Review Price to be confirmed

GDC Preview - Second generation Morpheus

Sony outed a brand new version of its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset at GDC 2015, with a revamped design, improved specs and a fresh set of demos to show off those improvements.

Sony already had to contend with Oculus Rift, with the latest Crescent Bay model pushing VR technology boundaries. But Morpheus now has to compete with the newly announced HTC Vive, powered by Valve’s SteamVR platform.

To be honest, with the Morpheus and the HTC Vive you’re looking at two headsets that offer a similar experience and which both have release dates, which is more than you can say for the Oculus Rift.

The improvements Sony’s made since 2014, when we looked at the first iteration of Project Morpheus, have made a world of difference to the PS4 virtual reality headset.

Now it feels like a contender.

See also: TR Talks – SCE London Studio on Project Morpheus and the future of VR

Project Morpheus 3

The latest Morpheus model features a larger 5.7-inch OLED screen with a 1920 x 1080p resolution. Sony has also stretched the field of view to 100 degrees, which is closer to the human eye’s field of vision, meaning you get a more immersive experience.

Even when moving my head around at high speed, especially as bullets were flying past my ears during The London Heist demo, I really appreciated the fact that this new display has no motion blurring at all.

That’s helped by the fact that there are three new shiny blue LEDs on the latest Morpheus, taking the total count to nine – one additional tracker on the front and two on the sides for 360-degree head tracking.

See also: Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus - VR tech compared

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I’ve always said it, but I still believe the Morpheus is the only headset that really looks like a viable consumer product. That’s even truer with the latest model, and the polished design extends to the comfortable fit.

It’s a lot lighter than the previous model, although we don’t have exact figures, and is a lot more comfy than the Vive or the Oculus Rift. The visor is quite large and I was assured that it accommodates large glasses frames.

The latest model is held onto your head using a single band with a quick-release button, making it a lot easier to fit and also escape from when the demo is over. There’s no pressure on your eyes or face, with the weight of the unit sitting at the back of your head where the band is and on the top of your forehead.

I still had issues with the screen fogging up when I first put on the headset, but this is an issue across all VR headsets that are being passed from person to person.

See also: PS4 vs PS3

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Sony’s also added support for 3D Binaural audio and a new Social Screen feature. This allows any onlookers to see exactly what you’re doing in the demos, making it a more social experience overall. I had a great time watching my friend flailing around in the London Heist demo and getting (virtually) shot to pieces.

What’s great about the new Morpheus is that Sony has addressed the latency issues, meaning no matter how much you move around in the new headset you won’t get motion sickness. In fact, the latency had been reduced to less than 18ms, which is around half that of the original Morpheus.

Combine this low latency with an upped refresh rate of 120fps and it turned out Morpheus is starting to offer a visual experience that’s almost comparable to PS4 games on a TV.

Here’s what I experienced in the new London Heist demo from Sony’s own London Studio...

See also: PS4 vs Xbox One

The London Heist

I’m kitted out with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, fitted with the Morpheus itself and have some headphones strapped on.

Immediately I’m told to sit down and I’m transported into a smoky room with a rather burly-looking gentleman sitting opposite me – well, I say gentleman, but he could pass as an extra from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

I start having a look around the room, before my compadre starts demanding my attention. Brandishing a blowtorch, my new least favourite person asks me where Serena is, and turns the blowtorch towards me. I instinctively recoil in my seat, and just as the flame comes towards my face, his mobile rings.

Sweet relief. But it’s actually for me. Suddenly, those Move controllers turn into my in-game hands and I’m able to stand up and grab the phone from his hand. The 3D audio comes into its own here. As I draw the phone close to my ear, the audio gets louder, then gets quieter if I move it away. It’s only a tiny thing, but it really enhances the feeling of immersion.

It’s a shame that London Studios hasn’t given my floating hands any kind of arms. Floating gloves really jar in a game, and I realise the technical difficulties of making the arms look realistic, but it’s one of the main things that holds back VR from being truly immersive, at least for me.

See also: Best PSN Games

Mid-phone call I’m transported to a room and plonked behind a desk with several drawers to explore. Using the triggers underneath the Move controllers I pick up a periscope-shaped torch on the desk and start pulling open drawers to see what’s lurking inside. The voice in my ear informs me there are guards patrolling all around me and prompts me to duck down behind the desk when they draw near.

I manage to avoid detection until I find a key in one of the cupboards of the desk, which unlocks a panel hiding a rather impressive diamond. But, of course, like any good action sequence, picking up that jewel triggers an alarm that sends all the guards running towards my location.

Time for the gun. This is one of the best moments in The London Heist demo – picking up the gun, slotting the magazine in the bottom like a proper gangster and taking out the oncoming guards.

I have an issue where I can’t make the gun fire with my right hand, but switching the gun to my left hand works perfectly. And it turns out I’m a lefty when it comes to firearms...

My friend had a few issues actually loading the magazine later on in the demo, despite successfully pulling it off the first couple of times. I assume that was down to some issues with tracking the Move controllers themselves.

See also: Why SteamVR and HTC Vive will win the virtual reality war

I’ve tried plenty of VR demos in the past year or so, and the fast-paced interactive experience offered by The London Heist is definitely the most immersive yet. Even the seriously impressive Vive demos are a lot more passive than The London Heist.

