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Daily Reaction: Sizing Up Sony’s PS4 VR Headset

September 5, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

thekazreport

With news of a Virtual Reality headset for the PS4 spreading, Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss Sony’s previous history of peripheral support, the Oculus Rift and whether this will be a key device in the console war.

Seb: Outlets like Eurogamer and CVG yesterday claimed that Sony are working on a Virtual Reality headset for the PS4. Apparently, the company planned to reveal the headset at gamescom, with rumors then saying the reveal was pushed back to TGS, and now more rumors saying that the reveal has been pushed even further back to 2014, with a release that fall.

Both publications mention DriveClub as a title that will use the VR headset, with the game including a cockpit view. Considering Evolution Studios is managed by Mick Hocking, the guy who pushed 3D for PS3, this seems highly logical.

For the purposes of this Daily Reaction discussion, we’ll assume the headset is real, but of course it’s a rumor, and may end up being false. Today, however, a third site has thrown their hat into the ring, claiming that the PS4’s VR headset is indeed real.

GI.biz says that the headset will be Sony’s “most serious” attempt at VR, that the company has been reaching out to developers to try to get support for the device, and that it will be more accurate than the Oculus Rift – partly because it will also use the PlayStation Camera for tracking. Unfortunately for the PS4 VR Headset, that tracking means that it currently has aesthetic problems, requiring ping-pong balls strapped on either side of the head, presumably a bit like the Move.

So, based on what we know, should we be excited? From a techy gamer’s perspective, of course, VR can be be truly awesome, and in many ways seems like the first truly ‘next gen’ thing about the next iteration of consoles, that mainly seemed to be just faster and more powerful. But from a realistic perspective, there are obvious reasons for concern.

For starters, there’s the big issue of price. People will need to buy the $60 PlayStation Camera, which currently lacks any major use, and then on top of that peripheral, they’ll have to buy this VR Headset – and that won’t be cheap, with Oculus Rift dev kits currently costing $300. That’s a sizeable investment for people that may have only just picked up a new console.

CVG says that Sony is currently “weighing up whether the PS4 device should be pitched as a key differentiator for the console or a non-essential add-on”, but let’s be honest with ourselves, this is Sony. Even when they think something is important, and have spent tons of money on R&D and manufacturing, they end up dropping the ball when it comes to supporting it, or getting others to support it.

Look at Move – that thing managed to ship millions, but is now a glowing dust collector. Look at 3D – it was a buzzword for all of 3 minutes. Look at SimulView – it’s supported by what, 3 games? Look at SixAxis – 4 games? Look at the PS Vita – ok, now I’m just being mean.

Sony, for all their amazing ability to support their home console with IP after IP and blockbuster after blockbuster, has a proven track record of being unable to support their non-essential peripherals. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for people to pick up the PlayStation Camera, despite the logical thing for Sony to do, if they truly want the VR Headset to have a chance, being to get that thing into as many homes as possible right now.

Luckily for Sony, there’s a stronger chance that this will get developer support than before, due to their more proactive approach to working with indies, who are always willing to try something different, and the sheer buzz behind the PS4.

The Oculus Rift has been cited as a competitor, but I think it’s a good thing – developers will be able to work with both, ensuring a broader install base. The Rift is also available to some developers now, meaning that they will have some experience getting the VR kinks worked out before the PS4 VR headset arrives.

I don’t think the VR Headset will be the PS4’s killer feature, but I remain cautiously optimistic that it could at least lead to some unique and immersive experiences, never before available on a console.

Dan: Well, VR really has been the holy grail for many gamers and developers for many years, but has always seemed to be a financial and developmental pitfall, as it challenges the status-quo we have known for decades.

The most obvious issue that Seb touched on is the pricing behind having to add a new accessory to be capable of playing a game in VR. The Oculus Rift is the first true headset to bring down the price of a VR device so that it’s plausible as a consumer product, but ultimately, how many people will drop a few hundred dollars more to make their TV obsolete? That’s not to mention the problems with neglecting those around you as you are immersed in your virtual environment, taking away a great deal of the social aspects of gaming. This isn’t to say it will never be successful, but even after developers learn to make the product accessible to the general consumer, they will still have to convince them to buy it.

This is where development and the PC market will be the sole driving force for new technology like this, not consoles. The PS4 is going to be a massively powerful machine and is getting a ton of attention from the indie scene, but it will be the bedroom developers who just want to toy with this device on a basic SDK that will drive attention to the product. Eventually, yes the games created on PC could come to the PS4, with Sony’s use of self-publishing, but the test bed for this technology will start on the PC – meaning that is where the attention would need to be placed.

Seeing that the Oculus Rift has already made such headway into that market, one would think that it would make more sense for Sony to simply partner with them to develop an already industry popularized item instead of developing a new one and competing for a marginal market. As we have said before, there won’t be enough of an install base, at least not for years, to really drive this as a standard platform, so saturating the market this early could just cause everyone to fall flat.

Even though reports keep stating that Microsoft has nothing in development to compete with the Oculus Rift or the rumored PS4 VR, there was the leaked report showing off the Fortaleza glasses. So, even though it might be too early to worry about oversaturating the VR market, you can be sure that almost every major platform holder has spent millions looking into the matter already.

With all of that said, I am looking forward to getting my hands on a consumer based VR headset, whether it is the Oculus Rift or something from Sony. But, if I was a betting man, I would back the device that is getting complete support from the PC market, and at the moment that is the Rift.

Are you excited for the PS4 VR Headset? Let us know in the comments below, email name ideas to DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net and tell us how much you’d pay to isolate yourself at Seb and Dan.