This article is a summary of all you need to know about virtual reality for PlayStation 4 – an ultimate PSVR guide, if you will.
If you’re interested in buying PlayStation VR system and are tired of extracting shreds of information from tons of reviews scattered all over the internet, I have good news – I’m going to save you some serious time.
Let me start with a short intro to make sure we have the same device in mind.
Its official name is Playstation VR (virtual reality), yet people use many other terms, which can cause some confusion.
The most frequent ones are: Sony VR, PS4 VR, PSVR, however you can also find: PS4 gaming headset or Sony VR glasses etc. They all refer to the same piece of equipment shown in the picture above.
To be clear, it’s not possible to use the headset on its own. In this article I will also cover all the pieces of PSVR equipment which are essential and some of the additional accessories.
The article below is a collection of facts extracted from various reviews and opinions expressed by a large number of people – owners of the system and bloggers alike. I’ve raked through several hundred users reviews and various relevant materials published by the leading tech/video games websites.
I’ve removed all the fluff and decoded technical gobbledygook into what it all actually means for the user.
I’ll keep this information at a level which will hopefully allow anyone to understand what you’re actually buying, whether for your own use or as a gift to make a loved one happy 🙂
This article provides answers to the most commonly asked questions.
If you don’t know much about VR, please read it from start to finish.
If you decide to take a dive into the middle, remember that some sections may be unclear without reading the previous ones.
Strengths and weaknesses is a short summary for those with very little time.
Is it healthy to use VR ?
What is VR motion sickness and how big a problem is it ?
Why VR induces headaches and how to avoid them ?
Why does VR cause the dry-eye syndrome and what to do about it ?
Is VR of any use for people with vision in one eye only ?
Is there a lot of difficulty with setting up the Sony VR ?
Does Sony VR have any annoying issues ?
How does the PS4 VR compare to the other high-end VR systems ?
What are the downsides of the low-end VR in comparison with PSVR ?
What hardware items are a must for Sony VR ?
PS4 VR essentials:
- PSVR HMD (short for the PlayStation VR head-mounted display), processing unit, earphones and all the required cables.
Those are always sold together.
- any model of the gaming console: Playstation 4 (PS4)
- gamepad for PS4 – namely Dual Shock 4
- any model of camera for PS4
Playstation 3 camera is not suitable for Sony VR
- any model of Move Controllers, including ones for Playstation 3
Those are optional, however, for some games they are a must. In any case it’s a good idea to get them – it’s more fun. Remember to get two – one for each hand.
How does Sony VR system work ?
This section doesn’t explain how in general VR systems work. I assume the reader already knows that and I focus here only on the specifics of Sony VR. If something is unclear or feels lacking please read this section before continuing.
PSVR HMD (the headset) and controllers (Dual Shock 4 and Move Controller) have sensors which measure acceleration and rotation. They are also equipped with sources of light – the headset has 9 of them and controllers have one each. Positions of these lights are registered by the camera and together with data from other sensors sent to PS4 for motion tracking.
The camera covers a play area of approximately 6.2 ft wide and 9.8 ft long (1.9 m x 3 m). The player is supposed to either sit or stand in the middle. The system isn’t really designed to follow wandering, yet you can turn, jump, duck and walk a few steps in every direction.
There is no limit on how much you can turn, so in theory you could spin around and the system would pick that up ok. In practice you would likely fall over, since the headset IS NOT wireless.
Also, if the game you play involves tracking the controllers, the camera has to see them all the time, so you can’t really turn away from it.
Some games (for example London Heist – part of the VR Worlds) are rather intense, making it easy to fall out of the designated area. In such cases the system gives a warning.
Since I wrote this article a new version of the headset was released (CUH-ZVR2). The new one is very similar to the old version (CUH-ZVR1). Click here to go to the list of all the differences.
