Sony introduced its the first virtual reality PlayStation headset in 2016. It was the past, a simpler, pandemic-free age with 1080p graphics and just a whiff of a real-world apocalypse on the horizon. It’s probably safe to say that people are more keen on escaping to virtual worlds these days.
To that end, Sony will soon release an all-new VR headset for the PlayStation 5. It’s faster, prettier and more powerful than the previous one. Last week, the company offered a handful of journalists (including me) a hands-on look at PlayStation VR2. The demo took place at Sony Interactive Entertainment’s headquarters in San Mateo, California.
I can’t tell you exactly when PSVR2 will go on sale, what it will cost, how much battery life it’ll get, or how much it will weigh. Sony is still keeping all of these things under wraps. But the company Has said the system will launch sometime in 2023. PlayStation’s first VR headset launched for $399 and now retails for $99. The first PSVR headset weighs just over 1.3 pounds; I’d say the new PSVR2 feels the same, but of course that’s just a guess.
There are some immediately obvious upgrades to this new headset. First, no external interface or processor box is required to connect the headset to the console. Just plug the glasses into a USB-C port on the PS5 and you’re good to go. Inside the headset are two OLED screens; Each eyeball gets a 2,000 x 2,040 pixel display.
The bad news? The PSVR2 only works with the PlayStation 5 (and hey, good luck finding one of those). There is one color option: white with black accents. Unlike Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 headset, there’s no wireless option. You’ll smack the string with one of your twirling hands, I guarantee it. But unlike the Meta Headset, the PSVR2 doesn’t require a Facebook account to use it.
Apply directly to the forehead
With a push of a button on the headset, you can activate a see-through mode that gives you a grainy, black-and-white view of the real world around you. This seems like an absolute necessity for people who’d rather not accidentally punch holes in their TV. Adjusting the play area is easy. After turning around for a quick auto scan of the room, you can use the controller to map the specific area where you can perform your flail. When you get to the edge of your predefined fling zone during a game, a vertical grid will appear showing you where the boundary is in virtual space. If you cross this boundary line too far, the view will automatically switch to see-through mode so you can safely reposition yourself.
PSVR2 headsets use a technique called Foveated Rendering, which tracks the wearer’s eye movements to accurately render the most visual detail in the area of the display where the eyes are in focus. The effect is similar to depth of field in photos or videos where the main subject is in focus and the rest of the background is slightly blurred. The main benefit is efficiency; Simplifying the rendering of the graphics you’re not looking at frees up computing resources that can then be used to render the graphics you’re looking at are View in higher fidelity. Unfortunately, in my experience at least, the tech left me feeling like many of the virtual worlds around me were fuzzy and a bit distant.
One of the main reasons virtual reality hasn’t caught on as quickly as its proponents had hoped is that many people just don’t want to strap a large, bulky device to their face. Each new headset is lighter than the last, but bulk is still an issue. The PSVR 2 headset is light enough (again, Sony wouldn’t give a specific weight) and even has comfort-focused features like padding and adjustable straps. But after wearing the headset up and down for about four hours, I really started to feel the physical strain. I could feel the hole in my skin where the headset had pressed into my nose. (Yes, you can adjust the straps and vision box; I’ve fiddled with that several times to no avail.) I also got slightly dizzy after emerging from each of the virtual realms I explored.
There were also some technical issues during the demos. Sometimes if I gestured too much with a controller or even turned my head a little fast, the game would go black or auto-pause. These might just be demo bugs that will be worked out later.
The new VR2 Sense controllers are a big step up from PlayStation’s Move controllers, which Sony paired with the first-gen headset. The new controllers have grips with wide white circles that float around your wrists. The PlayStation VR2 Sense controllers include many of the same features as the DualSense controller Sony developed for the PS5. (It seems like the company should have saved the DualSense name for the controller, which is literally two parts, but oh well.) These controllers have the same matte finish around the grip that you’ll find on the existing DualSense units can feel. During my demo, one of the Sony reps gleefully pointed out that the roughness is actually made up of tiny shapes of the PlayStation buttons – circles, triangles, Xs and squares. (Take a very, very close look at the matte finish on the bottom of a DualSense controller. It’s insane.)
The button layout on the VR2 Sense controllers didn’t feel as intuitive as the standard PS5 controller, at least not initially. The buttons are split, with the circle and X button on the right controller and the square and triangle on the left. There is a single trigger on each controller and another pressable pad on the grip. There is no directional pad. The controllers are wireless, but Sony wouldn’t share details on how long the battery will last.