Virtual Reality

Sony PlayStation VR review: Broken promise

Sony PlayStation VR review: Br...
New Atlas reviews Sony PlayStation VR, a promising and affordable VR setup brought down by godawful motion-control-tracking
New Atlas reviews Sony PlayStation VR, a promising and affordable VR setup brought down by godawful motion-control-tracking
View 9 Images
Pros and deal-breaking cons of PSVR
1/9
Pros and deal-breaking cons of PSVR
Looking into the lenses of PlayStation VR
2/9
Looking into the lenses of PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR's headset itself is perfectly good for this price range
3/9
PlayStation VR's headset itself is perfectly good for this price range
One of the PlayStation Move controllers that bring down the entire PSVR experience
4/9
One of the PlayStation Move controllers that bring down the entire PSVR experience
Wearing the PlayStation VR headset
5/9
Wearing the PlayStation VR headset
New Atlas reviews Sony PlayStation VR, a promising and affordable VR setup brought down by godawful motion-control-tracking
6/9
New Atlas reviews Sony PlayStation VR, a promising and affordable VR setup brought down by godawful motion-control-tracking
PlayStation VR is a strange-looking headset, but it's fairly comfortable and easily adjustable to fit a variety of head sizes
7/9
PlayStation VR is a strange-looking headset, but it's fairly comfortable and easily adjustable to fit a variety of head sizes
Rez Infinite is a highlight, largely because it doesn't use the motion controls
8/9
Rez Infinite is a highlight, largely because it doesn't use the motion controls
PlayStation VR costs US$399 for the headset, and $499 for a bundle that adds the two horrible PS Move controllers and the camera that (poorly) tracks them
9/9
PlayStation VR costs US$399 for the headset, and $499 for a bundle that adds the two horrible PS Move controllers and the camera that (poorly) tracks them

On paper, Sony's PlayStation VR is the virtual reality system to buy. Its specs don't soar to the stratospheres of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but neither does its price. And with well over 40 million PS4s already in the wild, that's a population the size of Spain that already owns half the setup. It sounds like the virtual reality product we've been waiting for – if only Sony had delivered a stable experience that captures the magic that made us care about VR in the first place.

When I spent four hours with PlayStation VR at GDC this March, I walked away extremely disappointed with the system's PS Move motion controllers. After using the Rift's Oculus Touch and the Vive's controls, Sony's dildo-shaped Move remotes were not only ergonomically challenged; their tracking was inexcusably inaccurate.

The seven months since gave me time to re-open my mind and give Sony some benefit of the doubt. The hardware may be the same, but perhaps some software tweaks could have improved the tracking accuracy. I even considered the possibility that having so many PSVR setups in the same demo room had somehow thrown things out of whack. I wanted to believe this would have a happy ending, as PSVR had the potential to not only save people money, but to help usher in mass-consumer virtual reality. Surely a company as reputable as Sony wouldn't deliver the dud I experienced at GDC.

I was wrong.

Bringing PSVR home, I've experienced the exact same major tracking problems. Look down at your virtual hands in any game that uses the Move remotes and you'll see them shaking, pulsating, and drifting forwards and backwards as if you're hopped up on amphetamines. I peek out from under the headset: The camera is set up perfectly and my real hands, along with the remotes, are perfectly still. I don't need to get tested for Parkinson's, the tracking is just that bad.

One of the PlayStation Move controllers that bring down the entire PSVR experience
One of the PlayStation Move controllers that bring down the entire PSVR experience

The first counter-argument I expect to hear: "You've used the expensive Vive and Rift. The many people who haven't won't notice or care about PSVR's problems." Well, the high quality of Vive and Rift tracking is contributing to my thought process. And maybe VR virgins will get so caught up in the novelty that they'll forgive the flaws. But trust me, that will eventually wear off.

I'm also not only comparing PSVR's poor controller-tracking to these other VR setups. First and foremost, I'm comparing it to reality.

In real life, if you look at your hands or pick something up to swing around, you have a clear idea what the physics of that should look and feel like. By the time we're little kids, our brains know exactly what to expect from physical movement: One false note sticks out like a sore thumb.

For VR to be effective, it needs to respect the mind's ability to separate natural from unnatural. And "natural" certainly doesn't involve my hands chopping, juddering and pulsating, jumping straight from one point to another, and sometimes flying two feet in front of me and back again. The entire world probably shouldn't give the occasional shimmy either.

PlayStation VR is a strange-looking headset, but it's fairly comfortable and easily adjustable to fit a variety of head sizes
PlayStation VR is a strange-looking headset, but it's fairly comfortable and easily adjustable to fit a variety of head sizes

Don't get me wrong: The PS Move games are functional. Developers only require broad strokes in their games, so you can move your hand in the vaguely general direction to successfully pick something up, or aim the gun close enough to hit its target.

