PSVR is the upcoming virtual reality system from Sony, designed for use with the PS4. With the PS4 around $500AU, and the headset launching at $549AU, PSVR looks to be much cheaper than a Rift or Vive and accompanying PC. Even once you add the PlayStation camera required to track the headset (not included in the PSVR package), and the Move motion controllers which you’ll probably want for a more immersive experience (not included either), PSVR is still much cheaper than a Rift/Vive and accompanying computer. It’s also worth noting that while a PCs meeting the minimum spec for the Rift/Vive are rare outside of hardcore PC gaming households, PS4s are already in plenty of average consumer homes. PSVR also has at least 18 games ready for launch day, and at least 50 releasing before the end of the year. So with a huge content library and an impressively low price, does PSVR have everything it needs to succeed? I don’t think so…
PSVR has shown itself to trade blows with the Rift and Vive hardware wise. Although its display has less pixels, being only 1920x1080 in total compared to the 2160x1200 of the Rift/Vive, it uses an RGB subpixel layout, unlike the PenTile layouts of the other two, meaning it actually has a higher resolution when you’re counting subpixels. Those who’ve had the chance to use PSVR report image quality equivalent to or better than the Rift/Vive. PSVR also has the two PC headsets beat on refresh rate, supporting a native 120Hz input. The headset will also accept 90Hz for games that wish to lower framerate to increase graphical bling, and even a 60Hz mode which uses motion interpolation to generate a quasi-120Hz. Sony expects this mode to be used by games that want to deliver the most complex visuals in PSVR.
Although PSVR’s headset can keep up with the Rift and Vive, the PS4 is definitely not up to the calibre of even a minimum spec “VR capable” PC. Both the Rift and Vive list minimums of an NVidia GTX970 and Intel Core i5-4590 (or equivalents). The PS4’s GPU is based on a Radeon HD7870, which has an average PassMark G3D score just under half that of the GTX970 (4300 vs 8655). Expect PSVR to have simpler looking games, perhaps often striving for stylised visuals rather than photorealistic ones. The PS4’s CPU consists of eight AMD Jaguar CPU cores. AMD have not released any octo-core Jaguar desktop processors, so I’ll use the closest thing I can find for comparison; the AMD FX-8300. The FX-8300 is an octo-core AMD processor from the same era as the PS4’s Jaguar cores, although it has a different architecture and is geared towards a much higher TDP range. The FX-8300 runs a base clock of 3.3GHz, more than twice that of the PS4’s 1.6GHz. Suffice it to say that this is a much more powerful CPU than the one in the PS4. In spite of this, the FX-8300 comes in less than 6% faster in PassMark CPUMark than the Rift and Vive’s minimum spec i5-4590 (7613 vs 7190). Thus we can expect the PS4’s CPU to fall well short of the kind of computing power that will be found in any consumer PC VR setup.
But as console generations have shown time and time again, having the most powerful hardware is not the key to success. Hardware simply has to be good enough to create an enjoyable experience. The real challenge is creating that experience. PSVR will have plenty of games available to buy at launch, but some of the most fun I’ve had with the Vive has been in The Lab, Valve’s free collection of VR minigames. I like to think of it as the Vive’s Wii Sports, and I think that’s an interesting comparison. When the Wii launched, motion controllers were a cool novelty, so cool that the console was successful based on its price point and Wii Sports alone. When I think of all the Wii owners among my friends and family, most of them use the console for Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and maybe one or two other games. Motion controllers were enough fun in and of themselves that all it took to make the Wii the 5th best selling game console of all time was bundling it with a free set of basic minigames. Despite the fact that it was a much less powerful machine than the competing PS3 and XBox 360, not even offering HD output, the Wii spanked both of them in sales numbers. When you compare the novelty value of motion controllers with VR headsets, VR has orders of magnitude more cool than motion controls. Put simply, PSVR is the Wii of the three VR headsets. And it can succeed by shipping with a free collection of rudimentary minigames, à la Wii Sports.