The headset contains a single display. Its full specs can be found here. The technical parameters are meaningless for most people, so I won’t bother citing them here. It suffices to say that in comparison with HDTV the vision is grainier, objects in distance look blurry and colours are not as vibrant.
Also, the specs are not as good as those of the main VR competitors . However, according to most people the visuals are good enough to have a blast and the price is significantly lower.
The headset sits on one’s head attached with a single plastic band going right around the head. The band has a thick cushion that keeps it firmly in place, yet without compromising the comfort.
The band extends on a button press. That’s how you put it on and adjust to your head size. There is also a dial to fine tune the grip, if it’s still too loose.
The front part of the headset – the visor, houses a display. At the bottom right of the visor there is another button. It allows you to move the display towards and away from your face. By sliding it back and forth you can find the sweet spot which will give you a sharp view. It’s also useful if you want to get back to reality for a while and take a peek into your room without taking off the headset.
A rubber flap encircles the visor which prevents light from getting inside. It’s not as effective as the cushion of the Vive (one of the main competitors), yet it does a decent job.
There seems to be one problem with this, though. Some people report that it is not possible to fully eliminate the gap between the nose and the visor. Of course light getting inside can be distractive. Nobody felt it’s a huge deal though.
The headset doesn’t have integrated earphones. 3D sound is delivered via the standard 3.5 mm female jack located on the headset’s control panel. Plugging this in is the only way you can get 3D sound in your headphones. Remember that headphones with a band may be problematic to use with the headset, because of the way it is attached to the head.
Contrary to the earphones, a microphone is integrated. You can turn it on using a button on the control panel.
The panel also has a button for turning the headset on and two more for controlling the volume.
Is there more than one version of PSVR ?
Yes, an upgraded version was released in November 2017.
The new and old one are very similar. Here you have all the changes Sony has made:
- audio socket is placed on the headset itself
That makes it less likely to yank the audio cable out by accident. A new earphones which fit this new design are included in the package.
- the control buttons which used to be on a panel hanging on the cable were moved to the bottom of the visor
- the button for adjusting the focus was moved from the bottom to the top of the visor
- HDR pass-through was added to the processing unit
This solves the problem described here. The new processing unit is not compatible with the old headset.
- slimmer cable without the buttons panel
How can you tell the difference between the two ?
The old model was called CUH-ZVR1, the new one is CUH-ZVR2.
If you want to actually see the differences, watch this video.
There is also a new version of Move Controller, not much to write home about though.
A mini USB was replaced by a micro USB.
What are the features of the headset ?
- the headset is tracked everywhere in the play area, irrespective of the pose
- built in microphone
- ability to adjust the headset to your IPD and the head size
What are the features of the Move Controllers ?
Move controller is a wireless wand with the following features:
- trigger on the back
- start button on the right side
- select button on the left side
- 6 face buttons (PS, Move, Triangle, Cross, Square & Circle)
- mini or micro USB (depending on the version) for charging
- haptic feedback (vibrations)
- working 10 hours on a single full charge
You use either one or two identical controllers depending on the game requirements/setup. They are tracked everywhere in the play area as long as the camera can see them.
The Move controllers are not that great for navigating menus and tracking can be erratic, especially for more dynamic games.
Will the system track my Dual Shock 4 Controller ?
Yes, however it loses track of it easier than in case of the Move Controllers. Move Controller has a bulb at the end which is visible at any angle. The light source on the Dual Shock is flat, so it is less visible when the controller doesn’t face the camera directly.
Are there many accessories for PSVR ?
The list below isn’t by any means comprehensive – it’s just a handful of examples, starting with the most interesting one.
Aim controller has a shape of a gun and as long as the camera can see the light at the end of the barrel it will track the controller anywhere in the play area.
The controller has all the features of the Dual Shock 4: all the buttons, sticks, triggers and haptic feedback (recoil). It is wireless and should work for around 10 hours on a single, full charge.
More information can be found here.
