5117500 Released: Jun 14, 2016
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  • Release date Jun 14, 2016
  • Product type VR Headset
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