The PlayStation 4 is already leading the virtual reality arms race, here’s why
It’s important to stop asking which virtual reality hardware is the best, and instead think about which has the best chances of breaking through to the mainstream.
Sony is positioned to make Project Morpheus happen in ways that could humble even Valve and Oculus, and the updated specs of the latest Project Morpheus prototype prove that they’re taking the hardware seriously.
It’s very possible that Sony is the company that makes virtual reality happen in a mainstream way before anyone else, due to the following advantages:
You won’t need to upgrade your PS4
Virtual reality games are taxing on hardware, especially since Sony is aiming for either 60 or 120 frames-per-second standard on Project Morpheus. That difference between virtual reality devices on the PC and on consoles is that developers know exactly what the PlayStation 4 can do, and they can aim for that platform.
The ability to optimize for one platform is why so many games and demos run and look great on the Gear VR, a virtual reality platform powered by a phone. Developers can aim for a targeted platform, make sure it runs well in their offices, and then they know for a fact it will run well for players.
There is no “target platform” for the PC, and even today Oculus Rift demos may work on many systems or they could require the most powerful graphics cards on the planet. Players could get a headset, bring it home, and be frustrated that they have to upgrade some aspect of their system, or they’ll have to spend significant amounts of time tweaking the settings to get a smooth experience.
The PlayStation 4 may not be as powerful as a $1,500 gaming PC, but it doesn’t matter. Developers can squeeze every inch of power out of it and work around those limitations to provide a good virtual reality experience, and when they’re satisfied they know that anyone can go out, buy Project Morpheus and it will look great when it’s plugged into the PlayStation 4. Virtual reality on a console is user-friendly, which is something no one can say about the existing, or even future, virtual reality solutions for the PC.
They have the control system already figured out
Virtual reality controls are an ongoing concern, and a standard console-style controller isn’t always the best way to play a game in virtual reality. This is a problem everyone in the VR space will have to tackle, and it’s likely developers will have to support a variety of control mechanisms, but as of this writing Sony is the only company with a complete, existing solution.
During the GDC event yesterday we played a variety of demos using the Project Morpheus, Move controllers, the PlayStation Camera, and even the standard controller with the lightstrip as a motion controller.
This hardware is on the market now, it’s relatively inexpensive and based on the demos yesterday it can provide high-quality motion controls in 3D space. Everyone else is going to have to launch new hardware, but Sony has already done so, and demos like “London Heist” prove these control methods don’t just work, they work well.
Sony delivered a responsive, 3D control solution that allowed me to reach out, grab two objects, reload a gun by slamming a clip in, and aim in a way that felt real enough to be satisfying. That’s something that’s rare in virtual reality, and they provided that experience using off-the-shelf control solutions that you can buy today. They don’t have a head start, they have a finished race while everyone else is trying to figure out how to begin.
Sony can bring the developers
Sony has always had great relationships with indie developers, and indie developers always seem to love Sony. It’s important to get big names to support Project Morpheus, but the really interesting content in virtual reality has always come from a passionate and creative indie community. That’s going to be Valve’s strength in the virtual reality arms race, but Sony isn’t that far behind.
Sony knows how to speak to indie devs, they know how to create a hospitable ecosystem for smaller developers and with Oculus still sitting on its hands when it comes to giving us a release date, Sony has the chance to raid the Oculus community for its best talent and games that are close to completion.
Do you have a promising, high-quality virtual reality game and want to bring it to a console with a great online store, a functional control solution and a great virtual reality headset? Sony would probably love to speak with you, and they know how to promote their platform and your game.
Sony doesn’t have to partner up for the hardware
Oculus purchased an industrial design team last year, but the only product they’ve released to the masses has been a collaboration with Samsung. “Valve’s” virtual reality device is a partnership with HTC, and while we like to say it’s their hardware the branding describes it as “HTC’s Vive headset, powered by SteamVR.”
We’re seeing a trend of virtual reality and computer gaming companies partnering with existing hardware companies for their products, which is a challenge Sony just doesn’t have.
Not only is the latest version of the Morpheus well beyond everyone else in terms of comfort and fit and finish, Sony did it all in house. Those Move controllers? Sony created those, and they’re on the shelves. The PlayStation 4? It’s a locked down platform they control while insisting on high standards for virtual reality experiences.
The existing PlayStation 4 controller? Combine it with a camera for a motion sensing solution. It’s all Sony tech, running on Sony hardware and you’ll be able to buy games through PlayStation Network, which is Sony. Nothing has to be outsourced and no partners need to control any aspect of the experience.
This is the power of a pure consumer electronics brand making a big bet on VR: They can do everything themselves, and do everything right.
To wrap this up…
Other companies will release amazing, high-quality virtual reality products, but by virtue of its plug-and-play nature and Sony’s other advantages in both software and hardware, it’s very likely Project Morpheus is going to be one of the first and best virtual reality platforms when it comes to breaking through to a mainstream audience.
It’s going to be the hardware you can buy in any electronics store, take home and plug in knowing it’s going to work perfectly out of the box and you’ll likely have a wide variety of games on the first day to play on your Sony-brand 3D controllers. The advantages are both substantial and many, and it’s going to be hard for other hardware companies to match that user experience.
The virtual reality arms race continues, but right now Sony may be in the lead.