Sony’s second generation virtual reality headset, Playstation VR 2, is here, and it looks to catapult the console giant’s take on VR back to the forefront of this niche gaming arena. From the improved design, to the top tier hardware specs and the refined Sense controllers, here’s our PSVR 2 review.
The PlayStation VR 2 Design
PlayStation VR 2 builds on the solid foundations of the original PSVR design. As opposed to strapping the screen to your face, it balances the weight through a halo that stretches and contracts to goes around your head and then dangle the headset in front of your face, and can dangle the included headphones by your ears if attached to the 3.5mm jack and mounting point on the back of the band. It’s kept nice and light by having almost entirely plastic construction with rubber padding on the band and a more flexible flanged shroud for the screen. The halo band itself has clever plastic blocks to allow for flexibility and strength as you move it, though you definitely won’t want to be throwing the headset around!
Where the original PSVR used RGB LED lights for tracking by an external camera, PSVR 2 switches to “inside out” tracking. This uses four cameras on the face of the headset – giving it a bit of a beluga whale vibe – to map the room and space around you, and then keep track of your position and movements within that, as well as infrared LEDs on the Sense controllers. The cameras can pass through a black & white view of the world around you with a tap of the function button under the face of the unit, which is good enough for quickly checking your surroundings and grabbing the controllers.
The set up is simplified even further by using a single USB-C cable to connect to the port on the front of the PS5, instead of a complicated breakout box. The PS5 can still output a view to the TV for shared screens and games, but it now handles it internally.
The USB-C cable is built into the headset, but not detachable or easily user-serviceable, in my opinion. Still, it’s a nice and long 4.5 metres, which will be good enough for reaching across a room for Roomscale VR – defined as being 2m x 2m or greater.
Then there’s also the rest of the spec sheet. The built-in screen effectively quadruples the pixel density, leaning on the PS5’s generational step up in power and techniques like foveated rendering to handle this at high frame rates needed for smooth VR. Meanwhile eye-tracking will increase the options for interactivity, and there’s a rumble motor on your forehead for added haptics – thankfully this isn’t overused in our experience.
The Sense VR Controller
As important as a good gamepad is for flatscreen gaming, a well-rounded controller is utterly essential for virtual reality. The original PSVR cut costs by coopting the DualShock 4 and optional PlayStation Move controllers. Buying VR games meant first checking what controllers they were compatible with, and when you got in-game, there was the choice between having analogue sticks or moving hands independently. Not only that, but their visible light tracking system was easily outclassed for reliability by rival platforms.
The Sense controller fixes all of these complaints. Bundled with every PSVR 2, they’re excellently well designed, with a handgrip inside a swooping circular shell for tracking. This circle goes around the base of your hand that, in tandem with the outward curve, keeps the inside of your hand unobstructed. With so many games featuring inventory on your chest and thighs, asking you to bring your hand up to your face to “eat”, it means its the base of your fist that is bumping your body and not a hard plastic extrusion that you can’t innately sense.
Each Sense controller features a half-sized analogue stick, a pair of PlayStation symbol buttons, Options or Share, a trigger and the L1/R1 shoulder buttons for middle finger ‘grip’ buttons. But the clue is in the name for what else it can do, effectively half of a DualSense controller in each hand. There’s adaptive triggers, the refined haptic feedback motors, and more than that, the ability to your ring and little fingers for in-game gestures.
Yet there are certain downsides. The rounded shape makes it difficult to figure out how to hold without looking through the headset cameras or sliding the unit forward – my tip is to feel for the flat circle, which is where your hand will go through.
The controllers are exceptionally light making them usable for extended periods… but that comes with a tradeoff in terms of battery life being just 5-6 hours. The USB-C port feels awkward to judge the right angle to plug into, and I’ve already had a first instance of thinking they were connected and charging only to find that one wasn’t when I came to play later. It’s also annoying for the PS5 to insist you can only ever use the controllers as a pair, when you might just want to flip through the menus with the right controller to get set up.
The haptics and adaptive trigger effects also feel noticeably more subdued than on the regular DualSense. That ekes out more time from the battery, but it’s a slight shame. Then again, the controller doesn’t have to do quite as much heavy lifting for immersion when you’re surrounded.
The Experience & Set Up
With the shift to inside out tracking and a single cable, setting up PSVR 2 is about as seamless as possible. The PS5 forces you to start with the TV for the first set up before transitioning to the headset – turning it on has the headset gently rumble for the first time – where it will calibrate things like the eye-tracking with a funky little graphic, set the inter papillary distance, and then scan the room around you for the first time with its neat polygonal overlay.
While some systems will put you into a 3D rendered virtual space for the system menu, PSVR 2 sticks with the tried and true of projecting the flat screen PS5 menu in front of you. It gets the job done.
From there it’s onto the games, with PSVR 2 missing a bundled demo like Astro’s Playroom or The Playroom VR. In fairness, we’re at the stage where VR should be familiar, where Sense controller haptics and triggers will known to PS5 owners. Still, it’s a bit of a shame when all games will use different elements to varying degrees not to have a simple showcase.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is an obvious first port of call, and really shows off the leap in visual fidelity, excellently capturing all of the visual style and finesse of the main Horizon series, and really giving you a sense of scale that you don’t get from Aloy’s adventures.
