VR: Pulling the trigger

In my last post I talked about my dreams of VR and worries that if I waited too long to invest, I’d be too old to really enjoy the technology.

Mind you, I own Playstation VR so I had an inkling of what I was missing out on. PSVR is a solid enough system for what it costs but it has some technical limitations, and it’s not super convenient for me. (If you have a dedicated gaming room or live alone you won’t have the same issues.)

So I was thinking about this waiting game I’ve been playing when I set up the PSVR to sample No Man’s Sky in VR. I was a fan of No Man’s Sky when everyone was losing their shit over ‘broken promises’ and so forth, and I’m still a fan today. I was excited about the VR mode.

I wasn’t disappointed by the VR patch, but it does really stress PSVR. It’s like there’s a fog on your space helmet’s visor and anything more than 10 yards or so away appears as a blurry blob of pixels. The PS4 just isn’t powerful enough to support the game the way it should be supported. Still, it was enough to show me how well NMS works in VR.

That’s when I pulled the trigger. Is it crazy to spend $400 to play one game? I guess it depends on how much you love the game. Plus I knew it wouldn’t be the ONLY VR game I played.

So I ordered the Oculus Rift S in spite of reading a lot of posts about issues with MSI laptops (which I have). My superstitious side doesn’t even want to write these words, but so far I’ve had no significant problems.

There is a huge jump in quality going from PSVR to the Rift S (as you’d expect, given the price and age of the two systems). The inside-out tracking (instead of external cameras/sensors pointing at the visor, the visor has cameras looking out at the environment) is about 1000 times easier to deal with than the PSVR’s fussy camera.

So far I’ve found VR using this system very comfortable. I can wear the visor for long periods of time without any hint of simulation sickness, though physically I don’t find the Rift S as comfortable as PSVR (I’m still playing around with the proper way to wear it, though).

I still struggle to clear enough room to be really comfortable with “room sized” VR (Rift needs a 3′ by 3′ clear area and we need a larger apartment) but I played No Man’s Sky sitting in a swivel chair for quite some time and it was amazing. Hello Games has done a great job.

It’s early days yet (I got the system on Friday) but so far no regrets. I know the technology will get better and the Rift S will be obsolete soon enough, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now I’m really happy I took the plunge. I’m not getting any younger, y’know.

Why I (finally) canceled my Playstation VR pre-order

I pre-ordered Playstation VR (PSVR) as soon as I was able to do so. I guess that was back in June. On Sunday, just days before it shipped, I decided to cancel that pre-order.

There are a lot of ‘satellite’ reasons why I canceled it: the HDR pass-through issue I mentioned in my last post and the amount of money I’ve spent and am spending on other things this fall (a new TV and a PS4 Pro) being two of them.

But what finally changed my mind was stopping to consider how much of an impact PSVR would have on our living room. Setting it up would mean digging out the Move controllers and a charging stand for them and re-positioning the Playstation Camera which is currently mounted on the wall above the TV. I’d have to free up a power outlet for the Processing Unit (the PS4 is on a UPS and I’m out of battery-backed up slots, but if the PU isn’t on battery then the PS4 may as well not be either), and I’d have to find a place to store the rather large visor and its 10′ of cable when I wasn’t using it. It’s just a lot of ‘stuff’ to integrate into the room.

And that would be fine if I thought I’d be using it a lot, but considering I’d probably have to move the furniture to use it (definitely would for standing experiences, probably would for sitting and using a dual shock…might not for sitting and using the Move controllers which you’d probably hold up higher) and considering that most of the software offerings in this first batch seem more like “Things it would be cool to try” rather than “Things I’d want to play every day.”

Driveclub VR was the one game that seemed like something I’d want to play on a consistent basis and to really get the full experience I’d have to buy a Wheel to go with it.

So $400 and a re-configuration of the living room all became too much of a barrier to entry for me. I’m not really much of a PC gamer but I think VR kind of belongs in the office with the PC, not in the living room. At least not until they can offer a wireless experiences. Oculus has announced a new headset that has half the PC processing requirements of the current Oculus so maybe that’ll be the way to go (my current PC isn’t beefy enough for VR).

Or maybe PSVR will grow into something with a library of games I really want to play, and if so I can always revisit my decision then. Don’t really need to be there day 1. I’ve more than done my fair share of “early adoptering” over the years!

It didn’t help to see a video of the 3 guys from Digital Foundry talking about PSVR. While they were all pretty impressed with how well it works given the limitations of the hardware and the relatively low cost, none of them said they’d actually buy it with their own cash, and one pointed out he had a Rift and after the novelty wore off he didn’t use it much. Then there was the EP.Net review where Victor Lucas laid all the parts on the table; that really illustrated how many pieces there are to this rig. (I’ll embed these videos below.)