But what's the point of using virtual reality in the first place? I'd say it's the magic of feeling like you're someplace else. Even in today's VR, which is more like being inside a video game than anything a sane person would confuse with reality, that illusion requires the appearance of a consistently stable virtual world. The slightest technical glitch breaks this illusion: like an actor who breaks character to laugh at his own punchline or a magician with a dove's beak poking out the breast of his tuxedo.

For these deceptions to have any meaningful impact, the man behind the curtain – in VR's case, the technology – needs to be 100 percent concealed. With PS Move, it isn't concealed at all.

Ultimately Sony chose cutting cost corners – recycling cheap old hardware left over from the Nintendo Wii era – over respecting that core illusion. For anyone who's remotely discerning about this ground-level foundation of VR's magic, PSVR's fatal flaw takes an otherwise promising system and turns it into something we can't, under any circumstances, recommend buying today.

PlayStation VR's headset itself is perfectly good for this price range
PlayStation VR's headset itself is perfectly good for this price range

That's too bad, because in just about every other way, PlayStation VR would have hit the perfect consumer-friendly middle ground. The visuals aren't nearly Vive/Rift level, but are still impressive. Its field of view is noticeably smaller than the PC headsets' as well, but it's perfectly acceptable for this price range. And though the headset itself is strange- and clunky-looking, it's comfortable to wear and adjustable enough to accommodate all different head sizes. There's also plenty of room for glasses underneath.

The most positive thing is that there are some good games at launch – as you'd expect from any PlayStation product. Or at least they would be good on another system.

Rez Infinite is a highlight, largely because it doesn't use the motion controls
Rez Infinite is a highlight, largely because it doesn't use the motion controls

Rez Infinite (above) is a late '70s acid trip of a game, blending rhythm, music and kaleidoscopic visuals into one of the most meditative experiences in VR. And since it uses Sony's gamepad instead of Move, it's left unscathed by the terrible tracking.

The hilarious Job Simulator is a favorite ported over from the Vive and Rift, unfortunately brought down by Sony's piss-poor tracking.

Batman: Arkham VR lets geeks live out one of their wildest wet dreams, stepping inside the Dark Knight's cape and cowl. If only his hands didn't spend the whole time tremoring like he'd just smoked some Bat-Crack.

PlayStation VR costs US$399 for the headset, and $499 for a bundle that adds the two horrible PS Move controllers and the camera that (poorly) tracks them
PlayStation VR costs US$399 for the headset, and $499 for a bundle that adds the two horrible PS Move controllers and the camera that (poorly) tracks them

What this adds up to is a product that hits many of the right notes, but seems to have lacked cohesive oversight from someone willing to prioritize rock-solid customer experience over merely ticking boxes on paper. It's as if Sony decided that its inherent advantages (console-based, cheaper) would cancel out any and all customer discernment.

Ultimately PlayStation VR with PS Move is a joyless experience. When virtual reality is at its best, I'm a little kid in a candy store. But when I use these godawful motion controls, I turn into a grumpy old geezer wondering how much longer I need to spend inside of it. It's a case study in tech obfuscating nature and human instinct: The technology industry's worst habit manifesting in one of VR's most important early products.

Looking into the lenses of PlayStation VR
Looking into the lenses of PlayStation VR

If there's any hope, it's that Sony finally admits how poor this tracking is, acts swiftly and releases a completely revamped motion control and camera system. If that day ever comes, PSVR could finally claim the affordable/consumer-friendly VR throne many of us once thought it inevitably would.

You could technically buy it just to play gamepad-only games right now, and it would do a good job with that. I don't recommend that though: At some point you're naturally going to want to get up off the couch and put your hands and full body into it. That road leads to disappointment.

Do yourself a favor and don't buy this slap-in-the-face to the "magic" of virtual reality. If you're hungry for VR and can afford it, the far superior HTC Vive and Oculus Rift offer today's purest experiences by a wide margin. Failing that, wait a year or two and you'll likely see something much better in this price range.

Pros and deal-breaking cons of PSVR
Pros and deal-breaking cons of PSVR

The oh-so-promising but embarrassingly broken Sony PlayStation VR is available now. In addition to the required PS4, it costs $399 for the headset alone and $499 for a bundle that also includes the two PS Move controllers and PlayStation 4 Camera that, uh, "tracks" them.

