COG Considers – The State of PlayStation VR and The PSVR 2

The PS5 is over a year old and Sony is getting ready to launch PSVR 2, possibly this year. Will Sony be able to take VR Gaming to the next level with AAA Games? The five-year-old PSVR 1 remains a valiant attempt by Sony to kludge together VR tech with the PS4 hardware. Despite a host of cables, an external camera, a breakout box, and repurposed PS3 Move controllers, PSVR 1 sold the most VR headsets overall. More than any previously released PC VR ones until the Quest 2.

Ever since the announcement of the PS5, PSVR fans have been waiting for Sony’s plans for PSVR2. The last official communication Sony made about the next stage of their VR strategy was last March on their PlayStation.Blog website – Next-Gen VR On PS5 – The New Controller. That announcement focused on the then-unnamed new VR controllers. PSVR players called them Orbs for obvious reasons as pictured.

PSVR2 Versus The Competition

Sony had been radio silent since the PSVR 2 controller’s announcement, but some further specs about the VR headset leaked out. Rumors of a 4K display, OLED screens, and foveated rendering surface. Exciting leaks for sure, but while PSVR fans waited impatiently for further details, VR marched onwards. The technical landscape of VR is in constant flux and is the proverbial dual-edged sword. Each innovation brings a greater sense of immersion and ease of use. Inside-out tracking eliminated the need for external cameras by putting them on the headset. On the negative side, a VR headset bought today quickly becomes outdated tomorrow.

VR hit a new level when the Quest 2 launched. The Facebook subsidized price of the Quest 2 of $299 US is very consumer-friendly. This, coupled with a VR headset that had no clunky setup steps and needed no wires, gave the Quest 2 that break out mass-market appeal previous headsets could not offer. No longer did you need a high-end PC, cameras, or cables to experience VR. The Quest 2 is a super easy device to use. Put it on, turn it on and you’re in VR.

There is obviously an appetite for VR gaming out there, but to make it more appealing, there are several objectives Sony should target. They can split the objectives into two major areas: hardware and software.

PSVR 2 Hardware

Sony started off 2022 with a PSVR 2 bang. They began on Jan 4, 2022, with a new entry PlayStation.Blog announcing the – PSVR 2 and the Controllers.

They followed this up the next day at CES 2022 where Sony President Jim Ryan made the official PSVR 2 announcement:

The Sony announcement followed the form of similar such events and gave the names of their next-gen VR hardware. The headset is the PlayStation Virtual Reality 2, or PSVR 2, while the controllers are PlayStation Virtual Sense controllers –(they’ll always be Orbs to me).

PSVR 2 Headset

While Sony gave us the name of the headset and showed its specifications, they did not reveal the actual headset itself or show any images. They are saving the final reveal for the actual launch event of the unit. What is important to glean from the specs is how Sony is technically tackling the challenge of keeping the headset from becoming quickly dated in the rapidly changing VR market.

While an OLED screen – for those deep blacks – capable of 4K HDR images is fantastic, the real technical gems to focus on are eye tracking and foveated rendering.

With VR, it is necessary to render each image twice, once for each eye. This rendering burden is why VR games cannot attain the same image-level as pancake games. With foveated rendering and eye tracking, it is possible to reduce the graphical burden by only producing top-level graphics on the screen to where the eye is focused on. The headset can then render the rest of the display at lower detail. This is much like how we see the world where things on the periphery of our vision are not as clear.

PSVR 2 Specs Not Yet In Focus

It’s not yet clear how Sony is going to use foveated rendering and eye tracking, but this could be the technical ace up their sleeve. If used fully, they could address two issues. First, it would prevent the headset from aging out quickly from a tech perspective. Second, and of vital importance, it could allow for higher quality – AAA – games. More on this in the software section of the article.

On top of the display, they geared the headset towards creating the greatest immersion possible by including 3D audio and haptic feedback, too. Jim Ryan mentioned feeling the pulse of the character during intense action sequences. One far more exciting potential use of the headset haptics screams two words to me – Spidey Sense!

PSVR 2 Sense Controllers

The PlayStation Sense Controllers are a better-known item. They are basically a PS5 Dual Sense split into two. Each controller will have two buttons, resistant trigger and shoulder buttons plus haptic feedback. In addition, they will sense whether or not your fingers are gripping the unit. With the built-in bluetooth for each, the tracking of these units will be far superior to the light tracking tech of the PSVR1.

Wired? 

Something Sony can’t avoid is the dreaded – wire – word. Thanks to the Quest 2, being free of any wires is of paramount importance to many VR gamers. If you have ever VR gamed, nothing is more immersion breaking than getting tangled up in wires. Not to mention the possibility of tripping up and hurting yourself and/or anything/anyone around you.

To utilize the power of the PS5, the PSVR 2 has to be connected to the console. And that requires a wire. Sony has to be aiming at the quality of their VR software being of such high quality that gamers will put up with a wire. For as much freedom as the Quest 2 offers, that freedom comes at a price. The Quest 2 has to carry its hardware in the headset. So it can do more than display games of PS3 graphics level quality because of the mobile phone Snapdragon chipset it runs.

The Quest 2 can connect to a PC wirelessly to run higher-quality PCVR games. However, such an experience means you need a beefy gaming PC that costs much more than a PS5/PSVR 2 combo. Beyond the cost of PCVR gaming, is the ease of use factor too. PC gamers know how much tinkering has to be done to get the best results for running a game. A PS5/PSVR 2 combo will be very easy to run.

PSVR2 Software

As with any platform, great tech specs are fine, but it always comes down to the games. The VR gaming landscape has hit a plateau. The rising popularity of the Quest 2 has shifted VR game development to it and PCVR game development has taken a hit.

Another limiting factor in VR gaming is VR gaming development is still in its infancy. This means the games created for VR are far less deep than flat games. There is an overabundance of ‘experiences’ in VR. Players expect more from games than two or three hours of glorified tech demos. They want AAA games.

Based on the hardware specs of the PSVR 2 , it appears Sony is aware of this. AAA VR games are where the future lies. From the CES presentation, the standalone Horizon VR, Call of the Mountain game, is one way to do it. Hopefully, it is a true full game and not just a two-hour experience.

But there is another option. Hybrid Gaming. Imagine AAA games being delivered playable in two modes – 2D or VR! To see how successful this can be, check out VorpX. This is a PC software tool that is used to transform PC game releases into VR. Yes, the translation is not always seamless, but if the developer knows ahead of time that a VR option exists, they can incorporate that into their development cycle. Supporting VR could even be easier if Sony provides VR software tools. If, yes, a big if, this is Sony’s plan for PSVR 2, colour me excited.

PSVR Library

The final feather in Sony’s VR cap, though not essential, would be as much back-compatibility as possible with the PSVR1 library. With, around 700 titles in the PSVR catalog, this would provide an excellent source of content until they build up the PSVR 2 library. Even support for the top one hundred PSVR games would be a great boon when the PSVR 2 launches.

Other PSVR 2 Possibilities

If Sony is really thinking big picture with VR, they should allow the PSVR 2 to be usable for PCVR gaming too. If Sony permits this, the PSVR 2 could become the de facto VR headset for all platforms. Further to that, and to address the wired versus wireless issue, consideration should be given for some type of add-on adapter to support wireless gaming. Of course, the adapter would also need to include some type of battery as well.

The immediate goal for Sony to get meaningful results on VR gaming should be to provide AAA-level games to play on the PSVR 2. There are many positive signs that this is indeed Sony’s goal.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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PSVR 2 – Will It Take VR Gaming To AAA Levels?