Sunday, October 16, 2016

PlayStation VR - First Impressions Review

And we are back! With all of the hype around VR these days, I figured I'd go ahead and take the time to tell you guys about my experience with it as well. A lot of people are still on the fence with this thing (wondering if it's worth getting, if the games are fun, if it's a fad, etc), so hopefully I can answer some of the things you'd like to know about it. Of course I'd actually recommend you track one down yourself and try it (it's seriously hard to explain to someone who's never experienced it), but for anyone who is unable to, this should give you more of an idea on what it's like.

The Headset and Setup:

The headset itself is actually pretty nice, but it takes quite a lot of wires to get this thing going. First of all since the PS4 isn't strong enough to run VR on it's own, the headset comes with a little processor box. This box is roughly the size of a Vita or PSP (except not as wide and a bit taller), and is meant to sit either next to your PS4 or even on top of it. Although this box doesn't take up much space, what it all has to connect to does. For starters, the box itself needs to plug into a power outlet (meaning you'll need at least two plugs now for your PS4 set up), and it has a USB cable that comes from the back of it and plugs into the front of your PS4 (PS4 does not have a back USB port). Once you've done that, you can unplug the HDMI cable from the back of your PS4, plug it into the "TV" HDMI slot on the back of the processor unit, and then plug a second HDMI into the PS4 and the processor unit's "PS4" slot. That's two HDMI cables, and the one that comes with the PSVR is quite long. (Might be a good idea to get a short one for wire management?) After that is taken care of, you pull half of the processor unit back to reveal the PSVR connectors, which is what you plug the headset's two cables into. These cables are labeled with the four PlayStation button icons so it's easy to tell what goes where. Finally after all this is done, you can then plug the headphones into the PSVR and start -- that is assuming you already have a PS4 PlayStation Camera set up (which is required). If all of that confuses you, here's a quick list of how many cables there are:
  • PS4 power cable
  • VR power cable
  • VR to PS4 USB
  • TV to VR HDMI
  • VR to PS4 HDMI
  • USB from PS4 to VR
  • PlayStation Camera
  • Headset connector cables
  • Headphones plugged into headset
Total: 9 in all. In short, you'll have to do some cable management if you want to keep things looking nice, but I'm sure most people will figure out something. If worse come to worse you could always disconnect the headset when not in use.

Now that the unit is setup though, the headset itself has some options. In general this thing actually feels really nice. It's a bit heavy, but most people should be able to wear it for hours at a time without it causing pain. The headband goes back and forth easily, there's a little wheel to tighten it to your head (similar to a hardhat), and there's also a button to bring the face part in closer or back it off from your face. It's made to fit every type of head, and it feels pretty nice against your face when you bring it in close. Thanks to the little flaps inside, you feel the headset hug you around your nose and eyes, and it also blocks out the light from the outside. The fact that this works perfectly with glasses on is also a plus, and I've found that taking my glasses off (as I'm near sighted) really didn't help me any. The headset was only brought closer to my face slightly, and my vision actually got worse. In other words, those who wear glasses, keep them on and the headset will still fully cover your eyes -- to an extent.

How VR Looks:

What some were wondering about is how the headset actually looks inside of it, and that can mean multiple things. How the games look, can you see any light, how wide is your vision, etc, so I'm just going to answer all of those questions. To begin, I'll talk about the light from the outside. Yes it's mostly blocked out, but SOME can get in. This is more like a single thin line from where the soft material on the headset is, and at least 98% of the time is not noticeable at all. The only time I really saw this gap of light was when games asked me to bring the move controller up to my hear, and the giant glowing ball on top let off a blue light to my left/right. It wasn't a problem, but again that's when I noticed it. As for how the rest of the headset looks though, that's the main reason why the light being let it won't bother you.

