PSVR 2 review: love on a leash - The Verge

2023-02-19 01:40:39 By : Mr. Tracy Tang

By Sean Hollister , Adi Robertson , and Tom Warren

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales Ball Valve Size

PSVR 2 review: love on a leash - The Verge

Sony’s first virtual reality headset, the 2016 PlayStation VR, wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art. Engineers had to retrofit the PlayStation 4 with a converter box to send its graphics to a 1080p smartphone panel, topped with magnifying lenses, to create a fragile illusion of VR. Most games expected you to sit down with a traditional gamepad. If you wanted to reach out and touch, you had to shell out extra for a pair of last-gen PlayStation Move wands — ones that were already six years old when the headset first came out and barely did the job.

The new PlayStation VR2, launching February 22nd for $549, changes all of that.

Sony designed the entire PS5 with this headset in mind — you plug it right into the front with a single USB-C cord. Then, you can walk around an entire room while its built-in cameras measure the real-time position of your head, controller-wielding hands, and eyes so it can adjust a 4K picture to match. The bundled controllers have the same fine haptic motors and motorized resistive triggers as the PS5’s DualSense gamepad, too, and there’s a face-rumbling motor in the headset itself. Touch is no longer an afterthought. 

It’s the first consumer headset to offer eye tracking and the first to arguably offer PC-quality VR without a PC. We like what we see. By we, I mean three of us: the PSVR 2 is a big enough launch in the worlds of gaming and VR that we assigned Sean Hollister, Adi Robertson, and Tom Warren to test it.

But we also agree there’s a big, familiar question mark hanging over the PSVR 2. Will it have the games?  

Before we get into everything we love about the PlayStation VR2 — and our fair share of annoyances — let’s get one thing out of the way. 

When it comes to VR, the PSVR 2 only plays PSVR 2 games. 

It’s not compatible with previous PSVR titles, and you can’t just plug it into a Windows PC and use it with SteamVR or Oculus games, like you can with a $400 Meta Quest 2. Sony could have worked with Valve or Meta to provide additional libraries of content; they’ve been welcoming in the past. Instead, Sony chose to build a new ecosystem from scratch. 

That puts all the pressure on Sony to deliver a lineup of original games that justify the $549 price tag. But we’re not quite seeing it yet — partly because the overwhelming majority of Sony’s launch lineup are ports from other VR headsets and partly because Sony didn’t include some of its most intriguing launch games with our review units. 

The company has been marketing that you’ll be able to play all of Resident Evil Village and most of Gran Turismo 7 in VR on launch day but didn’t give us a chance to test either one. As we write these words, we haven’t yet received codes for Pistol Whip or No Man’s Sky or Pavlov or many other lesser-known launch titles. 

And out of the games we have tried, there’s only a single title that really shows what the PSVR 2 can do: Horizon Call of the Mountain. 

Call of the Mountain — and this is Adi speaking here — is a real, proper game. Its opening threatens the kind of lightly interactive theme park ride that lots of early VR experiences offered, but before long, you’ll be shooting robot dinosaurs and climbing mountains to redeem your protagonist Ryas from his shadowed past. The game takes the bow combat that’s already lots of fun in the main Horizon series and translates it into motion-controlled archery with the Sense controllers, then adds a climbing mechanic that feels directly copied from Crytek’s The Climb series — and I mean that as entirely a compliment.

I’ve written elsewhere that Call of the Mountain feels incomplete, like its designers either sanded down its difficulty to avoid alienating new VR users or didn’t have the bandwidth to fully flesh it out. But it’s a good showcase for the PSVR 2’s capabilities. Its environments are lush, crisp, and gorgeous in a way that I’d almost forgotten VR could do as someone who’s recently focused on the lower-powered Quest.

When you’re grabbing things with the PSVR 2 controllers, they’re more solid-feeling compared to Meta’s Touch controllers, and their layout and accuracy is a dream compared to the original PSVR’s Move remotes. Sony has very smartly adopted the basic layout of the Touch controllers, with a trigger, a grip button, two face buttons, an analog stick, and a menu or share button on each hand. On top of that, it’s added a PlayStation button to the center of each of them, letting you pair the controllers or pull up the homescreen.

