A few years ago, when various VR rigs were slowly emerging from mad-scientist laboratories and into the light of the mainstream press, many in the gaming community were deeply excited about the possibilities of virtual reality gaming. A technology that had once seemed like unattainable science fiction was suddenly within the reach of consumers. Personal jet-packs and hoverboards may never arrive, but our culture has indeed achieved Virtual Reality.
Yet upon release, daunting price points, the specter of motion-related nausea, and the lack of “premium” VR titles conspired to throw a bucket of ice water on everyone’s Lawnmower Man dreams. For some, the reality of VR was far less appealing than the fantasy.
But for a subset of the PlayStation fanbase (and Sony themselves), the dream has been kept alive. Despite the lack of mainstream adoption and the naysaying of many in the gaming press, Sony forged stubbornly ahead. By encouraging indie developers to stretch themselves with smaller VR experiences, while simultaneously iterating on established gameplay techniques with its own internal studios, Sony PlayStation VR has scored a series of tremendous wins in recent months.
With PlayStation VR’s second birthday just behind us, it would seem that Sony’s continued devotion to its virtual reality system/peripheral has finally begun to pay off. While there have been standout (albeit lesser-known) titles available for PS VR since launch, a recent tidal wave of quality content has served to bring more mainstream attention to Sony’s headset. One by one, critics of PlayStation VR seem to have muffled their criticisms a bit, with most at least admitting that – yeah – Astro Bot is pretty cool.
For longtime fans and supporters, the future of PS VR looks bright. Games like Firewall: Zero Hour and Creed: Rise to Glory have established lasting online communities, and Tetris Effect is suddenly showing up in Game of the Year discussions. With the PS VR library elevated from “kinda cool” to “must have”, this may be the holiday season that finally brings PS VR to the mainstream.
But what lays over the horizon for PlayStation VR? While Sony has obviously gone all-in on games for the system, beyond a slight hardware change early on, the headset has remained very much the same over its two years on the market. Will Sony continue iterating on their expensive sub-system?
All indications are that, yes, Sony is going to continue developing and refining tech for the VR market. At this point, it is safe to assume that with the arrival of the PlayStation 5, we will also at some point see a “PS VR 2”. With much credit due to sites like UploadVR and VentureBeat for regularly doing the dirty work, digging into Sony’s Japanese patents, translating them and posting them online, we’ve been able to put together a pretty good overview of what the future might hold for PS VR, and what a “PlayStation VR 2” might entail.
Higher resolution…much higher
Strapping on an Oculus Rift for the first time was a revelation. While we knew that Sony’s VR offering ran with a lower resolution, we were not prepared for the massive difference in clarity. We had been Stockholm-syndromed by the PS VR, just accepting that VR content has the “screen door” effect. Eventually, your mind learns to filter it out.
But a patent filed by Sony-backed Japan Display in the Spring of 2018 indicates that the PS VR 2 might run at a much higher resolution than any other VR rig on the market.
Resolution in VR rigs is measured in PPI (pixels per inch). The current PS VR runs at a lowly 386 PPI. Rift has 461 PPI, and the new HTC Vive Pro currently has the sharpest resolution at 615 PPI. Japan Display’s patents show two new display configurations, one running with 803 PPI, and one with 1,001 PPI. This would represent an enormous improvement in image quality over the highest end headsets on the market.
In an image released by Japan Display, one can clearly see the differences, with even the lower 803 PPI display showing a massive improvement in image quality. It is highly likely that the PS VR 2 will have virtually eliminated the “screen door” effect.
Get rid of these damn Move controllers
Sony’s Move controllers were initially released in 2010 for use with the PlayStation 3. Considered by many to be Sony’s response to the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls, the Move controllers were quickly dismissed as a novelty. However, the Moves refused to die.
When the time came for the release of the PS VR, Sony probably realized that rather than develop new controllers, they could save a boatload of cash by simply bundling in a couple of Move controllers. And for a time, “good enough” has been good enough.
However, this created all sorts of problems for game development, not the least of which was the complete lack of an analog stick on the Move controllers. This deficiency left many developers with the need to accommodate both the Move controllers and the Duel Shock 4, essentially creating multiple locomotion systems for the same games.
Though Sony showed that they are working on the problem with the release of the far superior Aim controller, the Aim is geared primarily towards shooters. The Aim is a great controller, but it is unwieldy for games not involving holding a gun in your hands.
Luckily, new patents show that Sony has been working on the controller issue. After patenting and then seemingly rejecting a design for glove controllers, Sony moved forward with a second patent for an ergonomically designed hand-held controller.
Losing the big light bulbs at the tip, these new controllers look much more sleek and modern. With a strap to hold them in place, the controllers feature a trigger button and a cornucopia of face buttons. Most importantly, though, is the fact that each controller has an analog stick on it, enabling games with smooth locomotion.