The lenses inside this thing are pretty big. If anyone has ever went to the eye doctor for an eye test, you're actually going to be somewhat familiar with how these lenses work. They are very similar to what eye doctors use, they are big enough to cover the entire front of your eye and your glasses, and they are what allow you to see the VR world in full on 3D. While you don't have any real peripheral vision, that isn't a problem. The easiest way for you to see what this is like now is to just take your fingers and rest them on the corner of your eyes. While this will block out a little bit of your vision, you'll still be able to see everything in front of you and off at different angles when looking ahead. Shockingly (as you may see right now) the view range is actually quite large, and it really helps bring you into the experience. As for how the games actually look though, well, that's a mixed bag.

Before you actually start playing VR games the PS Camera has some settings you can change within your PS4 menu under the VR device. You can have the camera take pictures of your eyes so that it can measure the distance between them (to help with the 3D effect), there's options calibrate where your play area is, and there's also a mode that shows you text. Similar to an eye test (yet again), this text may show up clear or blurry, and it's up to you to adjust the headset on your face to get things looking as best you can. I'm telling you now that you'll never get a very sharp clear image here, but getting it to look as good as possible is the ideal. Once all of that is set though, you can start playing games.

What VR games actually look like is a mixed bag (as I said above). The headset itself is running at 1080p for each eye on an OLED screen, but there is still what has become known as the "screen door effect" -- although in this case it's more like a bug net effect. instead of seeing things crystal clear like in the real world, you can see each and every pixel on the screen and the lines between them. Again the PSVR's effect is so small though, it's more like you're looking through a bug net you would put over an open door, or use for whatever kind of outdoor setup you may have (such as a tent and whatnot). While you may notice this at first, it does quickly fade away and in most games it is nearly 100% invisible (even when looking for it I wasn't able to see it in many cases). Sadly, the same can't be said for the issues with the "realistic games."

The graphical quality in VR could be described as a mix between the PS2, PS3, and Vita. In the more realistic games many objects are a bit blurry and "out of focus" looking. This is really noticeable in games like DriveClub where you sit inside the car and are unable to read whatever it says on the dashboard. Instead you can see blurry text, and have to focus a bit harder than normal to make out what it is you are actually looking at there. It gives you the feeling of someone without their glasses (I know, I keep going back to this but we are talking about vision here), and is something they could definitely improve on in the future; however, again this is only an issue in some games. Step away from the realistic experiences like DriveClub, and you have games like Job Simulator that are set in a cartoony world. These games look AMAZING and do not suffer the same problems. Everything is crisp and clear, you can read all of the text, and even that screen door effect fades away. Games like these seem to be made perfectly for VR, and are optimized extremely well. When it comes down to it, the blurry vision in other games is most likely because the game either isn't as optimized as it could be, or simply because the PS4 isn't strong enough to increase it's resolution. Like I said, this is something that could be fixed in the future with the PS4 Pro, but for now it's fine. Although you may be bothered by it at first, things quickly change as you get into the game.

What it is like in a VR World:

This is going to be the hardest thing to explain, "what it's like in a VR world." When many people think VR they think it's just a screen in front of their face. Well, I'm here to tell you that THAT'S NOT TRUE! Even if you were to move in all the way up to your TV and block out the rest of your vision, that is nowhere near the experience of VR. What makes VR amazing is what it does to your senses. For starters, the two lenses over your two eyes make it so you have full depth perception. Simply look across your room in real life, and you'll see what this is like (after all most of you have seen in 3D your entire life I'm sure). It's really hard to convey this to others, but sitting in VR isn't any different from you sitting wherever you are right now reading this. Sure the graphics don't look realistic like the real world, but that's the only change. As for the sound in VR? It too is in full 3D. When you mix these two things together, sight and sound, your brain begins to wonder "what is going on." While you yourself know what you are seeing isn't real, what your brain goes off of is it's senses, and when two of them tell it something is real, it begins to believe that as fact. That's what true VR is.