Tom and Sean experienced problems like controller drift and inaccurate hand placement, but my experience was generally strong under a range of light conditions, and the controllers’ performance never impeded my gameplay. Tom got a warning about excessive light at one point, so he may have simply been in a room much brighter than mine could get. And I’m not sure how the relative bareness of a space — mine, for the record, is quite cluttered — affects how well the inside-out cameras can find hard edges to track.

That said, the “Sense” aspect felt a little underwhelming. Like Meta’s Touch controllers, the Sense controllers can recognize when your fingers are resting on the buttons or triggers and adjust your virtual hand position accordingly. (If you’re touching the trigger, your character’s index finger is curled, for instance, and if you’re not, it’s pointing outward.) The controller didn’t always seem to register my hand position, and it mapped my fingers in odd ways, like apparently linking my lower fingers’ motion to my thumb so I’d end up making an awkward quasi-peace sign when I moved it. That’s not necessarily a hardware problem, but the experience feels less seamless than, say, Valve’s top-of-the-line Index sensors.

Call of the Mountain makes a great case for eye tracking, though. The game supports foveated rendering, which makes everything in front of you look sharp while reducing computing load by lowering the resolution elsewhere. More obviously, you can select dialog choices with characters by simply looking at an option and hitting a face button instead of swiping around with an analog wheel. It’s so seamless that I almost forgot I was doing it sometimes — and I never want to go back. 

We don’t think Horizon is a good enough reason to buy the PSVR 2, even if the $60 game were bundled with every headset for free. But it’s not the only thing potentially worth playing. 

You can blast your way through Star Wars smugglers in Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, unravel a mystery by creating automatons in The Last Clockwinder, guide a swashbuckling mouse through miniature diorama-like scenes in Moss, and play Tetris while immersed in a literal sea of light and sound. You can replace your arms with tentacles in Tentacular or baseball bats in What The Bat while performing ridiculous laugh-out-loud tasks. 

If you’re prone to getting uncomfortably disoriented like Sean, good news: most of the launch games we tried have precautions to keep that from happening. Many let you move by teleporting to a spot of your choice — which can keep your body from getting confused when you move in the game but not in real life — and narrow your field of view during action scenes. You can turn with your body instead of turning with analog sticks. Horizon even lets you simulate running by pumping your arms up and down, and Sean played multiple hour-long stretches without getting sick. 

That said, five minutes paddling in Kayak VR’s kayaks put Sean out of commission for half a day, and Tentacular does not let you teleport. Turning around in Rez Infinite gave Sean a headache, though it’s possibly optional for the main game mode. Sean also got a twinge in Horizon when he came out of a cutscene and was facing the wrong way. There’s nothing about the PSVR 2 that fixes this; it really depends on the game. 

He also got some light sensitivity headaches, though turning down the headset brightness might help. It defaults to maximum. 

You can play god to a medieval island populace in Townsmen VR, spreading your hands to get close enough to villagers to watch their handiwork or towering above them high enough to manipulate the very clouds. 

You can shoot water and ice from your hands as a high school alien in Cosmonious High or musical lasers from your eyes in Rez Infinite. And in Thumper, you can control “a space beetle screaming towards an insane giant head from the future” — still one of the best taglines ever — while banging your head to the addictive drums. 

Here’s the thing: not a single one of the games I just mentioned is new or exclusive to Sony’s headset. (In fact, some of them are original PSVR games that cost $5-10 to upgrade.) And yet, we think the PlayStation VR2 might be the very best place to play them. 

Not because of the adaptive triggers or face rumble — definitely not the face rumble — or even the eye tracking, which we barely noticed in third-party games. Rather, it’s the simpler stuff, like how the PSVR 2 is the easiest headset to set up, one of the most comfortable, and one that plugs into a console you may already own.

