The video game industry would very much like it if VR were A Thing. It’s not. Even on PC, you’ve got intense hardware requirements, several different ecosystems, tons of tinkering, significant space requirements, high prices and all manner of other annoyances keeping the everyperson from hopping on the virtual bus. The tribal nature of the many game and hardware ecosystems means it’s difficult to really establish what’s worth buying and why. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an option that would work right out of the box on standardized hardware without needing too much space or tinkering…
Enter Sony’s PlayStation VR2, the successor to the original PSVR headset, which was released nearly seven years ago on the PS4 – an eternity in tech time. Both of these represent an effort on Sony’s part to make VR accessible to anyone, and while that virtual utopia is still a ways off – you need a PlayStation 5 console, after all – their second-generation hardware is a great step in the right direction.
Let’s get the biggest, most important upgrade out of the way: the PSVR2 doesn’t require four HDMI cables, a weird breakout box and a webcam to set up. It doesn’t even take two cables. No, the PSVR2 connects to your PS5 via a single USB-C cable and it tracks your movement with its own onboard cameras, meaning the PS Eye webcam is no longer necessary either. This is a massive improvement, making the PSVR2 much more accessible as a casual VR option when you just feel like tossing that thing on your head and blasting some zombies or practicing some archery. It’s not quite the wireless solution that we’d all like to eventually see, but it’s a huge step up.
From a practical upgrade this definitely feels like the most significant upgrade, but we should probably also talk about performance and specs. The PSVR2’s cameras run at 4.1 megapixels compared to the original’s 1 megapixel, which combine with the more powerful PS5 to make for a vastly better-looking gameplay experience. The PSVR2 is also capable of impressive new feats like eye-tracking, though my nasty case of strabismus means that I wasn’t really able to get much out of this. It’s a significantly improved device all around.
Perhaps the most noticeable change when it comes to actual gameplay, though, is the new controller setup. Back in the day, you had to use the ancient PS Move magical-girl-wand controllers with the original PSVR. They worked, but were awkward, had poor battery life and that PS Eye webcam wasn’t great at keeping track of them. Now we’ve got the PSVR2 Sense controllers, a pair of ring-shaped doohickeys that skip the webcam in favor of interfacing directly with the PS5 console.
This results in dramatically improved tracking ability, to say nothing of their ability to track the position of your individual fingers as you hold them. This can be a little goofy in practice at times, but it’s generally a huge step up over last-gen efforts…though it must be said the battery life still isn’t great, lasting around three hours on a full charge.
All that said, setup and gameplay are easier, more practical and more pleasant than they are on the original PSVR. You plug in the headset’s single cable, pair the Sense controllers with it and go to town. You can even leave the headset plugged in when it’s not in use, since it uses a secondary port that’s not used for your charging cable. Turn it on, follow the PS5’s tutorial to get your play area and such set up and you’re in business.
Making the magic happen are two gloriously crisp OLED lens (each packing 2000 x 2040 resolution per eye) that immerse you into the experience like few things can. Non-VR titles offer a sort of personal theater effect, allowing you to play pretty much anything you want in your own little space. It’s cute, but definitely a sideshow compared to PSVR2-specific games.
Speaking of that play area, The PSVR2’s a lot more polite than its predecessor. All the games I played supported a sitting mode which is far more reasonable than expecting you to both clear out a giant space in your living room and lock up any pets whenever you want to play. Beyond that, as mentioned, the headset has onboard cameras, so it’s able to become “transparent” to allow you to see and grab your Sense controllers or a drink as needed. This all helps move the paradigm toward VR becoming just something that you do rather than an event you have to prepare for, and it’s a welcome shift indeed.
Games, Games, Games!
How about the games? Well, we’re going to cover them in another post, but let’s spoil things a little bit now: they’re awesome. Unfortunately, to some degree that’s because you’re only going to be playing PSVR2 games. There’s no backwards compatibility with original PSVR titles, though some inexpensive upgrades from original PSVR games are available. It’s understandable why this is the case given the significant differences between the two hardware sets, but if you had an extensive original PSVR collection this is going to be a bummer.
It would be nice to see more games ported to the PSVR2, but as it stands the library’s not bad and you won’t be hurting for stuff to play. Keep in mind the thing just launched so we’ll have to see how much support Sony’s new virtual reality headset attracts, apart from Sony themselves. I’m just hoping we see my beloved RIGS make a return.
So is the PlayStation VR2 worth your hard-earned shekels? Well, it’s certainly a major improvement from the original PSVR, offering significant upgrades in every way that matters. If you want a singular, enjoyable means of checking out what VR can really do in 2023, the PSVR2 is the way to get there. It’s a closed (PlayStation only) ecosystem with games designed specifically for it, high-quality peripherals and some nice bonus features like transparent mode to make the experience more convenient. The price is a bit high, but those thinking about making this purchase probably knew that going in.