Over the course of the previous two entries in VRFocus’ ‘VR vs.’ series, we have looked the two platform holders that are yet to announce their own virtual reality (VR) headsets, discussing the likelihood of Microsoft and Nintendo getting involved in the scene, and the challenges they would both face. Of course, their other rival, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) already has its own VR device in Project Morpheus for the PlayStation 4. But with the device still in its prototype stages and set to go up against the Oculus Rift on ever-evolving PC hardware, SCE still has plenty of hurdles ahead of it if its exciting experiment is to turn into consumer sensation.
There’s no denying that SCE has done right by VR at this early stage. Revealed during the 2014 Game Developers Conference last March, Project Morpheus was introduced in a modest fashion, with its designers talking pros and cons of the technology rather than suited executives making sweeping statements and impossible promises. The company acknowledged Oculus VR’s work with the Oculus Rift, and has been keen to praise their work since, even revealing that the two outlets sample each other’s technology from time to time.
But there will inevitably come a time when this peaceful co-existence turns into more of a rivalry. At the end of the day, both companies will be gunning for our money. Both devices are likely to cost in their hundreds and consumers aren’t likely to want to spend that much money on essentially the same headset twice. Oculus Rift designer Palmer Luckey has already noted that he believes his kit to be in better shape than Project Morpheus at this point. There’s going to come a time when SCE will need to bite back to get people to pick up its device.
Of course, even with that rivalry in-waiting, co-existence will indeed be possible. One of Project Morpheus’ biggest blessings is that it’s set to appeal to its already-dedicated PlayStation 4 install base. Yes, this is also a curse in that it limits just what the device will be able to do, especially as PC hardware continues to outgrow the PlayStation 4, but it gives Project Morpheus a feeling of accessibility that the Oculus Rift doesn’t quite possess. Consoles in their very nature offer a convenient and dedicated way for consumers to play videogames, and Project Morpheus can use this to its advantage.
That being said, how long the device can remain relevant poses a huge issue. The current iteration of the headset is nearly feature-complete with the second development kit for the Oculus Rift (DK2), bar the OLED screen that grants the latter low persistence technology. No doubt SCE will want to have Project Morpheus up to scratch with the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift, but Oculus VR has made it clear that it won’t be stopping there. We can expect to see the Oculus Rift iterated on as the years go by, offering hardware upgrades and unique new features that will push VR far beyond what we’re seeing today.
Is SCE really in a position where it can do the same? Will PlayStation 4 owners be as willing to purchase multiple versions of the same headset, and wouldn’t doing so start to fragment compatibility? Looking at the platform’s peripheral history suggests that the first version of the device is here to stay; the PlayStation Move motion controller, various cameras and more have all remained the same throughout their respective life spans. In fact, PlayStation Move has even transitioned from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4 without any internal tech upgrades. Looking at it this way, Project Morpheus runs the risk of being left behind just a few years after launch. No doubt a new version could arrive with the next PlayStation, but we’re not going to be talking about that until well after the Oculus Rift has been iterated upon.
Maybe that’s all Project Morpheus is really destined to be; an accessible, entry-level VR headset that will suit console players fine and perhaps inspire a few to move onto PC with the Oculus Rift in time. That’s not to say the depth and quality of experiences will be lacklustre; we’re sure that it will remain a state of the art piece of kit for its first few years of availability. Indeed, if SCE can release experiences with the visual fidelity of E3 2014’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End trailer then we’re sure to see fulfilling VR experiences on the platform for years to come. But even as we prepare for the consumer launches of these headsets, hopefully within the next year, we can’t help but look to the future. The Oculus Rift is set to evolve with its PC hardware, while Project Morpheus could well be left behind on the PlayStation 4.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.