While it may sound a bit stupid, entering into a VR world can be a bit unsettling. As someone who chose VR Worlds as their first experience, I'll admit I felt a bit scared. Never seeing VR before, I went into this thinking "this is a screen in front of my face," but instead I was sitting in a dark museum room with a massive shark statue in front of me, and nothing but darkness all around. At that moment my brain went from "I'm playing a game" to "I'm actually in this dark place alone... It's not safe here." Of course when I jumped into the Ocean Decent things became even worse. No longer was I sitting in my chair safe at home, and no longer was I in the dark museum, but instead I was underwater diving into the deep unknown... And it was nerve wrecking. Of course it was also pretty amazing, and I was constantly looking around at what was going on, but all sense of security was gone, and when the shark came it was even worse -- that's when reflexes kicked in. Pulling my legs back as it tried to bite me, and flinching when it slammed into my cage. No matter how many times I told myself "this isn't real," my brain couldn't help but react. It's a really strange sensation, and it is even stranger when you start jumping into other games and experiences as well. Remember the horror games that didn't look that scary? Yeah, tell your brain that when you're looking at it in the face.

The Games and Experiences:

Another concern about VR is if it's games are worth it. Well I can only talk about what we have right now, but so far it does seem promising. While VR Worlds is mostly experiences, it does offer a wide verity of things to do. The shark attack is a fun ride that everyone should try at least once, and using your head to play a life sized version of 3D Pong is a lot of fun as well. London the Heist is a fun on rail experience, and the built in shooting range is a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys that sort of thing. Picking up your gun, ducking behind cover, changing out the clip -- it all feels so natural and gives you an idea of how shooting mechanics can work in the future. On the other hand you have classic PC Adventure style games/"walking simulators" where you explore a game world, examining objects, choosing what to say/do, and making your way through a story. These games also work very well in VR, and help you invest into their stories and worlds even more. While not everyone may like the ones we currently have, they show that this genre has a home in VR. Other games on the console are more like what we saw back when Nintendo first released the Wii, or when Xbox released Kinect. They aren't games for "gamers," but that doesn't mean they aren't fun. These games make use of the motion controls to allow you to do real world activities inside this virtual space. You can play pool, there's the shooting range I mentioned, a golf game where you play as a giant robot (ok, not quite the everyday thing), and so on. While many may pass these off as shovelware, that doesn't mean you can't have fun with them and come back to them from time to time. Of course developers will only be able to make so many of these games before they run out of things to do (again, look at the Wii), but they are still nice -- at least for now.

Moving onto the next category of games, we have what gamers might call "real games." There's DriveClub VR for those who like racing games (also a new GT is coming as well as other racers), Rez is an amazing rail shooting experience that EVERYONE should try at least once, there's competitive games like EVE Valkyrie, and then there's heavy hitters like Ace Combat 7 and Resident Evil 7 on their way. These are games that are more for the gamers out there, and they prove that mainstream games can in fact work in VR as well. While some people may also think that only first person games can work with this thing, that too is a complete lie. DriveClub VR actually has all of the standard racing game view points, including the 3rd person view, and it shows that 3rd person games could in fact use VR if they wanted to do so. In this case you're a floating camera behind whatever it is you are looking at, but the world still flies by you, and you get a greater sense of it's scale. Being able to look all around your character from a 3rd person point of view actually feels great, and it can help you see things you might not have noticed before. Play Room VR is another game that allows you to see this in action, where you can play a 3D platforming game from this point of view. You, as your own character, float above this world as you use the controller to guide the platforming character on where to go. Rather than turning the camera with the analog stick, you physically look at what's around you, and follow the character with your own eyes as you try to navigate them there. It's a really interesting concept, and it's something I personally would like to see more of.

In short, VR is something that can work with a wide verity of games, but it will be some time before we see where it actually goes. What we have now does work great, and currently the future does look promising.

Extra Modes:

VR isn't just for gaming, it can be used in other ways as well. Currently these other modes are limited, but you can use the headset to put yourself in a movie theater like area to watch movies and play games on the big screen (giant floating screen). There's also support for VR movies within some apps, and even Hulu has a special VR viewing space where you can watch their shows and movies in different living room settings and what not. While there's not too many of these extras on PS4 at the moment, it's nice that non gamers have at least some use for it, and it's very likely more content will be added in the future.