New controllers will solve a number of problems for the PS VR, not the least of which is removing the need to constantly switch out USB cords to charge the wretched things.
Internal cameras/wireless functionality
While no patents have been filed for internal cameras (that we could find, anyway), it is a reasonable assumption that Sony would look to make the PlayStation VR 2 wireless and somewhat self-contained. One of the primary complaints that arose about the PS VR has been “all of the cords”. With self-contained systems like the Oculus Quest already on the market, VR enthusiasts will soon expect and demand that their VR rigs no longer be tethered to a stationary system by a complex system of wires.
Sony already has strong audio and video streaming technology at its disposal (Vita/PS4 Remote Play, anyone?). However, using this sort of streaming tech for VR would require a very strong and steady home Wi-Fi signal. To perform in VR, Sony would have to be simultaneously streaming two high resolution video images at a very high framerate to the headset. This indicates that home Wi-Fi signals might not be the best solution, and Sony might pursue a proprietary data streaming method.
By putting cameras in the headset looking out (as opposed to being stationary and looking at the headset), motion controls and head movement could be tracked by the unit itself, eliminating the need to be attached to an external camera. This seems to be the way the market is trending, and there is no reason to think that Sony won’t follow suit.
Improved nausea prevention tactics
Sony already filed a patent in 2017 for a crazy-ass system of biometric sensors and meters aimed at combating VR sickness. With a feature list a mile long, this patent looked more like Sony was throwing everything they could think of at the wall to see what would stick.
Features like glucometer/insulin sensors, spirometers, electroencephalography (EEG meters) and more, this patent has us wondering if Sony wants to just go ahead and stick needles into our brain stems and inject us straight into the Matrix.
With further research, Sony will likely scale back on some of the more outlandish features listed. But, as someone whose organs turn to liquid if I try to look in one direction while moving in a different direction in VR, it is reassuring to know that Sony is doing their best to combat VR sickness. It will be interesting to see what final improvements they come up with for PlayStation VR 2, and how effective those measures turn out to be.
Look, we acknowledge that the number of households that will be willing in invest in more than one high-end VR headset might be a little limited. That said, we must also take the time to beat on the “VR multiplayer is awesome” drum.
As anyone that has played PS VR games like Rec Room or Korix can tell you, being in a shared online space with other VR players is an incredible feeling. VR is able to capably impart the illusion that you are standing right next to someone, even if in reality you are alone in a dark room. We often use VR to spend time with friends and relatives that are thousands of miles way. But there is one VR experience that has yet to be successfully implemented in the home: local multiplayer.
Now relegated to theater spaces and empty mall storefronts, multiplayer VR arcades can allow groups of users to enter shared spaces and see each other in the VR space. This allows groups of friends to battle aliens and ghosts without bashing into each other. Combined with the appropriate amount of space and wireless headsets, having this experience in the home would be incredible.
Sony recently filed a patent that would allow for multiple VR users to play in the same space, though it is very unclear as to whether these players would be mobile or safely seated to keep from harming each other.
While local multiplayer seems to be the least likely of the items on our wish list, what the hell, it’s a wish list. We can wish for whatever we want.
Games, games, games
The higher processing power of a new PlayStation would go an awfully long way to improving the PS VR experience. While some games are visually impressive, many of them do feature a visual aesthetic that might best be called “PS2-ish”. With the ability to ramp up the visuals, new gameplay possibilities come to mind.
There are still many genres that have yet to be tackled in the VR space. A true, honest-to-goodness MMORPG is probably the most glaring omission from the PS VR library, but there are plenty of other games that could be implemented as the technology advances.
The brief but tantalizing dip into the Star Wars universe that was patched into Battlefront offered some insight into the power of allowing players to dance around in the worlds of beloved licensed properties. VR has barely scraped the surface of the sports world. Skyrim VR whet the appetites of the gaming public for true open world games in the VR space. The possibilities are truly limitless.
What we do know is that Sony will have to come out of the gate swinging, with a strong offering of core games. If it unlikely that Sony’s shareholders would be willing to endure another slow start like the one PS VR had.
The future is a mystery, but it’s fun to imagine
No one but Sony knows for sure what the future holds for PS VR. But one thing is for certain – VR is gaining steam. Perhaps it is taking longer than anyone expected, but the train is slowly leaving the station. The technology is still in its infancy, and while it will be a while before gamers are running around the real world version of OASIS, we are taking baby steps in that direction.
The best way to support VR development is to get on board now. The more money spent on VR today, the more money goes into refining the awesome sci-fi solutions of tomorrow. With Black Friday right around the corner, PS VR prices have never been better. Jump on board with us, and make a wish-list of your own.
What would you like to see in the next iteration of PS VR? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!