PlayStation VR has a great price attached to it – $399 USD. Granted that’s just for the core unit and not with the PlayStation Camera needed to actually use the virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), but it’s still half the cost of the HTC Vive without half as many compromises as you might expect for the price difference. That is at least in terms of the unit itself; PlayStation VR is an impressive piece of VR hardware, but it’s hard to escape the fact that the system it’s appearing on, PlayStation 4, is letting the side down somewhat.
There’s no denying that Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE’s) latest home console is a powerful bit of kit, but it’s lagging behind the ‘VR Ready’ PCs that Oculus VR and HTC are touting for use with their products. Sure, PlayStation VR is offering incredibly compelling experiences such as Battlezone and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League that prove it’s no slouch, but the gap between PC and console VR is only going to grow from this point on.
Unless the rumoured PlayStation 4.5/PlayStation 4K has something to say about it, that is.
Multiple respected outlets, including Kotaku, Wall Street Journal and Digital Foundry, are stating that this updated, more powerful console is real, and could even be announced in the very near future. It’s been reported that the console will be positioned to help introduce 4K resolution gaming to the mass market, even if some sources are stating that it won’t be powerful enough to truly deliver on that promise. Even if that’s the case, though, VR fans would gladly accept any additional power to help improve the PlayStation VR experience.
VR depends on high performance to make experiences as comfortable and immersive as possible. Oculus VR has set a minimum of 90fps for titles running in the Oculus Rift, and SCE is aiming to at least match that with 90Hz and 120Hz options on PlayStation VR. Hardware-wise, even 60fps can be a struggle for PlayStation 4, though, which is SCE has employed a ‘reprojection’ technology to help developers reach 120fps while only running natively at 60fps on console. With an upgraded PlayStation 4, however, it could be that developers can hit these goals with greater ease.
This could be a vital step in convincing some developers to create content for PlayStation VR. When SCE announced a new Star Wars: Battlefront experience for the kit, for example, many wondered how EA and DICE would replicate the visually-stunning title inside VR while delivering an improved frame rate. This could well be the answer.
There’s a potential risk with market fragmentation, though. It didn’t take long for the first iteration of Samsung’s mobile HMD, Gear VR, to fall behind its successors, for example, as they ran on more powerful phones. It would be a shame to see PlayStation VR go this way, only offering some high end experiences to players with the better console.
It also puts a dent in the affordability of PlayStation VR. If the new console costs more than the current $350 model then SCE has less room to play its price card, even if it is still notably cheaper than PC-based VR. There’s also added cost the 36 million people that already own a PlayStation 4 if they want the superior VR experience.
PlayStation 4.5, if real, is a huge gamble on SCE’s part. But if the company pulls it off then this could be of huge benefit to PlayStation VR. We now know when the VR HMD is coming up, but these recent rumours have created bigger questions than ever.