Even as a huge fan of PlayStation VR, I have to admit the technology is starting to feel a little bit left behind. PSVR was already a bit cumbersome to begin with. From its mess of cables, to needing to block out a space to use it in, VR in general is a hard sell for the average consumer. As much as I love virtual reality, it’s not often I can convince myself to drag out the headset, make sure the cabling isn’t tangling around anything in the room, and completely block out the outside world while I get into VR games. It’s just not my top choice when the alternative is falling back onto the couch and booting up something else. VR, by comparison, is an event; something that takes a lot of perceived effort to play (even if the actual execution is relatively trivial).
With the release of the PS5, PSVR took a significant back seat. Backwards compatibility was supposed to make the transition from PS4 to PS5 seamless, and for the most part—minus a few hiccups—it has. But, even with backwards compatibility letting you play PSVR games on the new console, there are even more hoops to jump through in order to get the old tech to function with your PS5. Sony’s new PS5 HD Camera does not work with the PSVR headset (making one wonder what the point of this new camera even is). You need a special adapter for the old PS4 PlayStation Camera in order to get the VR headset working, and that adapter doesn’t even work with the original squared-off model of the PS4 camera.
Likewise, for games that use a standard controller and not the Move motion controllers, you’ll need to use a DualShock 4. The PS5’s DualSense won’t work with old PSVR games. PSVR was already a chore to pull out and play, and with the PS5, I wanted to simplify my gaming setup, not overcomplicate it. Rather than run excessive cables for my PSVR headset, I threw it into the closet in my office for the time being, waiting for Sony to either pull the plug on VR or update with newer tech for the PS5.
PSVR Games Are PS4 Apps
Perhaps the biggest kicker here is the fact that there are no PSVR games that run as native PS5 apps. No Man’s Sky and its excellent VR mode are limited to the PS4 version of the game. The enhanced PS5 version does not include VR capabilities because the PS5 does not have a native VR solution. Similarly, Hitman III is adding VR for the entire trilogy’s scenarios, letting you play everything in immersive VR from the perspective of Agent 47. The catch is that the PS5 version, releasing in January 2021, has to come with a free PS4 version of the game that you’ll need to run as a separate application in order to get the brand new PSVR mode. It’s an awkward solution for something that’s supposed to be new and exciting.
Of course, rumors abound that there’s a new PSVR solution on the way. The current iteration of PSVR is more than five years old. (There was a small refresh mid-life that resolved some of the launch unit’s cable mess and enabled HDR passthrough on the processor unit, but it’s mostly the same hardware.) It was also one of the last “outside-in” positional tracking headsets, with multiple big VR headset manufacturers iterating on their designs to support “inside-out” tracking that doesn’t require an external camera or nodes to provide positional data. While PSVR was one of the most affordable and accessible headsets when it launched in 2016, it’s been surpassed multiple times over in the years since by standalone and PC VR tech that is quite simply better.
Sony’s primary focus right now is on the PS5 post-launch period. At less than two months since the console has released, inventory shortages, and a few wrinkles to smooth out in the next-gen console’s tech, it makes sense that Sony didn’t want to muddle the launch with a brand new PSVR headset. After all, with more than 114 million PS4s in the world and only around 5 million PSVR headsets sold, the attach rate for the headset is comparatively small.
Does PSVR Have a Future?
But for those 5 million PSVR owners, questions remain on Sony’s ongoing support for virtual reality. The headset already utilized dated tech, centering on the old PS3 Move controllers that released back in 2010. And now on PS5, players are forced to make use of technology across a decade—three generations of PlayStation consoles—in order to enjoy virtual reality. As one of the companies that pioneered VR to a more mainstream audience, Sony’s PlayStation VR is certainly starting to feel quite left behind.
I don’t think VR is something Sony will drop entirely. While the company has a track record for abandoning new and hyped initiatives that don’t get great attach rates, virtual reality feels a bit too seeded into the market to let it go now. Still, it’s disappointing that the move to PS5, with all its promises of a smooth transition and backwards compatibility, has left VR feeling like something of an afterthought, with only crumbs and rumors as a promise for the future. If that future could offer inside-out tracking on a wireless headset utilizing the power of the PS5’s custom SSD for premium virtual reality experiences, then Sony could once again reign supreme as a key player in the effort to bring VR to the mainstream. For now though, my PSVR headset is starting to catch as much dust as my Vita.