Sony has joined the virtual reality headset race with the PlayStation VR, a very competitively priced headset which is compatible with the PlayStation 4. However, does it hold up against the competition of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive? Let’s find out!

First off, the PlayStation VR features a 5.7-inch OLED (organic LED) screen which is a custom-designed panel with some very interesting features. While the headset sports a lower resolution at 1920×1080 (960×1080 per eye) than its competitors, both of which feature a 2160×1200 resolution panel, there is more to this battle than first appears.

The lower resolution is somewhat noticeable, yes. However, the difference is not a major once and will quickly be forgotten about once you jump into a game. When in-game, the immersion takes over and the graphics become less important. I am not denying that there is a beauty in a crisp, high-quality picture in virtual reality, however, I have found that plenty of games have managed to deliver excellent graphical experiences (Batman Arkham VR, Bound, RIGS) on the headset. The level of detail present in games is often surprising given the weak power of the PS4 console compared to the PCs required to deliver consistent VR on PC and the colours are vivid and bright. The PlayStation VR has also been cleverly developed to almost eliminate screen-door effect.

Screen-door effect, to explain simply, is a situation in virtual reality where thin lines appear across the image on the display; this is due to the proximity to the screen creating the situation where the space between the lines of pixels becomes visible. The Oculus and Rift headsets have been improving in ridding themselves of this effect, however, the PlayStation VR has beaten both of them in my experience. Apart from some rare occasions, screen-door effect is completely unnoticeable on the PlayStation VR. This is due to a clever screen design by Sony.

While the PlayStation VR has a lower resolution display, it uses a display with more subpixels. The PlayStation VR features three full RGB subpixels, which means that for each pixel in the PlayStation VR’s panel, there is a subpixel responsible for the green, blue and red part of the displayed color respectively. From reports, it would appear that Sony has used a hexagonal layout for the RGB subpixels, which means that screen-door effect is difficult to notice due to very little space between pixels. The hexagonal layout additionally makes it more difficult to notice lines. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive only use two subpixels per pixel, which makes it more difficult to eliminate screen-door effect. As stated before, the resolution difference is somewhat noticeable but is not a major factor, as the screen quality is still very high.

The PlayStation VR’s display refreshes at both 90Hz and 120Hz and games on the PS4 have the option of rendering at 60FPS, 90FPS or 120FPS. In the case of a 60FPS render, the PlayStation VR’s processing box will use a technique known as reprojection to feed 120FPS to the PlayStation VR and otherwise, the 90 or 120 frames per second will be shown natively. Due to the stability of the frame-rate, I am yet to experience motion sickness in any PSVR title. The display has a 100-degree field of view which is, once again, lower than the 110-degree field of view offered by the other headsets. This, in my experience, makes very little difference to the feeling of immersion offered by the headset.

In terms of pricing, the PlayStation VR is set an extremely competitive £349/€399/$399. In comparison, the Oculus Rift is available for £549/€699/$599 while the HTC Vive costs a whopping £759/€899/$799, however, it includes two high quality controllers and a sophisticated tracking system. The PlayStation VR also requires the purchase of the PlayStation Camera for £44.99/$59.99/€59.99 and the full experience you are going to need two PlayStation Move motion controllers. You can pick up two of them for around €/£/$50 if you shop around. While this raises the entry price of the PlayStation VR by quite a bit, it is still much cheaper than the Vive and the Rift, which itself charges £189/€199/$199 for a pair of touch controllers. The other thing to consider is that a PC powerful enough to push VR on either the Rift of Vive costs upwards of €/£/$1500 as VR needs a high, stable framerate. The PlayStation VR uses the existing PS4 which is now available for only £249/€299/$299, contributing massively to the competitive price point.

Another area in which the PlayStation VR excels is in the comfort aspect. While the Rift and Vive do not feature the most consumer-friendly designs, the PlayStation VR is beautifully designed and features padding for the forehead and headband which puts high-end headphones to shame. The futuristic, premium design of the headset makes it a cool shelf centerpiece which will have even non-gamers asking “What is that!?” and begging for a try. The headband of the PlayStation VR operates with an extendable band. You simply press a button on the back of the headset and pull to extend the length of the headband. After placing it upon your head, a wheel at the back of the headset can be used to further tighten if desired. The weight distribution of the headset has been cleverly designed to evenly distribute across the head, rather than feel like it is hanging from your face. This makes the PlayStation VR an extremely comfortable device to use. An added benefit of the PlayStation VR is the ability to move the visor away from your face. This will allow you a limited view of your surroundings temporarily, which is useful if you need to find your controller. Unfortunately, with this design, there is a very small amount of light-leak from the bottom of the visor, even when the screen is brought in fully. Despite this, I very rarely notice that it is there and it hasn’t been even a slightly significant issue for me; I will gladly accept it for the comfort offered by this headset design.

