Playstation VR 2 review: The headset that VR gaming needed
- Update on Mura, Sweet spot, God-Rays
Playstation VR 2 is the VR headset that can finally make VR gaming grow and become successful. Here's why.
Virtual reality is going through a strange phase right now: the hardware is getting better and better, but the software isn't keeping up. This is especially true for high-quality VR games, and Playstation VR can sing a sad song about the lack of content.
That can and should change now, if Sony has its way. With Playstation VR 2, everything should be better - both the hardware and the games, as the former requires the latter to a certain extent.
Does the plan work? Absolutely, at least in the beginning. Let me explain why.
Playstation VR 2 review in a nutshell
The PSVR 2 is almost perfect for VR gaming: The image is sharp and clear, the colors rich, and the blacks deep. The VR headset is easy to use, and the VR controllers are excellent. With VR games like Horizon Call of the Mountain, there is an immense potential that was previously reserved for PC VR. Not anymore, if substantial AAA VR games are released regularly for Playstation VR 2, a PC is now pretty much unnecessary for VR gaming.
However, the much-praised perfection is tempered by a significant problem that depends on the shape of the user's head. The comfort is wonderful at first, but after about an hour, I developed very uncomfortable pressure points on my forehead. Unfortunately, the forehead pad is not replaceable at this point.
If you don't experience this issue, the PSVR 2 is perfect for you.
Playstation VR 2 is suitable for you if ...
- you want to dive into VR quickly and easily,
- high-quality VR games are important to you,
- a great, sharp picture is expected,
- you want excellent VR controllers,
- and a cable to the Playstation 5 doesn't bother you.
Playstation VR 2 is less suitable for you if ...
- you strictly prefer tetherless VR,
- the total cost of PS5 and PSVR 2 is too expensive for you,
- and you are one of those who have comfort issues with the halo strap.
Configuration, passthrough & eye tracking
Accessibility is key in VR. One of the reasons for the success of the Quest 2 is its ease of use – turn it on, put it on, be in the application you want in seconds, and enjoy it (most of the time) without a hitch.
This was not the case with PSVR. The number of cables, the limited tracking volume, and the clunky Move controllers all detracted from the experience. Sony's second attempt fixes all of these problems and more.
That's because PlayStation VR 2 is super easy to set up. A thin USB-C cable plugs into the front of the PS5, and off you go: The setup starts on the TV and walks me through the process step-by-step. Everything is meticulously and sensibly guided, like when I use passthrough mode to grab the clearly marked Sense controllers.
The passthrough comes from the four inside-out tracking cameras, and while monochrome, is of good quality. Noise and grain are nowhere near as noticeable as on the Quest 2, but I have to get close to a smartphone display to read it. For orientation in physical space, I activate the passthrough camera via a button on the bottom of the VR headset – the passthrough view is perfectly fine.
The VR play area is configured with a camera scan. I can then easily adjust the resulting "play space" with the VR controllers. Of course, I can also use the PSVR 2 comfortably while sitting down if the respective VR game allows it.
The PSVR 2 headset then adjusts the eye distance. A diagram of the VR headset appears in my view, showing the lenses and my eyes as circles tracked by the eye-tracking system. I adjust the lens distance with a dial on the top left of the headset until my eye circles glow blue on the display. The IPD is now set correctly. This should be standard procedure when setting up VR headsets.
Afterward, I calibrated the eye-tracking system by moving my eyes to follow a point over several positions. The eye-tracking works perfectly and can be used, for example, as a selection guide in the menus and dialogs of Horizon Call of the Mountain. Look at the menu or interaction item, press X, and you're done.
PSVR 2: Resolution, colors, refresh rate, field of view & sweet spot
The OLED displays, with their amazing black levels (not just horror fans will love the darkness!), resolve at 2,000 x 2,040 pixels per eye. But it doesn't matter whether a VR headset puts 200 pixels more or less on the screen: What really counts is the overall impression in applications.
My visual experience is excellent: VR games like Horizon, Demeo, and Kayak VR are as clear, sharp, and detailed as I have seen only in the best VR games for PC VR.