Amazon reviews of the aim controller (altogether 29 when I read them) are very positive. People mostly complain about the price.
Reviewers of the bundle containing “Farpoint” (210 people at the time of writing) claim that the aim controller massively improves the immersion for shooting games.
Other positive remarks include:
– accurate & sensitive – admitted even by a former Marine 🙂
– light and comfortable
– tracking better than for the Move Controller if calibrated correctly
– well designed location of buttons
Issues people had:
– problems with tracking (8 out of 210 reviews)
When you put the gun too low or aim very high, the system starts to struggle.
Too bright ambient lighting in the room can also affect the quality of tracking.
– uncomfortable after a while (6/210)
People said that the stock would be helpful.
Just like with the Move Controllers you can’t completely turn away from the camera (PlayStation is not a room-scale VR platform). There are also not that many games which support the Aim Controller.
If you have the old Move Sharp Shooter for PS3, I have some bad news for you 🙁
It is not compatible with the new one.
The headset is shipped with a pair of earbuds, yet some reviewers complain about their low quality, so you might consider getting better ones. Remember that headphones have to fit over the headset’s band going right around the head.
Sony officially endorses Plantronics RIG 4VR on their webpage. Check the reviews on Amazon before pulling a plug on that.
Charging stands for the controllers
PS4 has a limited number of USB ports which can be used for charging. Having dead controllers and no ability to charge them all at once can be very frustrating.
Is PS4 Pro much better for VR ?
PS4 Pro is a high-end version of Sony Playstation 4.
In terms of VR, reviewers agree that PS4 Pro delivers better quality of visuals and motion sickness is reduced. However, the difference is not big enough to justify the additional cost, unless you favour PS4 Pro for non VR specific reasons.
In closing, it’s worth mentioning that PS4 Pro supports 4K and HDR, which are not compatible with PSVR. It means that PS4 Pro users have to unplug the VR system before playing games on TV in 4K quality. Owners of the new PSVR (CUH-ZVR2) don’t have to do that, even though the new version is incompatible with HDR as well.
If you’re wondering what 4K and HDR is, you might consider reading the following articles:
In a nutshell those terms refer to very high quality of visuals.
What are the use cases of the system ?
- The main feature is the ability to play VR games.
When you play games using your headset, you use a display inside it, so your TV can be used by somebody else or turned off/unplugged. This feature is also useful if you want to play some brutal games and don’t want the kids to be exposed to that.
Of course Playstation itself cannot be used for two different things at the same time – if you play, the other person cannot use it for something else.
Also, it is not possible to plug two VR systems into the same Playstation.
- Social screen
If you want to, you can configure the system in such a way, that what you see in the headset is being displayed on TV.
On top of that, some games use the social screen as a display for the second player in a cooperative mode. In such cases both players see something else. For example “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” uses that feature.
- Cinematic mode
If you use your headset in the cinematic mode, you can see a large virtual screen in front of you. On that screen you can play regular games or watch movies. It feels very much like sitting in a cinema.
You can also plug any HDMI compatible device into the VR processing unit and watch its content on your virtual screen.
- 360-degree media player
- 3D Blu-ray playback
All you need is a Blu-ray 3D disk inserted into PS4. Note that the system won’t convert regular Blu-ray into 3D, it must be Blu-ray 3D.
Are there many VR games for PS4 and how good are they ?
To begin with, you can play any PS4 game using your PSVR headset ! If the game doesn’t support VR, you can play it in the Cinematic Mode. It feels like sitting in front of a large cinema screen.
For this section I have compiled a list of VR games sporting the highest ratings – that is 60/100 and better. The list is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. It’s more like a teaser of what one can expect.
Is the headset useful for anything else other than VR
You can also watch Blu-ray 3D or regular movies on a large virtual screen.
A full list of all the features of the Sony VR can be found in one of the previous chapters.
It’s worth remembering that VR has a massive potential. If it takes off, and I think it will, we are going to see it everywhere: in real-estate, tourism, education etc.
