Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sony's "Project Morpheus": VR for the PS4: Good start, but far from prime time

Last night, Sony announced "Project Morpheus" at an event at the Game Developers Conference. It consists of the PS4 console, the PS4 camera, Sony's existing Move controller and a new VR headset. The presentation was spun by Sony as a major technology announcement, but in fact, it was largely a slimmed-down version of presentations over the last few months by Oculus Rift and Valve. While both companies have been quite specific about what they've found to be necessary in a VR system (not just the headset, but the sensors and content as well,) Sony stayed away from hard numbers in its presentation. For example, when asked what Project Morpheus's refresh rate is, a Sony executive replied "As fast as possible."

Engadget has gotten a chance to try out Sony's VR headset at GDC, and they found it to be not bad for a first try, but far from Sony's own goals. For example, in Sony's presentation, the company said that comfort is one of its most important objectives, but the Project Morpheus headset requires multiple manual adjustments, and when it's in the correct position, it's so tightly sealed that sweat fogs up the lenses. Screen resolution is lower than Oculus VR's new DK2 developer kit (see next post.) Vision blur is a significant problem, which suggests that Sony isn't using a low-persistence display. In addition, Sony's headset offers a 90 degree diagonal field of view vs. Oculus Rift's 110 degrees. On the other hand, one advantage that the Sony headset has over Oculus Rift is full-body tracking, but there are a lot of companies working on that.

My take is that this is Sony climbing on the VR bandwagon with a very incomplete solution. The expectation has become that if you're serious about gaming, you have to be working on VR, so Sony checked off that box. However, from Oculus's release of the DK2 earlier today, I'd say that Sony is six months to a year behind with its headset. As for audio, Sony says that it makes good headphones, but so do many other companies, and headphones aren't the problem. Will Sony's existing Move controllers and PS4 camera really work well in a VR system? I doubt it. Those devices weren't designed for VR, and I doubt that Sony put in the costs necessary to make them work at the speeds and with the accuracy needed for VR.

What we're likely to end up with is a suite of devices that Sony purpose-builds for VR--and it's not at all certain that even the PS4 will have the refresh rates necessary to drive Sony's final VR headset.
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