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PlayStation VR hands-on: A more mid-ranged alternative to the Rift and Vive

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The PlayStation VR will have a head-start in cost and base station adoption, but the overall ...

The PlayStation VR will have a head-start in cost and base station adoption, but the overall experience isn't quite on par with the leading Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag) View gallery (7 images)

Of the three big (non-mobile) VR headsets, PlayStation VR was the one that had the lowest profile at CES 2016. We did stop by Sony's booth for a demo, though, and have some new impressions on where it currently stacks up.

Update: We now have a more current (and more in-depth) hands-on with PSVR, from GDC.

If you lump PlayStation VR together with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, in most ways it's going to come in last. First, it's connected to a significantly less powerful machine: the relatively low-end PS4 vs. a highish-end gaming PC (running at least a GTX 970 GPU for the Rift). Sony's display also has lower resolution: 960 x 1,080 per eye vs. 1,080 x 1,200 per eye for the Rift and Vive.

In this way it's the same story as any comparison of traditional PC gaming to console gaming: on a raw performance level, the PC is going to win every time.

But what about on an experience level? I had just used the consumer Oculus Rift a couple hours before hitting up the PS VR demo, so I still had that image fresh in my mind, and while PlayStation VR was still very good, it trailed noticeably. Our CES demo of The London Heist on the PS VR looked a lot like playing a game on an Oculus Rift DK2 (a now-obsolete development kit based on a 2+ year-old Rift prototype). It didn't have an egregious "screen door effect" (seeing visible pixels as you move your head around), but there also wasn't quite the visual clarity or environmental definition of the consumer Rift's best demos.

The performance gap was just significant enough to make it feel a bit less like a magical teleporting machine and more like a cool piece of consumer technology. If you've never used one of the PC-based headsets, then you may walk off blown away by PS VR. But if you have used them, the PS VR experience is more like "eh, not too shabby."

Another relative weakness is the PlayStation Move controllers. Like Oculus Touch and the Vive controllers, PS Move lets you have hands inside first-person experiences, but the five-year-old form factor isn't keeping up with the other two. Sony's controllers were designed for the tail-end of the Wii era, as a rival to Nintendo's motion controllers. While Oculus Touch and the Vive controllers make you feel like you really do have hands, PS Move feels more like holding a couple of vibrators (or uh, so I can imagine).

PS Move is simply too big and remote-like to compete with the PC-based motion controllers. Reaching to grab a cell phone in our demo didn't feel lifelike at all; PS Move requires more imagination to think your hands are really interacting with virtual objects – unless they happen to be swords, large sticks or other phallic items.

Sony would be wise to release smaller, lighter and more ergonomic versions before PlayStation VR's launch in the first half of this year. At this point, sticking with the existing PS Move strikes us as taking a shortcut: hey, here's a golden opportunity to offload all this unsold inventory!

In traditional gaming, consoles make up for their inferior performance vs. PCs with more affordable pricing and an abundance of consumer-friendly games. So far PlayStation VR only has one of those two advantages.

A Rift-compatible PC will set you back around US$900+ in addition to the $599 Oculus Rift. If you don't already own a PS4, PS VR will require just an extra $350 for the console on top of whatever the headset costs. So even if the PS VR headset ended up costing, say, $200 more than the Rift, the total package would still be $350 cheaper than the Rift bundle.

Then there's the fact that Sony has already sold around 36 million units of its current-gen console since its launch in late 2013. We aren't sure how many GTX 970+ PCs there are in the wild, but you can bet it's a teeny-tiny fraction of that mark. No matter how Sony prices the PS VR headset itself, it's going to be standing on the shoulders of all those existing PS4s.

PlayStation VR title The London Heist

As far as games, though, we haven't seen as much from Sony as we have from Oculus. There have been some announcements that we'll be keeping our eyes on (including exclusives Rez Infinite, Golem and The London Heist) but at this point we've seen at least five or six games from Oculus that we believe could be generation-defining experiences. We haven't yet played any PS VR demos that we'd put into that category.

In many ways PlayStation VR is what you're asking for when you get upset about the Oculus Rift's price. Will the total package be cheaper? Yes, possibly by a wide margin. But the quality deficit is also going to be noticeable – possibly by a wide margin.

PlayStation VR releases in the first half of 2016, for an unknown price. For more on VR at CES 2016, you can hit up our hands-ons with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

Product page: Sony

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