Imagine checking out a hotel, before you actually go there for holidays …
Is there any free PSVR content ?
Is PSVR suitable for children ?
According to Sony, it is suitable for people ages 12 and up.
Can I use the PSVR headset as FPV glasses for droning ?
This is not officially supported.
The headset requires the processing unit, which is powered by mains electricity, so it doesn’t look too promising.
Is the PSVR headset comfortable ?
The headsets, which have a form of goggles, hang off one’s face causing a strain in the neck. Over time that can turn into a fatigue. PSVR is different.
It looks more like a helmet without the top. The weight is distributed evenly along the band which goes around the head and rests mostly above the forehead. Reviewers agree that those features make it to be one of the most comfortable headsets, even though it’s not the lightest (1.35 pounds, 610g).
Of course there are always some trade-offs. Because the visor is not sealed tightly to the face, some reviewers say it moves out of place upon rapid head shakes. Also, I’ve seen a number of claims that there is always a narrow gap between the face and the bottom of the visor. Through that gap a little bit of light gets inside, compromising immersion of the experience. On the bright side, neither of these problems were flagged as a major inconvenience.
Despite its helmet-like design the headset adjusts to a wide variety of head sizes. One of the reviewers said he has an enormous head and it was all fine. On the other hand someone else mentioned that it was too loose for his (or her) seven year old daughter, and guess what, it didn’t discourage her 🙂
Sony recommends the headset for people over 12 years old. Apparently, the head size explains that recommendation at least partially.
Can I use the PSVR headset with glasses ?
The short answer is yes, although if you have contact lenses, it is more comfortable to use them instead.
Reviewers agree that the PSVR is one of the most comfy VR headsets with and without glasses.
Be careful if you intend to use it with glasses, though. People say it is easy to scratch the lenses of the headset, if by accident you rub them against your glasses.
You might still wonder: “alright, it’s ok to use it with glasses in general, but will it fit over mine ?”
Well, if that’s your concern, you’ll find this article helpful. It contains a photo of the author wearing large glasses and her opinion on using them with VR. Take a look to make sure you will be alright with yours.
Is the PSVR headset wireless ?
In case of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift it is possible to convert them into wireless devices.
However, it is expensive and not very reliable.
Is there a lot of difficulty with setting up the Sony VR ?
Sony VR is built to be plug & play, so apart from a few tricky hoops, it’s very easy to get started.
However, after you put it all together and jump in, you will discover some issues as you would with every other system. There is more on that in the next section. Here, I will focus only on setting up the system.
There are plenty of very detailed guides and videos on this, so I will just list all the steps and provide some short comments, so you have the general idea.
- Plug everything together.
It only takes minutes, or at the most, half an hour.
Most people have made the observation that they ended up with a rat’s nest of cables around their PS4. Not ideal but not a massive deal either.
- Set the camera in such a way that it covers the area where you intend to sit or stand.
There is a limit on how big that area is – more on that in the earlier chapter. In a nutshell, it’s big enough to allow a few steps in every direction.
Before the system starts working properly, expect a fair bit of tinkering with the camera. More on that in the next section.
Finally, reviewers recommend a new model of the PS4 camera, because it has a stand, making adjustments much easier.
- Turn on your PS4, VR processing unit and the headset.
- Adjust the eye-to-eye distance in the PS4 menu.
That’s the tricky bit and also absolutely critical. Following instructions in the menu will not necessarily cut it. If the eye-to-eye distance (IPD setting) is not setup correctly, you might end up with a huge headache after as little as 20 minutes of playing. More on the alternative adjusting method can be found here.
- Calibrate the camera and tracking for the headset and controllers via the PS4 menu.
That’s it !!!
Does Sony VR have any annoying issues ?
The list below contains the most common issues people have with PSVR. It starts with the one generally considered to be the most serious and goes on towards the least significant. A list of problems shared by all high-end systems (including Sony VR) is here.
