Let's talk VR

November 28, 2016

Over the last year, I was wondering whether I should buy the HTC Vive, or not. I ended up deciding against it. However, last month, I did pick up PlayStation VR.

You see, I own a PS4, which I use to play the PS4 exclusive games like Uncharted 4 and the like. I don’t use the console as much as my PC, which is my primary gaming device. However, I wasn’t ready to spend about double the price of PS VR on the HTC Vive, knowing that VR might not be my thing. Truth be told, if I’m ever buying room-scale VR, I’ll be thinking of buying it perhaps after the release of the second or third generation product.

Besides, right now, my room isn’t large enough for the Vive, nor is my wallet for such an investment at this moment. PS VR, while expensive still, was not too high of an investment, and I could always attempt to sell it to someone else if it wasn’t my thing. The Vive is prohibitively expensive in that regard.

So, I pulled the trigger. And wow, is this something else.

A while ago, I was listening to the Cortex podcast, and the two hosts discussed the awe they felt after their first VR session. I can relate: it just feels right, and your world if forever changed once you’ve used it. The mind quickly adapts to VR. It’s pretty damn awesome.

I do want to talk about a few points.

Visual fidelity. If you’re buying into the cheaper VR solution that is PS VR, you’re going to have a few disadvantages. The most noticable disadvantage is the display that is inside the VR headset.1 Both Oculus and the the Vive’s displays are much better. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you are not paying much attention to the resolution of the games — but for some titles it is rather noticable.

This is where the PS4 Pro has a bit of an advantage. PS4 Pro enables the console to render the game at higher resolutions, which means the displayed image is downscaled. This results in a crisper image, mostly around the edges — supersampling helps against aliasing, but it comes at a cost… And that cost is framerate, which must be at least 60 FPS, as is demanded by Sony. It’s a minimum requirement for any and all VR, since you can get really nauseous otherwise.2

Tracking. Now hold on, tracking is by no means bad — in fact, I believe that tracking of both the VR headset and the Move controllers is pretty damn good, but it’s not perfect. From second hand accounts, I’ve heard that tracking is just better on the Vive.

However, personally, I’ve never found it annoying, except for the time when I hooked up a steering wheel to my desk and because of the vibrations of the wheel, the camera moved slightly. As such, the entire image in the headset moved as well, which was very uncomfortable.

Nausea, sickness. Perhaps the biggest issue that VR can possibly face is the one that some people might experience: something that ranges from simple discomfort to extreme nausea. Case in point: some people have been reportedly getting sick because of Driveclub — and I had at least one person who tried it out immediately want to remove the headset after the first turn on the track. I can’t say I blame them. If you get sick, you get sick. Personally, I did not have any issues, but your mileage may vary.

I also have a few other issues with the headset, but those are minor ones once you’re in the game:

  1. There are too many cables to install (so setting the damn thing up is a bit annoying)
  2. VR is not comfortable for longer periods of gaming
  3. The game offering is mostly experiences, which are fairly brief games. There isn’t anything truly vast out there in the way a GTA or an Uncharted might entice you. Sure, there’s some replayability in some of the available games, but the repetitive nature of the games had me put the VR headset away.3

Here’s the two major advantages to VR, at the moment.

It’s really innovative. This is the kind of stuff you want to show to your relatives and friends. It’s really cool. Have them try it out if you can, it’s so much fun to play the games with and against each other. Perhaps you’d like to compete for high scores in the London Heist shooting gallery? I would also recommend Job Simulator, which is very amusing to play, and a great way to have some laughs over VR. You need to experience this.

New gameplay possibilities. The kind of games you’ll be playing on the PS4 with PS VR are unlike most games you’ve played, to be fair. Once you’ve been Batman in Batman VR, you won’t want to go back, trust me. You’re inside the game unlike ever before.

I can only think of cool stuff we can do with VR, like:

  1. Teach people how to do dangerous things without endangering anyone, like driving huge trucks and flying planes
  2. Run through virtual guides of popular spots and locations (explore the Taj Mahal?) or walk through your dream house
  3. Architects and 3D modelers can show off their work in a virtual world
  4. Take some time off to chill in a beautiful fictional world
  5. Work on projects in actual 3D (drawing in 3D? building in 3D?)

I think we’ll be seeing very interesting things in the future. If we can solve the movement problem4, I think there’s very interesting things to come!

  1. Although I’ve heard some people say that PS VR alleviates some of the lens flare issues that the Vive and Oculus suffer from. That’s cool. The screen is still lower resolution, unfortunately. 

  2. PS4 Pro makes noticable improvements to VR. I sold my original PS4 to a buddy, who now gets to enjoy Uncharted 4, and I get improved framerates. If you’re a visual fidelity guy, this might be worth picking up! 

  3. Every now and then, I take it out and I’ve found that playing periodically, but not frequently, is the best way to enjoy VR. You’ll get the sense of wonder every time you get past the loading screen and can start looking around. 

  4. The locomotion problem is the issue of movement. If you have the headset on, you are still restricted in terms of movement in the real world. This means we need to do things like teleport, or move in vehicles, or something like that. 

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