Next, let’s talk about what is included with the PlayStation VR. The simple answer is… cables; lots and lots of cables! First off, we have the PlayStation VR’s processing unit. This device takes the HDMI output from the PlayStation VR and processes it into a format which can be displayed nicely on the PlayStation VR headset, whether it be in cinematic mode or in VR mode. It also assists in the incredible 3D audio processing system of the PSVR (more on that later) and it outputs the “social screen”, which is a feed delivered to the TV which allows other people to see the PlayStation VR’s output on the TV. In order to achieve this, quite a bit of cabling is required. The processing unit requires both a power source from a mains socket (and unfortunately features a power brick) and a wired USB connection to the PlayStation 4 console (that’s one of two USB ports permanently taken when using VR). It takes a HDMI as input from the PlayStation 4 and outputs a HDMI feed to the TV, which is used to display the social screen or as a HDMI passthrough when VR is not being used. On the front of the processing unit, you can connect the long extension cable for the PlayStation VR headset itself, which connects to a non-removable cable coming from the headband of the headset itself. This cable also features a small control unit with four buttons; on/off, microphone mute, volume up and volume down and has a 3.5mm audio jack on the side to output the 3D audio. The setup of course also requires the PlayStation Camera to be connected to the PS4.

Speaking of the 3D audio: this is one area in which the PlayStation VR does not receive enough praise. The 3D audio system of the PlayStation VR does not require any specialist surround sound headphones to function; a pair of cheap in-ear headphones (which are included with the PSVR) will support 3D audio. Sony has used come cutting-edge clever techniques to trick the brain into believing the sound is coming from a certain direction – not just in 5 or 7 channels in a circle around you like surround sound, but also from above and below too! The 3D audio system has, in my experience, worked extremely well even with the cheap pair of included in-ear headphones (which more than suffice). The response to movement of the head feels real-time in terms of directional audio output. This feature has not been praised enough since the launch of the headset; it truly is something special which adds immensely to the experience.

Now down to the business of tracking, something which is crucial to a good VR experience! The PlayStation VR features a total of nine tracking lights, seven on the front visor and then two on the back on the headband. This means that the PlayStation VR supports full 360-degree head tracking, obviously with slightly lower accuracy when fully rotated, due to the lower number of lights for tracking. In reality, situations where you are turned a full 360-degrees for any significant period of time will be few and far between and the tracking light setup is more than sufficient for these periods. Although some users have reported issues with tracking, I have not experienced any issues in my time with the headset – the tracking has worked perfectly in various types of lighting – natural light, darkness and bright artificial lighting. In the case that the image becomes slightly off-center, which is rare in my experience, holding the options button will re-center the display instantly. Overall, I have been very impressed by the tracking experience and I have no criticism for the tracking design.

Regular PS4 games, apps and media can also be experienced in cinematic mode on the PlayStation VR. This is offered through a large, virtual screen in a dark room when wearing the VR headset. There are three screen sizes available, corresponding to a virtual 117-inch, 163-inch or 226-inch screen. The image certainly will not look as good as watching on a high-quality TV, however, experiencing your favourite games and films on a large screen can be extremely enjoyable and a great alternative to TV play. Life Tip: you can also play lying down using the PlayStation VR headset!

Overall, due to the extremely competitive pricing strategy, PlayStation VR is the clear winner in the generation one virtual reality headset race. It offers fantastic bang for your buck, delivering a quality virtual reality experience for what is literally a fraction of the cost of a gaming PC and Oculus/Vive setup. The comfort of the headset and the fantastic built-in 3D audio system are additional major advantages that Sony has over the rival headsets and the PlayStation Move motion control system is a clever, inexpensive way to add good quality motion control to the system.

While the HTC Vive obviously offers a superior experience, the difference truly is not that immense and the PlayStation VR does not require a dedicated room and does not have any entry cost in the thousands. Compared to the Oculus Rift, the PlayStation VR is an equal or better experience, eliminating the issues of screen-door effect and godrays much more effectively than the Rift and is an order of magnitude more comfortable.

I cannot find any major criticism for the PlayStation VR headset and for that reason, I must award it a perfect score of ten. Sony has pulled off a literal miracle by getting VR running on the PS4, never mind delivering games with high-quality graphical experiences and stable frame rates of at least 60FPS. I cannot recommend PlayStation VR highly enough; it has done wonders for the development of virtual reality and will surely have many more developers thinking about implementing and supporting VR going forward. You truly have to experience it to believe it!

SCORE: 10/10