PlayStation VR launched in 2016, and for the longest time, it held the record as the best-selling VR headset ever released. Why shell out for a high-performing, room-tracking, PC-tethered headset from an Oculus Rift S or HTC Vive Pro 2 when you can plug something into the console under your telly?
As of January 2020, Sony revealed it had shifted more than five million PSVR systems after previously confirming 21.9 million VR games and apps sold alongside the headset. But even removing sales from the equation, the PlayStation VR has become a game-changing piece of hardware in more ways than one.
Sony’s continuing to boost its VR offerings over the coming years, and PSVR 2 isn’t far away. But in the meantime, anyone using the original PSVR can still get a free adapter to use on the new console. Otherwise, here’s what you need to know about the original PSVR.
PlayStation VR and barriers to VR
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the current PlayStation VR headset brings the world of virtual reality to your console in a big way. And what really sets it apart from the rest is that it does so without the cost most often associated with rival higher-end VR headsets, like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
Because although these higher-end headsets cost more to run, you also need a pricey gaming PC that can power them, which is a huge barrier to entry for most people. Here’s what you need to know about PSVR.
For this reason (and many more, as we’ll get into) the PlayStation VR virtual reality headset is still going strong nearly six years after its initial release. That has changed as VR companies venture into more affordable products, like the Oculus Quest 2, but PSVR is still one of the best VR headsets for your money.
And Sony is certainly serious about virtual reality. We’ve had solid evidence that it’s committed to VR development by the best PlayStation VR games that released, and those yet to come. To cap it all off, a revised headset released in late 2017, which addressed the original headset’s lack of HDR-passthrough, plus better audio and improved comfort. The future’s bright for Sony’s VR gear.
PlayStation VR versus the rest
For now at least, the PlayStation VR is truly different to anything else on the market. While Oculus Rift has closed in on the cost disparity, the PSVR only requires a PS4 console to run, not an expensive PC setup. The Oculus Go doesn’t offer the immersive gaming quality the PSVR does. Different story for Oculus Quest 2, though. Go was a good VR intro for many — it’s now discontinued — but it doesn’t match up.
When you think about it, it really is remarkable that the affordable PSVR solution is as capable as it is. It has its problems, but by and large the PlayStation VR proves that not only is console VR viable, it’s actually enjoyable, too.
We’ve now tried dozens of games on the PlayStation VR console, from Rocksteady’s impressive (but short) Batman: Arkham VR, to the laugh-out-loud funny Job Simulator, to the tear-jerking Wayward Sky and even gun-peripheral-toting horror game Farpoint VR. Some of these titles were more fun than others, obviously, but all of them made the same point: PSVR doesn’t suck.
Before we go on talking about PlayStation VR’s finer points (and foibles), let’s get the basics out of the way.
At launch, the PlayStation VR headset had a slightly confusing sales proposition. With the package re-using existing PlayStation peripherals such as the PlayStation Move controllers and PlayStation Camera, the PSVR headset itself was sold separately in some instances, despite the other components being vital parts of getting everything up-and-running.
If you didn’t already own the PlayStation Camera or Move Motion Controllers, the PSVR Launch Day bundle was the better bet, but now we’re further down the line the bundles – and the messaging around exactly what components you’ll need – are much better.
You used to be able to find the PlayStation VR Mega Pack bundle for £199.99 in the UK. That includes the headset, camera, plus five games: Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Everybody’s Golf VR, Moss, Blood & Truth, plus PlayStation VR Worlds. Many great games for your money there but you’d have to get PS Move Controllers separately though. Sadly, that and other PSVR bundles are no longer being stocked in the UK.
As for the US, there’s other options like the PSVR Iron Man VR bundle, which, as you’d expect, includes Iron Man VR. Retailing for $199.99 instead as of November 2022, you’ve only got the one game included, but this also features two PS Move controllers, so there’s other value to this option.
Besides the PlayStation VR unit itself and the PlayStation Camera, all you’ll need is a PS4 (either the Slim version, the three-year-old original or the ultra-powerful PS4 Pro will do), a PS4 DualShock 4 controller and a 6-foot-by-10-foot play space that’s well lit, but not too bright.
Setting up PlayStation VR can be done in minutes and the provided instructions offer a clear visual guide to get you up and running.
How does PSVR work?