Yes, this headset costs more than the PS5 itself, but the $500 PS5 is more powerful than the median gaming computer; together, it’s a more affordable way to get a better graphical experience than the Quest 2’s mobile VR. Just know that the biggest visual improvements require Sony and other devs to step up. When you’re playing a game like Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge that was built for the Oculus Quest’s mobile chip, you’ll definitely get a sharper image, but the textures and models still look pretty rudimentary compared to a dedicated PSVR 2 game like Horizon. It’s not quite as rough as playing a Nintendo 64 game on the Switch, though.

The ease of use starts the moment you open the box. There’s no new account to create, no setup software to install, no mess of cords. You plug the one USB-C cable into the front of your PS5 and press the power buttons on the headset and each controller. Like with Meta / Oculus headsets, you do have to pair the controllers the first time and define your playspace, but it’s the easiest mapping we’ve ever seen: just turn your head and the PSVR 2’s four cameras automatically scan your room, generating a 3D mesh that turns into a competent (and easily tweakable) 2D map of the floor for each of our testers. Meta makes you do this manually. And — like other modern headsets — the PSVR 2 automatically recognizes that playspace so you don’t need to make a new one at the start of your next session. 

The headset also has fantastic passthrough vision for the price — at any time, you can press a button on the underside of the visor to see a 2000 x 1000-pixel live view of your actual room through the headset’s cameras. It’s not in full color or high-res enough to read print, but it’s fast enough to catch a lobbed ball and clear enough to stab icons on a phone screen. Like Meta’s headsets, it’ll also automatically trigger passthrough vision if you stick your head outside the virtual boundaries you’ve set — but it doesn’t automatically switch on if a family member or pet gets dangerously close, unfortunately. 

If you — like us — are wondering whether Sony collects and stores any data or metadata from the PSVR 2’s cameras, here’s a statement provided by PlayStation rep Mary Taing:

SIE doesn’t record, collect or store photos or videos of PS VR2 users or their homes, nor what the user is seeing in their homes, through the headset’s inside-out cameras or eye tracking cameras. PlayStation VR2’s play area scanning feature does store a set of data points (representing the play area) locally on the user’s PS5 system to maintain an accurate tracking experience. This set of data points is overwritten when a user resets the play area. 

We’re also asking Sony whether it collects any metadata or telemetry about our gaze or the insides of our homes — for instance, Sony could theoretically identify what draws our eye inside the headset, or the shapes of our rooms. Sony doesn’t explicitly spell out any of this in its privacy policies, but you can see here how Meta goes into great detail.

The PSVR 2 is remarkably comfortable. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original PSVR, whose lightweight visor design was so successful it’s been repeatedly copied and even licensed by rivals, but you still get the comfy padded halo with its clicky twist-to-tighten dial. The big silicone eyebox keeps extraneous light out, even around your nose, and easily detaches for cleaning. Like the PS5’s controller, the padding on your forehead and the nape of your neck now contains thousands of tiny PlayStation symbols for added grip. 

The headset’s actually about an ounce and a half lighter than the original PSVR at 560 grams (19.75 ounces) versus 600 (21.2 ounces), but it does feel a little front-heavy — while you can still press a button to slide the whole display away from your eyes to, say, quickly glance down at your phone, it’s asking for a headache to leave that piece extended. But in regular use, the PSVR 2’s a mile more comfortable than the simple fabric headband that comes with the Quest 2 and even a tad better than the Quest 2 with its optional Elite Battery Strap serving as a counterweight. That extra weight up front does have an annoying interaction with another of Sony’s choices, though — the choice to stack Fresnel lenses atop its 2000 x 2040-pixel-per-eye screen. 

Smaller sweet spot, but less lens flare

There’s a lot to love about Sony’s display. The 120Hz OLED pixels are more vibrant and colorful than the LCD panel in, say, the Oculus Quest 2, and they’re incredibly crisp and clear at the center of your view. While there’s no question you’re looking through goggles, the 110-degree field of view is large enough that none of us felt claustrophobic in the slightest. Sony’s Fresnel lenses are remarkably good at dodging god rays, too, something VR headsets that use them have struggled with since the original HTC Vive. We didn’t see nearly as much of that annoying lens flare, perhaps due to Sony’s patented design. 