This is partly due to the foveated rendering, which means only the image that you focus upon is displayed in full resolution. This also saves computing resources. In my test, this worked perfectly throughout. Even in the hectic and effects-heavy situations of Horizon Call of the Mountain, the performance was always great. The refresh rate of 90 to 120 Hz ensures a smooth, quiet, and pleasant picture.
The colors are rich and consistent, and I didn't notice any color or brightness differences in the pixels (Mura) as well as motion blur. As already mentioned, thanks to the OLED panels, black is black.
Unfortunately, Sony is still using Fresnel lenses instead of modern pancake lenses (see the Quest Pro, for example). At least they have improved the lenses – I did not notice any God-rays during my testing period. Glare, i.e., a ring of light around bright objects, can be found in menus with high-contrast text (white on black). However, I think this is within reasonable limits, at least in the sweet spot of the lenses. In VR games, it fades into the background, and I have to consciously search to notice any glare.
The sweet spot is large enough (see update in this section): I can adjust or move the PSVR 2 a bit when pressure on the forehead becomes uncomfortable. Due to the Fresnel lenses, sharpness decreases towards the edges, and blur increases. However, this is still within acceptable limits and hardly noticeable in VR games.
The field of view of 110 degrees is within the usual range for VR headsets, but the shape of the lenses and the adjustable distance from the face make it appear larger in some cases. For example, if you are not wearing glasses under the PSVR 2 (glasses fit comfortably underneath), you can bring the lenses very close to your face, achieving a slightly larger field of view.
Update 02/25/2023: Even after a few more hours with the PSVR 2, I can't see any Mura (color or brightness differences in the pixels). However, I have to correct the size of the sweet spot, which is quite narrow.
This is more or less noticeable depending on the application: In Horizon, I have the impression that the sweet spot is quite large, and I can adjust the VR headset in between, but in the 2D menus of Gran Turismo 7 VR it is entirely different. Here, the PSVR 2 has to be perfectly positioned for the image to be sharp. I also noticed God Rays - not as strong as in other VR headsets, but they are there. On the other hand, this is not a problem on the tracks and in 'real' VR.
Playstation VR 2: Tracking & Sense Controller
Finally, there's a more versatile and convenient tracking solution. Four inside-out cameras track the headset and Sense controllers. This works very well. A few times, the headset tracking stopped because the lighting in my living room is pretty dim without daylight. You can turn on camera tracking support on the TV, a special image to support the cameras, but I never really needed it.
The Sense controllers' tracking worked flawlessly. I rarely experienced tracking dropouts, and almost always when the VR controllers moved out of the camera's field of view, such as when I was frantically reaching over my shoulder for too long or repeatedly. Dropouts during archery in Horizon, which I experienced during my play date at Sony, did not occur at all during my testing.
Battery life is about five to six hours, and recharging is fast, taking only about 30 minutes to an hour.
The Sense controllers sit well in my hand. Certain movements and simultaneous button pressing in Horizon Call of the Mountain caused me to occasionally hit the PlayStation button and end up in a menu in the middle of the action.
The haptics of the Sense controllers are fantastic. Adaptive triggers and finely tuned vibration add to the immersive experience. Haptic support is also provided by the Halo strap's front head support, which contains a vibration motor. This works well in VR games. For example, when a mechanical dinosaur stomps along above me in Horizon Call of the Mountain, the vibration on my head simulates the shock waves. However, this seems to have been achieved at the expense of comfort.
PSVR 2: Wearing comfort
By pressing the button on the back of the Halo head mount, I can pull the mount wide open and easily place the PSVR 2 on my head. I use the dial on the back of my head to tighten it. Another button on the right top of the headset lets me move the visor towards my face, similar to the first PSVR. A lightweight rubber face mask keeps the light out.
I didn't think it was possible, but comfort is still an issue for me. The PSVR has one of the most comfortable head mounts around, and Sony did well to bring back the Halo mount for the PSVR 2. It's also wonderfully comfortable for the first 45 to 60 minutes, and those with the right head shape probably won't have any problems beyond that.