Like other virtual reality headsets on the market, PlayStation VR has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously and then sending them to a headset a few feet away. But unlike competing devices (which require expensive graphics cards to get the job done), PS VR can do it using only the PlayStation 4’s built-in GPU.
It achieves this by using the PlayStation Camera to track nine different points of light on the headset, plus the lights on either the Move controllers or on the DualShock 4, depending on which game you’re playing. It’s surprisingly accurate given the fact that it’s only using a single camera to track what’s happening… but it’s not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination.
We’ll cover performance in detail in a minute, but be prepared for the camera to lose track of the controllers. A lot. Because Sony only uses one camera instead of two, it’s harder for PlayStation VR to track you if you get up and walk around than it is for a system like the HTC Vive, which can offer true room-scale VR.
If you decide to get up and wander around, the PSVR can follow you to an extent, but don’t expect to take more than a few steps in any direction without a warning from the system that you’re straying too far away.
To that end, most PlayStation VR games can recommend that you stay in one of two positions, either sitting down or standing up and stationary. If you’re prone to motion sickness, sitting down might be a bit more comfortable, but certain games are definitely better played on your feet.
Depending on where and how you angle your camera, switching between standing and sitting might not be so easy, so it’s best to find an angle that covers the majority of the room in case you want to switch from one to the other without having to get up, move the camera and recalibrate. But let’s back up. Up until now, the words “VR” and “virtual reality” have been thrown around a lot without much explanation.
VR has existed in one form or another for decades, but the modern version of the technology is more immersive and less nausea-inducing than it’s ever been. In more or less words, virtual reality is just that – a virtual world that gives you the experience of being somewhere else in a different time, at a different place – sometimes as far as an alien world, all without ever leaving your home.
And yes, it’s just as cool as it sounds.
PlayStation VR specs
PlayStation VR specs
If you want to be specific about it, PlayStation VR can handle 1080p games on its 920 x RGB x 1080 OLED display at either 90Hz (meaning that the image refreshes itself 90 times per second) or at 120Hz depending on the VR game or application.
And for those concerned about latency, Sony says that PlayStation VR’s response rate is locked in at around 18ms – which is about 0.002 seconds faster than the highest acceptable latency before you would notice the lag in VR.
Those numbers are great, but they’re matched by both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The one advantage Sony has that neither Oculus nor HTC can claim is that it’s actually a world-class game publisher. While the other two have been trying to create connections with developers over the past few years, Sony already has them.
As a result, the best PlayStation VR games list is being constantly updated with excellent fresh experiences, with plenty more arriving all the time. From shooters to puzzlers, platformers to narrative adventures, there’s variety and depth to PSVR’s growing gaming catalogue.
PlayStation VR on PS4 Pro
There’s also another piece of hardware to consider when looking at buying a PlayStation VR, and that’s Sony’s brand-new, ultra-powered PS4 Pro. With additional processing power, the PS4 Pro is capable of creating an even more immersive virtual reality experience for the games that support it.
The improvements PS4 Pro promises can take many forms – from more detailed textures to better draw distances, and even a small reduction in graininess. The advantages differ from game-to-game, and the PS4 Pro is currently setup to only support games where the developer has enabled “Pro Mode”, a hardware boosting technology that tells the PS4 to use extra processing power.
While writing the PS4 Pro review, we got the chance to try the upgraded hardware with the PlayStation VR and the results were noticeable, if a bit underwhelming in reality.
There’s definitely a distinct difference between PS4 and PS4 Pro versions of VR games. However, it’s probably not one that can be spotted by the unwitting non-techie – it’s something that you can only spot if you’re paying close attention to how certain textures look in-game or how objects look in the distance.
Lag felt less prevalent on the Pro system, though in all fairness, it wasn’t something we felt was a major problem while using the standard issue console. Whether the minor improvements are worth paying extra for the more powerful hardware is ultimately a decision we’ll leave up to you; however, it’s our opinion that you can get by with a standard PS4 just fine.
To read about PlayStation VR’s games, performance and design in more detail, head on over to the next page.
PlayStation VR isn’t a wild reimagining of the VR headset, but it’s one of the most attractive efforts that we’ve seen so far.
The head-mounted display (HMD) screams minimalism with a tag team of black and white matte plastic touches. Its final iteration is interspersed with seven front-facing blue lights that the PlayStation Camera picks up to track your location and head movement. For games that require you to turn around, Sony stuck two more blue lights on the back of the strip bringing the total number of trackable lights to nine.