Product page: Sony

40 comments
ShaneMcGrath
Finally an honest review of VR! It just isn't there yet. Even on PC with a high end system and a much better VR setup, it still isn't ready. The resolution isn't high enough which totally breaks the immersion, The gear is also expensive and to push those frames you need a decent pc. Wait it out for version 2 retail of everything in VR world, Hopefully by then a lot of issues will be resolved including the price.
Imran Sheikh
Wow.. Thats so Rude.. You could have made it less harsh, also the comparision of controller with a x-toy needs moderation.
KungfuSteve
Where were your comments YEARS ago... about the Analog Thumbsticks? Thesre are barely able to be considered Analog.. due to a users poor ability to control them accurately. Really.. whom can use these in a game like GTA 5 , without the auto-aim function?! The thumb is the most clumsy of digits... and then.. you make it worse, with poor spring systems... that cause major problems in the dead center area .. (forcing a needed dead-zone) .. and once past that zone.. its like slipping on ice... easily over-throwing the intended area. But this is what you Gamers allowed. Nobody was voicing their harsh opinions, when they Should have. As a result.. game designers have had to Dumb down their games... making them less challenging.. to allow for the shitty controller issues. And because nobody was complaining... they just kept repeating the same shitty formula, over and over again. So why do you think it would change.. with the Move Dildos?! Lets be Real here. You, like most... have not spoke up with the controller issues, because they were most often bundled with the machine. And, they were all that you knew... AND... the programmers already had to deduce their game to rubble.. to deal with the lackings of the controller. But here... you are paying Extra money for a controller and hardware set... and Now... and ONLY Now... you finally have a voice of discontent. Meanwhile... there has not been a challenging game that actually makes you go into an Adrenalin rush... since the 80s - 90s... on 2d games, or in actual arcade machines.. that used long handle, high resolution analog controllers. Ohh, yeah, high resolution analog control Can be made in mini form.. but not the way they have served it to you! Which is why I have had little to no reason to buy any console past the PS1. I even sold the PS1, after I had enough fun with Ridge Racer. And the only reason I ever picked up a PS2 used.. was to play Guitar Hero. I certainly dont care much for 1st and 3rd person perspective games.. partially because of the lack of challenge, and partially because they lack depth... so you cant get any decent immersion nor tell how far things are away, further cause even more control issues. Stereoscopic 3d changes this.. making the world far more immersive (Ive used older lcd shutter-glasses.. and they were cool) ... and far more interesting to me. But... without precision controllers... and a dedicated software base, rather than conversions that work either or... then you will never get a dime from me. Games need to return to their roots. Great fast action and Adrenalin. Mario 2d games will still out-sell most all other games on the market.. by a LANDSLIDE.. because its more fun and challenging. It has nothing to do with Nostalgia, the graphical look, or anything like that. And while many people did like the 3d marios.. to a degree... most people prefer the 2d plane mario games. Thats because its too easy to walk around and away from danger.. in the 3d plane style games. While this Could be repaired.. in some ways.. it would require completely different high precision controllers.
SenenSlimRodriguez
You need to work on the lighting where you are playing. I have zero shaking issues. Your controllers are shaking because of light interference. Fix your set up. A little research would fix this problem.
StephenBates
Honestly I've had few issues with tracking on the move controllers. Perhaps your room lightening wasn't ideal? My only complaint is that the resolution could be better. They are making a $200 profit, they could have spent $100 on a nicer screen and made $100 profit, and more people would be impressed.
MatthewWilson
I'm not sure if you have a faulty unit or what, but I've been playing around with it for the past few days and love it. The ones that require, or allow, move controllers are the best. Even something more simple like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is very enjoyable and immersive with the motion controls. Overall it was surprisingly accurate too. I honestly expected it to be harder to aim at a distance or use iron sights, but the move controllers were near perfect.
Grunchy
Too much cussing. Anyway, there's an inconsistency somehow - because the headset itself is tracked via Move. How can the controller tracking be juddery, and yet the headset tracking is not equally juddery? The big problem with PSVR is it is only a stereo OLED display adorned with Move led lights. The whole point of Move is it's cheap and effective. So what makes the headset worth $400? It basically has cellphone display technology, and you can buy an equally nice cellphone for less than $400 - and most of its cost is the computer, radios, audio, cameras, battery, and other tech that PSVR doesn't even have. For example, does PSVR have an accelerometer? I doubt it does, it gets orientation from interpreting the multiple Move lights on it. Maybe the Move hand controls are juddery because they do have (noisy) accelerometers for orientation. I dunno. In Canada the pricing is $549 / $699 - just too much for what it basically is, a stereo OLED display and not a lot else. Sony is a little too greedy for my taste.
Windgraze
Writes an article about failed hardware repacked with a device the author didn't bother to review... wastes space in my Google feed. If I wanted a review for move controllers I'd be a Wii convert from like 4 years ago. Try examining the vr headset... you know, that thing you said was a slap in the face without even addressing in your lengthy article about as relevant as not liking the Gameboy color because it's printer was crap.
StevenQuan
I own a PS3, I own a pair of PS Move controllers. I have been hearing people complain about the tracking and accuracy of the controllers for years. If you follow the instructions and properly setup the lighting in your room as well as take the time to calibrate the Move Controllers, your experience will be as good as mine. All I can do is shake my head at yet another person complaining about the PS Move controllers failing to track properly.
SeanYu
Perhaps it could be improved with the use of multiple cameras? One cam would be woefully inadequate, for that type of tracking, I would imagine.