So while I hope PSVR does well and that I come to regret my decision, I’ll spend this fall playing conventional games at higher-than-1080-but-less-than-true-4K resolutions on my PS4 Pro. Next spring I’ll take another look at PSVR and see if early adopters are still using it and if we’re still seeing good support for it. Then I’ll re-evaluate my decision.

Sony slips old tech issues into a new-fangled gadget (PSVR)

Next week Sony’s Playstation VR launches. VR is in a funny place right now. After TONS of chatter leading up to the oft-delayed launch of the Oculus Rift, and to a lesser extent the HTC Vive, gaming and tech sites have kind of stopped talking about VR now that it is widely available. Here comes Sony to see if its solution can get more mainstream traction than the Oculus or Vive have.

Today Sony posted a FAQ about PSVR and revealed a major issue with the technology, at least for some of us. The PSVR doesn’t pass through HDR signals.

Now let me explain that in case you haven’t been following the product.

First, if you don’t have an HDR TV this won’t impact you yet, but your next TV will probably support HDR, unless you’re buying in the next few months and going low-end.

PSVR consists of two parts: the visor and a small box they call the “Processing Unit (PU).” To hook it up you run an HDMI cable from your PS4 to the PU and then run two HDMI cables out of the PU. One goes to the visor and the other goes to your TV, for the ‘social screen’ (which allows async MP or lets people in the room see what you are seeing) and for non-PSVR content.

Now let’s talk about HDR. You might have used HDR on your cell phone to take photos, and HDR on TVs is similar but apparently not quite the same thing. Honestly I’m no techie when it comes to TV. But I do have a 4K HDR-capable TV and I can tell you that in certain scenes (outdoor scenes in particular) HDR makes your TV seem like it’s a window. The lighting is so realistic if feels like you can reach into it. (Mind you, the content you’re watching has to be coded to provide an HDR signal.)

The problem with HDR is that you have to see it in person to appreciate it. I can’t take a screenshot of my HDR TV and give it to you. If you have an HDR display you already know what I mean, and if you don’t, you couldn’t see the effect. It’s kind of like 3D in that way. Just trust me that if you have an HDR display you probably want to take advantage of it.

OK so NOW let’s talk about the Playstation 4 Pro. When it was announced in early September Sony talked a LOT about how it was 4K and HDR compatible, and there were a lot of interviews with developers who said that for them, HDR was more important than 4K. For one thing, HDR doesn’t require a lot of additional processing power so it has a low impact on the performance of a game. Sony even patched HDR capability into the standard PS4. So yay Sony is excited about HDR gaming! (Microsoft is as well, their new Xbox One S supports HDR and already there are games, such as Forza Horizon 3, that take advantage of it…in this way Microsoft is ahead of Sony in HDR terms.)

Sony wants you to experience the wonder of HDR….unless you’re a PSVR user. Because if you have PSVR hooked up, any HDR signal coming from your PS4 is going to hit the PSVR PU and die. You’ll still see a picture, it just won’t be an HDR picture. Basically PSVR removes a feature that Sony just patched into all PS4s and is including (and promoting heavily) in PS4 Pro.

So if you have a PS4 and want to enjoy both PSVR and HDR content, you’re going to have to disconnect the PU every time you want to watch something in HDR. This is not only an inconvenience (whether a major or a minor one depends on your home theater set up and how easy it is to access the back of your PS4 or TV) but it is going to put a lot of strain on your HDMI ports. Think about how many times you plug or unplug an HDMI cable in a given year. Four or five maybe? Now imagine doing it every day. HDMI ports are fairly delicate, not only the port itself but the solder connecting them to circuit boards inside your device. Constant plugging and unplugging is going to wiggle those solder connections and greatly increase the chance that they will fail. Expect a lot of broken PS4s in households that own PSVR and an HDR TV.

Some have suggested a splitter. Take the output from the PS4, split it and run one side to the TV and the other to PSVR and then to TV. Couple problems with that solution. First it requires 2 HDMI ports on your TV or A/V Receiver. Second you need to make sure the HDMI switch supports HDR: many do not. Third, of the ones that do apparently a lot of them default to the lowest common denominator. In other words the switch would detect that PSVR’s PU doesn’t support HDR so it would disable HDR to both outputs.

Any way you slice it, it’s a problem and a big one for those of us who want both the best TV picture and the experience of PSVR. The best solution I can come up with is getting a PS4 Pro for your regular games and leaving the old PS4 as the PSVR console, but of course then you miss out on the added horsepower that the PS4 Pro would bring to PSVR.

I’m so disappointed that Sony screwed this particular pooch. I was kind of excited for PSVR (weird because I never got that excited about Oculus) but now I’m thinking I might cancel my pre-order and wait for a future iteration that offers better support for modern TV technology.

I guess I should be thankful that Sony didn’t keep this shortcoming secret until after the first units shipped.