All said, it’s a pretty elegant and accurate head-tracking solution. PSVR looks good and, thankfully, also yields comfort, which is a crucial box that not enough VR headsets can tick. Sony went for a “halo” shape for PSVR with a single white matte strap that wraps around your head seamlessly, coming together in the back, and can be adjusted to your liking.
The inside of the strap has a thick cushion with a rubber finish that holds your head gently in place. Once the headset is on, you can adjust the visor forwards and backwards to help bring items on the screen in focus.
The PSVR’s secret to comfort is that it hangs all of its weight at the top of your dome, putting less pressure on the bridge of the nose and the forehead. Where other headsets start to feel heavy after an hour or so of use, I felt that I could wear Sony’s for hours on end without getting that all-too-familiar neck fatigue.
To seal out the light, Sony has installed a rubber flap that encircles the visor. While they’re moderately effective at blocking out the incoming light on your left and right, the way the headset in constructed leaves a massive gap in between your nose and the headset, which allows light into the screen and can be pretty distracting when you’re trying to lose yourself in the virtual world.
Although the headset technically fits over a pair of glasses, this tends to worsen the light-leakage problem. It’s annoying, but not necessarily a deal breaker.
Inside the PlayStation VR headset
Inside the headset is a 5.7-inch OLED screen with a 1920 x RGB x 1080 resolution. The PlayStation VR offers a 100-degree field of view, a 120Hz refresh rate and latency less than 18ms, which means that it’s less nausea-inducing than previous versions of the headset that had a higher latency and a slower refresh rate.
The PSVR’s control scheme utilizes a combination of head movements made with the HMD, along with the PlayStation Move controllers and DualShock 4 controller that you may or may not be familiar with. The Move controllers had their first run when they were introduced alongside a few Wii-like titles on the PlayStation 3, and while they worked well there, it wasn’t until PSVR that we saw a true purpose for them.
The wands felt a little half-baked on the PS3, or at least as if they existed solely to have a hand in motion-controlled gaming, but they feel right at home with PSVR. Other games with more complex control schemes – like a game called RIGS that we’ll discuss in a minute – will use the DualShock 4 wireless controller that comes shipped with the PS4.
If it hasn’t already been made explicitly clear up to now, I’ll break the most disheartening news to you now: the PSVR is not a wireless headset. While the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard can get everything they need from your mobile device, PlayStation VR will need to be tethered to your system at all times.
The cord, which runs from the headset to PlayStation VR’s processing unit and then to the PS4 itself, has an in-line control unit close to the headset that allows you to turn the headset on and off or raise and lower the volume. This is also where you’ll find a headphone jack that accepts anything from a pair of high-end Sennheisers to cheap earbuds.
Sony ships every headset with pair of tiny white earbuds, but these are just about the worst options for experiencing VR – they’re hollow-sounding, uncomfortable and prone to falling out. For my week with the PlayStation VR I chose to use a pair of Creative Sound Blaster H5‘s due to their padding and excellent sound quality, but really any decent pair of wired over-ear headphones will do.
The final piece of the design puzzle is the Processor Unit briefly mentioned above. Sony has made it clear on numerous occasions (sometimes via email, cough) that this unit is not responsible in any way for additional graphics processing and it’s worth echoing that point here.
Measuring in at 5.6 x 1.4 x 5.6 inches (W × H × L), the unit’s sole responsibility is to assist the PS4 with 3D audio processing, HDMI cable management, Cinematic Mode, and the Social Screen TV output. We’ll cover what those last two modes are in a minute, but I felt this was as good a time as any to point out the black box’s existence in case you have any objections to another small box on your media shelf.
PSVR performance and content library
If I had to summarize the PlayStation VR’s performance in a single word, I’d opt to use “surprising”. VR competitors like Oculus and HTC have set the bar quite high for how a good VR experience should look and feel – which, considering these two options require a seriously powerful gaming rig that costs two or three times as much as PSVR, makes sense.
With HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, I knew what I was getting. I was running the headsets off my own top-of-the-line PC, that had the power to play most games on their maximum settings. With PlayStation VR, however, I was a little less sure everything would work out.