Instead, Tom, Adi, and I have a different annoyance: we keep finding ourselves adjusting our headsets to stay in the tiny sweet spot where the lenses are clear. It’s way smaller than the sweet spot than the original PSVR, smaller than the Oculus Quest 2, and unless we cinched down tight, the slight amount of sag at the front of the headset was enough to push our eyes into a blurrier region of the lens. The blur when you’re off-center has other side effects, too, like how any white text you see will start rainbowing around the edges — though that’s not unique to this headset. It also means that, even though this headset has awesome eye tracking, some of us ended up turning our head rather than our eyes to get the clearest picture.

The PSVR 2 does now have a dedicated dial to adjust your interpupillary distance (IPD), which should allow a wider range of people to use the headset at all, but it doesn’t fix the off-center issue. (We were fully dialed in.) On a bright note, we didn’t see the lenses fog up at all — there are plenty of vents and an actual fan inside. Then again, we didn’t exactly get to play Pistol Whip or Beat Saber or any other intensive exercise title. We also weren’t able to test with glasses, as none of us wear them, but CNET’s Scott Stein — a friend of The Verge who has attempted to fit his chunky prescription lenses in many a VR headset — says it’s the most glasses-friendly VR headset he’s tried.

The lenses aren’t the only design tradeoff Sony made. To get immersive audio from the headset, you’ll either need to plug wired earphones into the headset’s 3.5mm jack, or use a wireless headset with a USB dongle by plugging it into your PS5. Sony does include a special set of earbuds in the box that barely dangles beneath the headband, and Adi’s a fan — she doesn’t care for how Valve and Meta default to tiny speakers that broadcast your audio to others in earshot. But I, Sean, have yet to meet a wired earbud that doesn’t fall out of my ears, and Sony’s are no exception despite their three different tips. You can plug in your own earbuds, though, and they’ll even fit in the little earbud grabbers Sony built into the back of the display.

Ultimately, I wound up plugging in the same pair of Bose QC35 on-ear headphones I used when testing the original PSVR seven years back, and it worked great. And before you ask, the PS5 still doesn’t support Bluetooth headsets. We checked. 

And while you won’t be babying the VR headset’s battery like we do with our Meta Quests, Sony did decide yet again to put rechargeable internal lithium-ion batteries in its controllers instead of easily swappable AAs. We’re each seeing five to six hours of battery life, and the console warns you about low battery long before they die, so we don’t think it’s a huge deal. Still, it’d be nice to just swap in a new set of rechargeable Eneloops like we can with the Meta Quest instead of independently plugging in two controllers and waiting for them to charge. I guess it sells more docking stations? Sony sent us its $50 one with a couple of charging pin adapters you stick into the USB-C ports, and there’s already a handful of third-party ones on Amazon.

But the biggest tradeoff, of course, is that cord under your feet. 

One specific thing is still tripping up Sony

Each of us has gotten wound up in that 14.7-foot (4.5-meter) cable multiple times over the past week, and while we all felt it catch around our legs long before we landed on a floor, you should know it doesn’t have any kind of quick-detach feature — nothing to keep you from yanking your console right off the entertainment center or bending the USB-C connector. Which one is most likely, you ask? We cut our yank test short after we’d pulled the PS5 off its horizontal stand, hanging precariously off the edge of a shelf. The USB-C plug looks very slightly bent, but it still works. 

That USB-C cable isn’t easily replaceable, by the way — it’s thoroughly integrated into the headband and not user-detachable. But Sony did make that headband a modular component, cable and all, so here’s hoping the company introduces a replacement with a battery-plus-wireless-video module.

Tom here — while we’re talking about our wishlists, I really wish the PSVR 2 officially supported PCs. Sony isn’t officially supporting the PSVR 2 on PC, which means that even though you can get a video signal through its USB-C connector, you’ll still need to wait on someone to build a driver for the inside-out tracking, the haptic features, and perhaps even more.