VR Sickness:

Sorry but this is something I have to talk about -- VR Sickness. VR isn't all sunshine and rainbows, and it's going to have a different effect on different people. While I can talk about my own personal experiences with VR, not everyone reading this will have the same issues as me. For example, the shark attack, London Heist, and Danger Ball in VR Worlds were completely fine for me. I had no issues playing these games, but VR Luge (you're going down hill on a skateboard very fast) did make me feel really funny at first. The more I played the more I got used to it, but the first time I did it I almost fell over. Meanwhile Scavenger's Odyssey where you're in a giant mech thing that spins around and can stick to walls DID make me sick. I had to stop after finishing the first part because my head was spinning and I felt like vomiting... This feeling lasted for quite some time even after I took the headset off. Other games that I was fine with strangely included Rez. Even though I was  flying at high speeds with the camera spinning all around in this cyber world like space, I was fine with it. Yes some parts made me a bit dizzy, but the feeling only lasted a moment and I was able to continue on. It wasn't really until the end where flying higher made me feel odd, but that could have been due to my fear of heights. As for another game that made me sick? Loading Human is the one. It's a 3D first person classic adventure game where you explore a room, pick up objects to examine them, and solve puzzles. Moving around this 3D space myself made me feel very unwell, and I had the exact same issue with other games that allowed free movement including Here They Lie.

The Assembly is another game that's similar to Loading Human, which I was able to make myself sick playing by running around the room, but the good news is it has a "snap" option. With only a handful of games currently using this system, the snap and teleport option was invented to help prevent people from getting sick in VR games. With this set up instead of walking to where you move, you warp a short distance in the direction you press on the analog stick, with a quick fade in and out to black. This is also how turning works, and there's also an option to look in a direction, place a marker, and instantly warp to that point. This way you're always standing still, and lessen your chance of getting motion sick. This is something the extra mode in Rise of the Tomb Raider does as well, and while Here They Lie has free movement (as mentioned above), turning is handled with snapping as well. Of course snapping most likely wont work for all 3D games out there, at least it does work for some and that could possibly help people get more used to VR. It may take some time, but eventually most should be able to work up to handling "more demanding" games without throwing up.

The Good and the Bad:

PSVR is nice. The headset feels nice on your head, it works with glasses (in almost all cases), and it actually works. Putting this thing on transports you to a new world, and it's something everyone should experience at least once. There's a handful of really fun games for it as well, and it can be a lot of fun at parties or when you have friends and family over. Thanks to the social screen on the TV everyone can see what it is you see, and there's even some games out there that use this for local multiplayer games. The ability to play any game or watch movies on the big screen is a nice feature (especially if your PSVR is set up in a family room where others want to watch TV or possibly play another game console), and the extra modes such as VR movies and other experiences even give non gamers something to try out. In general it's a nice addition to the PS4, but that's not to say that it is perfect.

The only real issues with the PSVR is it's resolution, and motion sickness. Sadly most games do look like PS2, Vita, and in some cases PS3 games, and sadly there are objects that are blurry and hard to see, but for the time being it is good enough. Again maybe in the future we'll be seeing improvements to this, but for now it's just something we'll have to deal with. This also means games played in the "movie theater" mode will also look slightly worse than on your actual TV, but it's not that big of an issue. What is an issue though is the fact that this may make you motion sick, so it's entirely possible that you'll buy it only to find out you can't play it at all. Of course I doubt that'll be the case (as I mentioned only a few games made me sick), but it may be a good idea to try one out before you actually buy. At least some games are doing whatever it is they can to cut back on this, but with others you'll just have to learn to deal with it...

Overall though I'd still say the PSVR is worth it if there are games on it you'd like to play. It's something you should experience (at least as a demo in stores), but if you should own it or not all depends on what it is you want. Looking forward to Resident Evil 7 or Ace Combat 7 in VR? Could be worth it then. Want to play some classic adventure games like The Assembly, or another horror game like Here They Lie? Then go for it. What about EVE Valkyrie? Want to get into crazy tense dog fights in space? Well, then that game could be worth it alone! Honestly it all comes down to you, so before you pick one of these up it's a good idea to pick out a library of games first. The bottom line is, the PSVR is only fun if it has something fun for you. Hopefully this helped you with deciding that.

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