But, as it turns out, the PS4 is more than capable of displaying two surprisingly crisp images – they may not offer the most amazing, mind-blowing fidelity, but are more than adequate for the vast majority of games. (Of the titles I tried, all of them worked as advertised, but I noticed that many of them stuck with simple graphics rather than going for the real-life look.)
Similarly head-tracking was nearly as precise on PSVR as it was on either the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, with the only minor caveat being that the system would lose the Touch controllers from time-to-time, merely due the fact that the tracking space is so much more confined.
Despite having a smaller field of view than the Oculus Rift by about 10 degrees (110 vs 100), the PlayStation VR – surprisingly – rarely made me feel nauseated, due in no small part to the 18ms latency that made experiences mostly smooth without discernible lag or judder. I remember a time where its field of view was a major sticking point for me, but now the worst is that the PSVR occasionally feels like viewing the world through a pair of goggles.
As for the games themselves, we’ve been impressed with what the PlayStation VR provides. Batman: Arkham VR, Battlezone, Star Wars: X-Wing VR and Job Simulator are excellent bite-sized experiences. Meanwhile Resident Evil VII is playable in its entirety in virtual reality, which is probably one of the longest virtual reality experiences to date.
Beat Saber has also become one of the strongest selling titles on the platform. The pace of releases is showing no sign of slowing any time soon, as the argument for buying PSVR gets stronger each year.
Experiences vary in levity from casual, playroom escapades to hyper-intense combat and even horror games. The system and its specs lend themselves to more light-hearted fare rather than the fast-paced, high-intensity ones, and while the latter are passable they’re prone to making you feel more nauseated than impressed (RIGS, I’m looking in your direction).
Thankfully, VR isn’t the solitary experience TVs and movies make it out to be. Friends and family can watch you as you game thanks to Social Screen TV – which displays a 2D version of what players are seeing in 3D on your TV – while some titles, like Battlezone, actually support online multiplayer.
Another neat feature is Cinematic Mode, which allows you to watch 2D content inside the VR helmet. Cinematic mode doesn’t transform 2D content into 3D content, but it does allow you watch your favorite shows from Netflix and YouTube – or even play 2D PS4 titles – on a super-sized virtual screen.
Speaking of movies and TV shows, there are currently a number of short VR cinematic experiences on the PlayStation Store that are worth checking out. They’re not Oculus Studios quality, but I did find myself laughing aloud when I watched Invasion!, and had a tear in my eye by the end of Allumette.
A recent update also allows the headset to view not only 360-degree videos on YouTube, but also to watch any 3D Blu-ray discs you have lying around – so you shouldn’t be lacking for video content.
However these experiences, both games and movies, are never what I’d consider realistic – trust me, you’ll never forget you’re in virtual reality if that’s your concern. Some character models have jagged edges to them and even the best animators can only do so much with the technology.
At this stage at least it’s easy to tell the virtual world from the real one and, for some people, that might make PlayStation VR come off as more of a novelty like Nintendo Wii, rather than the ground-breaking innovation that I see it as.
I mention it in every VR review I write, so I apologize if you’ve read this before, but it’s important to point out that VR can make even a seasoned gamer weak in the knees if you play it for too long.
Sony recommends taking breaks every 15 minutes or so, and stopping immediately if you start to feel dizzy. I’ll add onto that by saying that you should slowly acclimate yourself to virtual reality rather than jump headfirst into it. Start by playing a game for a few minutes, ideally using the Move motion controllers while seated. As you feel more comfortable, you can increase the time spent in the virtual world without coming up for air, and choose to stand to get the full immersive experience.
PSVR: motion sickness in VR
I’ll also admit that the first time I tried VR, I felt very sick, and only after using virtual reality headset over multiple occasions could I finally overcome this feeling and start to actually enjoy VR.
My body, like yours, isn’t used to feeling disconnected to the visual stimuli it’s receiving. Even if you game for hours and hours per day, you still are sitting in the real world, periodically removing your gaze from the television to look at your cellphone or interact with another human being. In virtual reality, the only things you see are the screen and the objects on it, yet you can’t physically interact with them. This leads to the feeling of disconnection and resulting nausea.
The other interesting symptom I had after extended use was a pretty awful headache. It might’ve been due to the lack of sleep I went through while writing this review (you’re welcome by the way) or the fact that I put myself on a strict media diet of eight hours of VR a day for a week straight, but most nights I went to bed with puffed eyes and throbbing sensation right above my temple.