After about an hour, exactly two pressure points appear on my forehead, which feels very uncomfortable. Right at the "forehead edges," the support presses so hard, regardless of the firmness I select with the Halo mount's dial, that these pressure points are still visible and sometimes palpable long after a VR session.
This may be due to the relatively rigid and unpadded interior behind the silicone forehead support. There is no foam or sponge between the silicone and the plastic grid or haptic elements, presumably to better transmit the vibrations. However, this also means that some areas are constructed of hard materials which, combined with the weight of the visor, presses on my forehead bones and leads to very uncomfortable pressure points.
You can see some of what the new forehead pad looks like in Sony's video of the Playstation VR 2 being completely dismantled (the video starts at the point where the front head support is taken apart).
I have not yet found a solution to this problem. I can move or adjust the PSVR 2 a little, but this only works for a short time. Hopefully, there will be replaceable cushions in the future.
I could have done without the haptic gimmick on the head, preferring the original PSVR headband, which is much more comfortable.
Sound & Software
Sound is fed in via the 3.5 mm jack on the back of the Halo. Integrated speakers would have been nice, but if you're like me and play directly in front of your TV and sound system, it's no issue at all. If you want to be completely immersed, you can use separate headphones or the included in-ear headphones, which attach directly to the back of the Halo on a bracket that is as practical as it is clever. Sony has done this perfectly.
Those familiar with the PS5 will find the software straightforward to use, and others will learn quickly. Eye-tracking configuration is fast and easy by using the accessory settings. The play area and many other options can also be changed or adjusted at any time.
If you like, you can play flat games or watch films and videos (note: 3D Blu-Ray is not supported as far as I know!) with the PSVR 2 in Cinema mode on a large virtual screen. However, the maximum resolution of the virtual screen is only 1080p.
Playstation VR 2 and privacy
Sony makes it clear in its terms and conditions that data can be used and shared with third parties. Much of this is standard, for example, when using services that require a login, such as the Playstation Store. In the device settings of the Playstation 5, there are options such as agreeing or disagreeing with the processing of personal content.
Sony has not been involved in any data protection scandals and, as far as I know, complies with country-specific data protection laws. Nevertheless, it must be clear to everyone that more personal data than usual can be collected and processed through the use of VR headsets.
Playstation VR 2 review summary: This VR headset can finally make VR gaming big
Let's start with the big downside. Comfort can be a problem for some people. Why Sony didn't think of an interchangeable cushion for the front head support is a mystery to me. In general, some VR headset manufacturers need to wake up since "One size fits all" doesn't work for VR headsets; heads and head shapes are too different. That is why modularity and interchangeability should be possible, especially for head mounts and face masks.
That being said, the Playstation VR 2 is an excellent VR headset that has the chance to finally bring VR gaming into the living room on a bigger scale. While Quest 2 does not allow for graphically complex games, and PC VR is clearly too expensive and often far too complex for the average consumer, high-end VR games are now possible for around $1,000, including a Playstation 5.
With Horizon Call of the Mountain, Sony has proven that games like Half-Life: Alyx are possible on platforms apart from PC VR. Why buy an expensive PC when you can get the same or better VR experience with Sony's system?
Sony has opted for custom Fresnel lenses rather than more expensive pancake lenses, which is a good compromise. What matters is that the picture on the PSVR 2 is great. Almost more important is the accessibility of the system. Switch on your Playstation 5, put on the headset, and you're ready to go. Currently, there isn't a quicker or easier way to immerse yourself in a high-end VR experience.
Another big plus for the Playstation VR 2 is that others can comfortably watch the action on the TV, making VR gaming more social. This is more difficult with PC VR and Quest, as it often requires a separate setup or configuration.
All in all, I am very excited about the PSVR 2. Next, Sony "just" needs to release great VR games on a regular basis and especially in the long term. If they do, I have no doubt that the PSVR 2 will significantly expand the VR audience and turn VR from a niche technology into a serious and lucrative factor in the entertainment market.
Now I just have to figure out how to get rid of the pressure points on my forehead.