It also ably demonstrates that jump in screen resolution, banishing the visible pixel grid from the original PSVR and making it much easier to stare off at details in the distance. This does still come with the caveats that your view is passing through fresnel lenses that does lead to a blurry periphery (going hand-in-hand with foveated rendering) and can flare when there’s off-centre bright lights on dark backgrounds. The halo mount is comfortable for longer sessions, but as with any VR system, it can shift in motion and slip you out of the sweet spot.
By and large, the inside-out tracking works perfectly well. For your play space, you can adjust the floor boundary from that initial scan very easily, creating a mesh wall that appears overlaid on the game when you approach it – it’s jarring, but necessary, and curiously isn’t rendered on the PS5’s TV output. The cameras also do a great job of tracking your hands in the Sense controllers far more reliably than the original PSVR’s light balls could manage. Yes, you can still confuse it by being too close or totally out of view, and it is up to games to interpret how to translate motion to interact with virtual objects, but 99.9% of the time, it’s perfectly good enough.
For launch, Sony touts an impressive launch window with 37 games and counting. From Horizon Call of the Mountain and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge giving some great combat-laden action, to smalls and quirky games Job Simulator and What The Bat?, and relaxing games Puzzling Places, Kayak VR: Mirage and The Last Clockwinder, there’s a fantastic breadth to the experiences available.
Except that a lot of these games are upgrades from PSVR – many free, some paid – or being ported across from PC VR and standalone VR headsets. It’s great and important to have earlier PSVR games like Job Simulator, Thumper and Moss on PSVR 2, but they’re listed in the launch lineup because PSVR 2’s technological shift means that it doesn’t have backward compatibility. Factor that in and the list loses a little of its lustre.
And that also leads into what the future holds for PSVR 2. Yes, it’s fantastic technology, and there’s a hustling and bustling dev scene around it, but we’re not really clued in on what comes after this launch window. After the various experiments by EA, Ubisoft and other big publishers, it feels as though Sony will once again have to do most of the heavy lifting for bigger budget VR adventures, and we hope there’s some further announcements not far behind the headset’s launch.
Is it Worth the Cost?
At £530 / $550, and factoring that you need PS5 you need as well, PSVR 2 lands in the middle ground between the standalone Quest 2 at £400 and what a full package of gaming PC and PC VR headset costs at anywhere from £1000 for an older system to well over £2500 for the highest of high end. It’s also in the middle ground for convenience and ease of use, and the ability to push those high-end VR experiences.
So, is PSVR 2 worth it? Well, that will depend on you. Existing VR users will be able to see the value to them, though I do wonder if the sticker shock will put off prospective newcomers to the niche that is VR gaming.
If only Sony would take my money and send the bloody thing! If only I’d had an unexpected couple of days of work next week instead of this week!
It’s certainly all looking incredibly impressive from what we’ve seen this week.
But I thought the cable appeared to be easily detachable? It’s just a right angled connector on the headset end. It looks reasonably simple to pop the padding off the headset to get access to it. But it looks like it’s got a second cable coming out to go to the headphone socket. Probably a better solution than just a USB cable that can easily get pulled out, and it looks like there should be plenty of protection to the weak points (the actual connector end in the headset).
From what we’ve seen (us normal people that haven’t got our hands on it yet), it’s relatively user-serviceable if Sony haven’t done anything weird to it. Not readily detachable (possibly a good thing). I doubt Sony will be offering replacement cables when they can charge to fix it if you somehow break the cable. Third party replacements could well happen and should be easy to install. Even a normal USB cable with the right sized (and right-angled) connector should be an option. Although you’d lose the audio connection and have to hope Sony haven’t thought of that and stop the whole thing working if it’s not connected, even if you’re going to be using some wireless headphones with it.
And what “visible pixel grid” with the original PSVR? That was only noticeable if you were deliberately looking for it. Yes, it was there, but while playing games it wasn’t really visible.
Hopefully they get them delivered next Wednesday. I can’t wait.
Yes, the cable does attach with USB-C on the headset, but it still requires dismantling the most of the band and is not what I would call a user-serviceable part. They could have had a nested USB-C port at the back of the band to secure a more easily detachable cable.
And, I guess we agree that there’s visible pixel grid on original PSVR, then? You focus past it while playing, but it is there and can be noticeable.
It sounds marvellous but i will probably wait and treat myself next Christmas. I watched video of Horizon VR last night but it was only in 360p and pretty much unwatchable, seems unlikely that PSVR2 video capture is limited to 360p so i’ll look out for better video.
From those Digital Foundry people said (somehow managing to say very good things about anything related to PlayStation for a change), it’s only limited to 4k60 for video capture. So find a decent video and be impressed. (Was it on YouTube? That has a habit of switching to “terrible” quality at times)
Sony have started taking money today (in the UK – they started elsewhere yesterday). So I’ve now got 5 days of waiting, but at least I don’t have to keep subtracting £530 from my account balance to make sure I’ve got enough money left ;)
Yes, it was youtube and quality only had 360p setting, no matter i’ll watch out for a better one.
Happy days with your PSVR2 , looking forward to your observations!