The idea of virtual reality isn’t new, but the era of consumer VR is barely past the incubation stages. Over the past 12 months, several consumer virtual reality devices hit the market, including Samsung’s Gear VR mobile headset and two PC-connected systems, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Gear VR introduced millions of people (Oculus said it has over one million active monthly users) to basic virtual reality. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of early adopters picked up the Rift and Vive to experience premium VR at home.
Without question, Oculus, HTC, and Samsung got the ball rolling. But the first real test of mainstream interest in VR must be passed by Sony. After all, the PlayStation VR system costs less than the PC-connected options, and it's more accessible thanks to compatibility with the PS4. Sony said it sold more than 40 million PS4 consoles before it launched the PSVR, which means there are tens of millions of VR-ready households out there.
The PlayStation VR has very simple system requirements: you need a PlayStation 4. Sony recently launched its PS4 Pro console, enabling 4K resolution and HDR. But you don't need the newest version in order to enjoy the full PSVR experience.
The install base of PlayStation 4s in some ways puts the fate of VR in Sony's hands. Many millions of gamers spend their play time in front of consoles rather than PCs, and a lot of them will have their first VR experience on a PS4. The onus is on Sony to deliver an exemplary product. If PSVR is successful, the people who have one will share it with their friends, and their friends will want one too. If it's simply not compelling, the adoption of VR won't be as rapid.
VR Requires A High-End PC; How Is Console VR Possible?
Premium-grade virtual reality demands more performance than you would expect a PS4 could provide, but Sony pulls it off.
Believe it or not, Sony started working on PSVR long before it created the PlayStation 4 console. Last year at Immersed 2015, we spoke with Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Dr. Richard Marks about the PSVR development process. Marks oversees Sony’s Magic Lab, which is an experimental research lab within PlayStation’s R&D department. He explained that Project Morpheus (PSVR’s code-name) officially started in late 2010, but experiments with some of the technology found in PSVR could be traced back to the beginnings of his 17-year career at the Magic Lab. Clearly, Sony put a lot of time and effort into developing its VR technology.
It also had the advantage of designing every facet of its PSVR headset in-house. The team responsible for bringing PSVR to fruition leveraged a diverse pool of expertise from within the massive multinational corporation. Sony has its fingers in many pieces of the electronics industry, so its hardware engineers and lens designers could work hand-in-hand to create the components that compose PSVR.