It gave me a true impression of what a full VR game could be like and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this is a slice of a larger game that may well come out when the Morpheus is released in the first half of 2016. That’s merely me speculating, but there’s definitely scope there.

First Impressions

The Move controllers and the Morpheus headset itself are both at the top of their game at the moment, offering a truly immersive experience that I can see really translating to a full VR gaming setup that I could play in my home.

However, what’s really holding the Morpheus back is the PlayStation Camera. Unlike you can with the Vive, you can’t really move around with Morpheus. You can stand up, crouch and dodge, but there’s no room for exploration. I wanted to get out from behind the desk, or at least get a better vantage point, but that’s impossible at the moment with the Morpheus.

Hopefully that might change a bit before launch, but at the moment that’s what’s giving Vive the edge.

See also: Best PS4 Games 2015

June 2014 Preview - First generation Morpheus

Project Morpheus is Sony and the PS4’s attempt to take the next leap in gaming innovation and ensure it doesn’t get left behind by the Facebook owned Oculus Rift.

The futuristic looking virtual reality headset encompasses almost your entire field of vision, while internal tracking technology means you can look all around you. VR offers a gaming experience like no other.

Project Morpheus: How does it work?

Two LED screens are positioned right in front of your eyes. Unlike regular video headsets that essentially just provide tiny screens in front of your eyes, Project Morpheus uses lenses to wrap the displayed image around your vision. This means that each viewing rectangle is rounded outwards, providing a bigger surface and covering far more of your field of view.

While the effect is impressive this method does comes with a slight downside. The optics distort the image and spread out the pixels towards the fringes of the display. This means you’ll notice that the pixel density is higher if you keep your eyeballs fixed forwards than if you swivel them to look at the edges.

Oculus Rift

This is less of a problem than you might think because your peripheral vision does not take in as much detail as your main area of focus. Rather than moving your eyeballs to look around, Project Morpheus uses internal tracking technology to move the image as you move your head. The PS4 Camera adds another element of positional tracking so that Morpheus not only knows which way you’re looking but also how far forwards or side-to-side you move.

While Project Morpheus is relatively new I’ve been following the Oculus Rift since it was announced and have used a number of iterations. At E3 2014 I made sure I had another experience of the Oculus Rift playing Eve: Valkyrie just before trying Project Morpheus. Here’s what I found.

Project Morpheus: The Demos

Placing Project Morpheus on your head is reasonably simple. Plonk it on and you can push the screens closer to your eyes so that it encompasses your entire field of view. It stays on well and feels solid yet light enough not to cause too much neck-strain. I shook my head left and right but it remained firmly rooted.

The backlit LED displays are bright, perhaps overly so. The screens on Project Morpheus lacked some of the subtly of OLED panels, particularly in darker or high contrast scenes. This was apparent in the black start-up screen of the street luge demo we tried.

Of more concern, however, was the blurriness of the title. The words Street Luge were quite hazy and when we moved our head even slightly they became a blurry mess, totally indecipherable. It’s similar to the experience we had with older versions of the Oculus Rift and has to do with the slower response rates of LCD panels. It’s the reason some people get queasy using VR headsets.

Once the demo started things were a lot better. Resolution was sharp enough and the internal tracking let us control the luge using slight movements of the head. Hurtling down a mountainous road we had to stay on the track while avoiding cars and trucks, some of which were tall enough to slink under with a little precision.

SEE ALSO: Best Games of E3 2014

Street luge

It was a fun experience, if a little nausea inducing.

Less of a shock to the system was the underwater adventure where you are attacked by a great white. The experience is claustrophobic and scary and shows just how well VR could work in the survival horror genre.

How does Project Morpheus compare to the Oculus Rift?

Project Morpheus looks the part. Where the Oculus is ugly and boxy the Morpheus is all sweeping curves and funky lights.

There is not too much to separate Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift on paper. Both have 1080p resolution (960 x 1080 per eye) and an inertial update rate (referring to the internal tracking) of 1000hz.

SEE ALSO: Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus

Oculus Rift

There’s a slight variation in field of view with the latest Oculus Rift prototype offering a 100 degree FOV compared to the 90 degrees Project Morpheus can muster. To our eyes the extra 10 degrees makes little difference. Both products encompass almost our entire field of visions and both provide hugely immersive experiences.

Perhaps the most important difference between the two though is that the Oculus uses an OLED screen while Project Morpheus has an LCD display.

I’ve mentioned already that Project Morpheus made me a little nauseous, something I had not experienced since the first prototype of the Rift. Oculus has made a number of advances to ensure that motion blur and judder is kept to a minimum. The low-persistence OLED display has a far quicker response rate which helps, but there is also plenty of software trickery that makes the experience even slicker.

Project Morpheus: First Impressions

These are exciting times for gamers. Project Morpheus is an impressive piece of kit, if the Rift didn’t exist we would be salivating all over it. However, it does, and the difference in experience of both VR headsets side-by-side shows that Sony has some catching up to do. I’m confident it will, it just depends how long it will take and how important it thinks Morpheus is to its business.

There is no planned official release date for Project Morpheus yet. Sony says it wants to make it wireless before releasing it to the public. We’ll update this preview when we hear more.

Next, read our Xbox One vs PS4 comparison, now updated post-E3 2014

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