There are others who I’ve spoken to who have felt similarly without testing it for hours on end and with a better sleep regiment, and some friends who felt just fine playing longer on less sleep. This is a definite “your miles may vary” situation, but I just thought it was worth mentioning in case you get your own unit and feel similarly.
I’ll end this section on a high-note: PlayStation VR is one of the better VR systems I’ve had the pleasure of using. Because it has motion controllers and offers enough playspace for you to stand up when you get tired of sitting, it’s actually less likely to make you feel nauseated and achy than, say, the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR might.
PlayStation VR is inspiring. As a whole it’s incredible, even if there are some hang ups here and there. After trying it for yourself you’ll want to experience something like BioShock Infinite or GTA 5 in VR, and the first few demos and games will give you a little sneak peek of what every game could be like five years from now.
PlayStation VR is an affordable introduction to quality VR – “quality” being the operative word there. Many of the experiences aren’t as crisp or as immersive as the ones found on Oculus and Vive but, for a system that uses a PS4 instead of an expensive gaming rig, I’m not complaining.
With the potential for prior ownership of some necessary components, Sony is probably making the right move by reducing the cost for those who already own the Move and Camera peripherals, but for those who show up expecting to pay $400 / €399 / £349 / AUD$549 might not appreciate the fine print of potential extra expenses outside of the bundles.
The other irksome aspect is the hole near the bridge of the unit that lets light into the screen. You might not have ever gotten completely lost in the virtual world even if it had been an airtight seal, but there’s no quicker way to feel less immersed than looking down and seeing your living room floor.
But these are minor faux pas and aren’t worth getting too upset about. PlayStation VR is so far a surprisingly good product, easily in the top three headsets made thus far (and probably squeezing into the top two when you factor in price).
Whether you decide on the PlayStation VR over Oculus or HTC should likely come down to the following – your budget, your platform of preference and the amount of real-world living space you’re willing to sacrifice to play semi-realistic video games in virtual reality.
If you already own a PS4, PSVR is the most logical and affordable option. It offers hand tracking through the Move motion controllers, a decent library of games right out of the gate and an unbeatable price tag.
That being said, if you have a lot of extra room and are looking for an even more immersive experience where money’s no object, I recommend forgoing PSVR for an HTC Vive, if only because of the room-scale immersion and slightly higher-fidelity graphics on a high-end PC.
Lastly, if you’ve got the PC already but are limited on space and would have to buy both a PS4 and PlayStation VR in order to embark on this VR venture, I’d recommend choosing Oculus.
PSVR: we liked
Despite their failings from time to time, I really appreciated that Sony found a use for the PlayStation Move motion controllers. They feel like a natural fit for VR.
The PlayStation VR headset itself is also particularly sleek and comfortable. The white and black exterior looks like something out of Ready Player One or Star Trek, and can be worn for hours without the all-too-familiar neck pain that I’ve felt while using other VR hardware.
Finally, I think the games on PSVR are surprisingly fun. Batman: Arkham VR is a fantastic visual showcase for the hardware, while Wayward Sky offered an emotional experience wrapped in the guise of an indie launch title.
PSVR: we disliked
PlayStation VR is a tethered experience that encourages you to sit down rather than stand up. While the HTC Vive unlocks a massive maximum tracking area of 15 x 15 feet, Sony confines you to a 6-foot-by-10-foot space.
That wouldn’t be so terrible if the Sony Camera did a better job picking up where, exactly, the Move motion controllers are. However, as it stands, the camera seems to constantly lose sight of the glowing gamepads even when you’re well within the playspace.
Between the spotty motion controller tracking and small gap along the bottom edge of the facemask that lets light in, it’s hard to feel fully immersed in games, and that can be a problem.
PSVR: final verdict
For one minute, forget the finer details and focus on the bigger picture. In three short years, Sony took PlayStation VR from the ground floor of development to an industry-leading product.
PlayStation VR is a wholly new platform that embodies so much of what made the original PlayStation so great – it’s innovative, smart and easy-to-use. It’s also affordable and already has a growing catalogue of must-play titles. The PSVR may not be the complete package yet – and in some ways fails to live up to the high bar set by the HTC Vive – but, for $100 less than an Oculus Rift, I’m not complaining.