- Camera losing track of the Move Controllers too often.
Move Controllers work fine for games with steady and relaxed gameplay. Once you jump into faster action games, the controllers tend to drift out of place too often. Also, PSVR doesn’t support room-scale VR, so you can’t wander around and can’t really turn away from the camera. It has to see the Move Controllers all the time.
- Move controllers are too clumsy for navigating menus.
For that reason it’s a good idea to keep your Dual Shock controller handy.
- The camera is tricky to set up and requires constant adjustments.
The camera doesn’t like sources of bright light in the field of view. That includes lamps, windows and their reflections in mirrors. All those lights have to be either turned off or blocked. Ambient, not too bright lighting is the most appropriate. You can also consider turning up the brightness of lights on your headset and controllers.
If you configured the camera while seated, it may require adjusting when you decide to play standing. The same may be true if someone shorter or taller takes over.
- The cord plugged to the camera is a bit too heavy – it tends to pull the camera out of whack.
Wedging the cable is an easy enough fix.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Sony VR ?
- one of the most comfortable headset with and without glasses
- easy to set up
- more living room friendly than competing high-end headsets which require a personal computer
- out of several hundred people who bought PSVR from Amazon, overwhelming majority gave it the highest or next to the highest rating
- good number of quality content
- decent motion tracking of the headset
- PSVR is not a one-trick pony. There are more use cases for it than just VR gaming, however, VR systems for a PC have bigger potential because PC is a more versatile platform
- aim controller is a really good tracker representing a gun. There are not many titles supporting it though
- quality of visuals inferior in comparison with those delivered by the high-end competition
- no room-scale VR – Sony VR is either a sitting or standing experience, you can’t walk around and you can’t really turn away from the camera if you use Move Controllers
- Move Controllers have limited capabilities and are somewhat problematic for more dynamic games
- camera needs readjustments and recalibrations a bit too often
- refund policy for games could be better
If you still struggle to decide whether Sony VR glasses are for you, read the next section.
Is Sony VR worth the price ?
Let’s put the cost in perspective.
If you don’t have any of the required items, the total cost is around 600 USD.
Bear in mind that it’s just a rough estimate. Depending on which items you eventually decide to buy and which version of PS4 to pick, you will get a different total price.
In the calculations below I’m using 600 USD as an input for estimating how much one has to pay for one hour of VR gameplay. I recommend you to repeat those calculations using the total price adequate for your particular situation.
A new Sony console (PS) is released every 6 years (PS1 – 1994, PS2 – 2000, PS3 – 2006, PS4 – 2013). Game developers support the old PlayStation for at least 2 years after a new one is released.
There are some rumors about PS5, yet a release date is not known. It is not going to be 2018, so we can assume then, that new content for PS4 will be produced for at least two years more. If we also assume that you play 4 hours every week, that would give 416 hours (4*52*2) over the next two years. The Sony VR system would then cost you just 1.44 USD for one hour of playing: 600/416 = 1.44.
VR games cost on average 7 USD for one hour, so altogether it’s not more than 8.5 dollars/hour.
Let’s recap: the grand total price for one hour of PlayStation VR experience (hardware & games) is around 8.5 USD (under assumptions described above).
Is it expensive or not ?
Let’s find a reference.
The closest thing to VR is IMAX 3D. A ticket for 3d movie in IMAX on Saturday, 6:30 PM in New York (AMC at Loews Lincoln Square 13) costs roughly 26 USD.
Length of a movie, taken as a test, was 1h 46m, so the price for one hour is 14.72 USD.
Bottom line: no matter how we look at it, PlayStation VR is cheaper than 3D IMAX in New York in terms of price for one hour of the experience (if assumptions described in the text hold)
I encourage you to perform a similar evaluation for a reference point which makes the most sense to you.
Any more questions ?
If you have some more questions, that’s the best place to start.