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GDC 2015 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
Project Morpheus 19
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
Project Morpheus 11
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.

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