I tried connecting the PSVR 2 to a PC directly into a USB-C port on an AMD Radeon RX 6800XT GPU, and there are early signs that modders might be able to get this working. Windows picked it up as a second screen and limited the resolution to 1080p, but Steam VR just kept asking me to plug in my VR headset as it couldn’t recognize the PSVR 2.

I’m hopeful that someone might get it working eventually, in much the same way that PSVR has been modded to work on PC. It would be far better if Sony officially supported it, though, particularly with its recent PlayStation PC push. Official support just isn’t there yet, and there’s no sign Sony will ever do it. 

That’s disappointing because, for $549, this would be a really interesting alternative for PC gamers looking at VR headsets.

What else can you do with the PSVR 2?

While the only VR games you can play on PSVR 2 are PSVR 2 games, that’s not all you can play. The headset also doubles as a gigantic virtual flatscreen for your PS5 and PS4 games, plus Blu-rays and streaming media apps. It’s called Cinematic Mode, and it features both HDR and 120Hz playback. 

It’s only 1080p resolution, you can’t mirror to the TV while you’re using it, and the HDR errored out when we tried a 4K Blu-Ray. Also, the PS5 still doesn’t support 3D Blu-Rays, so you can’t play those on the PSVR 2 like you could with the original PSVR. And you can’t use the VR controllers to play PS5 or PS4 games, even though they’ve got most of the same buttons and joysticks. PS4 games like the original Horizon Zero Dawn looked a bit muddy, but it seemed fine for PS5 games like Returnal. We also watched a couple episodes of Netflix that way. It’s definitely not as crisp as a 4K TV, but we might have used it back in our college dorm room days.

Another feature we didn’t get to test: broadcasting with the PSVR 2 plus a PS5 HD Camera. Sony says you can use both together to show your viewers your game and your movements at the same time for a thrilling stream, but it wasn’t available for reviewers. We did record clips from our VR games to the PSVR 2, though. Protip: keep your head in one place because footage gets pretty jerky if you move, and you might want to turn a little bit to the right of what you are trying to film.

“What if the same, but better?” Sony has been successfully asking that question over and over in recent years — with remake after remake, remaster after remaster, of the most beloved games on PlayStation. Now, it’s rebooted its entire virtual reality platform — bringing some of the same games back at four times the resolution, with competitive controllers, roomscale tracking, and new features that developers will hopefully embrace like eye tracking and finger detection, advanced haptic feedback, and adaptive triggers. 

Horizon Call of the Mountain is a small glimpse at what might be possible if Sony or other deep-pocketed developers put their money toward a true full-length made-for-VR game like Half-Life: Alyx. We hope they do.

Still, we want you to know there’s no clear sign those sorts of system seller games are coming — not from Sony and not from other major publishers, either. The launch lineup is primarily composed of indies, like much of VR has been outside of Meta’s walls. And while Sony PlayStation has historically launched its full-fledged consoles with a sparse lineup only to throw big exclusives behind them later, that hasn’t been true of anything else the company has offered, most recently the PlayStation Vita and the original PlayStation VR. Even if we reviewed products on potential — we don’t — it’d be hard to do that with PlayStation accessories because the potential has so rarely panned out.

But Sony has said over 100 PSVR 2 games are in development, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they were simply all indie games and ports. The hardware is good, even with its quirks. We just wish we’d had more time and more games to try — it’s clear that we’ll need to take a second look in the weeks and months after launch. 

Almost every smart device requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

The PlayStation VR2 doesn’t ask you to agree to anything when you plug it in. But you can’t use it without a PlayStation 5 console, which means:

You can also say yes or no to:

That’s two mandatory agreements and one optional.

Update, 12:39PM ET: Added a statement from Sony about how the PSVR 2’s cameras do not “record, collect or store photos or videos of PS VR2 users or their homes”.

Correction February 17th, 2:39AM ET: We originally wrote that you could only get VR audio with wired headsets, but you can also use wireless headsets that plug into the PS5 with a USB dongle. We tested successfully with a SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless.

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PSVR 2 review: love on a leash - The Verge

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