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Could Sony's VR headset cripple virtual reality's potential?

It's fun to think about virtual reality's best-case scenario: a theoretical future in which we all run around in living rooms that have treadmill floors, immersed in whatever types of gaming experiences only VR can offer. But that's a long ways off. The Oculus Rift still isn't available to consumers, and even when it launches, it'll be a PC-only peripheral, leaving the massive console crowd out of the picture entirely. Even the PS4 and Xbox One, according to Oculus VR CEO Palmer Luckey, are "too limited" to support the device. Sony, however, thinks the PS4 is a perfect machine for virtual reality. According to our pals at TechRadar, Sony is set to unveil its very own virtual reality headset for the PS4 during this year's Game Developers Conference in March. And while this could be exciting news for VR's future, it also has the potential to cripple its long-term growth.

First, let's start with why Luckey believes VR--or the Oculus Rift, specifically--isn't well-suited for console gaming. As he told TechRadar, creating convincing, immersive VR programs requires that the hardware in question be able to render high resolutions at more than 60 frames per second in 3D. That automatically cuts last-gen consoles from the list of platform options. It also puts a damper on the Xbox One, where developers have struggled to deliver 1080p performances. In this regard, the PS4 seems to be the only possible option in the current console space. BUT! Luckey expects that the jump in VR tech over the next five years is going to be massive, and he argues that quality VR--that is, virtual reality which provides the type of experiences we all think about when we imagine what games will look like 60 years from now--can only exist on platforms that aren't closed. Thus: PC is its future.

So what does this have to do with Sony's alleged upcoming announcement? I'd argue that a PS4 VR headset could have a surprisingly large impact on virtual reality's future. I think that initially, it'll be a good thing. I love PC gaming, but it's a scientific fact proven by scientists that there are far more console gamers than there are people willing to shell out $800 to build a mid-ranged gaming machine. The PS4 is selling like crazy, and if this continues, Sony will likely have a rather large install base to tap into once its VR headset is available--not to mention a bank vault capable of financing the operation. Assuming Sony takes its time developing a set that is lightweight, comfortable, and capable of supporting experiences at least on par with those in development for the Oculus Rift, I suspect the next few years for VR will be very exciting indeed. Just thinking about playing the next [insert AAA shooter here] in virtual reality has me all shades of pumped. Of course, if this hypothetical headset flops, Sony also risks prematurely damaging the public's perception of what VR can accomplish. The last thing virtual reality needs is to be written off as a gimmick yet again.

But let's look past the short term. As time goes on, VR experiences will outscale the processing power of the PS4's hardware. I know, I know, that sounds silly at this exact point in time--these are brand-new consoles we're talking about. But remember: Luckey's not even bothering with consoles because their potential is hard-capped. We've written before about how next-gen consoles are being held back by their last-gen counterparts, but PC enthusiasts are quick to point out that games in general are held back by closed platforms with locked-in specs--aka gaming consoles.

So, if Sony's VR headset is accepted with open arms by the gaming community, and it sells enough units to kick VR game development off in full swing, then virtual reality will have officially arrived. But what does that mean for VR's future seven years from now, when its possibilities are bottlenecked by hardware that can't evolve to support them? To keep VR delegated only to the PC space is admittedly a selfish notion--it's entirely possible that the Oculus Rift alone isn't enough to get things going. But I can't help but think that, ultimately, my PC is where I'll be headed when it comes time to explore a game world from a true first-person perspective.

18 comments

  • shawksta - February 25, 2014 6:37 p.m.

    Im really curious to see if VR has any type of use outside First Person games, because frankly thats the genre it seems to only support the most.
  • Galgomite - February 24, 2014 11:28 a.m.

    I know a couple people with an Oculus and their specs are mid-range. PS4 probably has them beaten in graphics power. If there's a danger, it's making the VR peripheral too quickly/ cheaply and alienating people. They shouldn't release unless they have killer games to sell with it, but everyone who's tried Oculus loves it. Survival horror heart attack scandals are just around the corner.
  • Trioptical - February 22, 2014 5:41 p.m.

    I know the conventional wisdom is that consoles hold back gaming, but would gamers all really have the top of the line PCs if there were no consoles? If anything, it's money that holds back PC gaming, or games technology in general. If only people just made stuff because they wanted to, just to have that stuff exist, then there'd be no hold ups over how many units can be sold, and such. If only....
  • PhantomPineapple - February 22, 2014 6:28 p.m.

    Will not ever happen. Game Designers need to eat too. There would be no reason for anyone to build new game engines also. Video game market would tank and we would get nowhere. Plus competition over a consumers dollar is what moves tech forward. Without competition and money, video games would die.
  • mothbanquet - February 25, 2014 9:01 a.m.

    I personally found my rig to be quite affordable and it's a decent one, too. On paper $800 is a lot of money but there are usually financing options available and I know I've saved more money on the games themselves through Steam sales which has more than made up the difference between that and what I'd have paid for a PS4. Then again, I'm a working professional now. Had it been back in my early days then no chance.
  • rainn'sgaydar - February 22, 2014 3:52 p.m.

    I read the whole thing, but I still only barely understand how this is a bad thing. Is it because VR on inferior hardware would be bad and no one would want it? I can't seem to wrap my mind around your point.
  • Eightboll812 - February 22, 2014 8:38 a.m.

    I think you are overlooking the value that legitimate competition will bring to VR. Even if Sony's is weak, Oculus will be spurred on to innovate further. And maybe Oculus doesn't need the competition to further their own product development and without a "Sony" consumer alternative decide that since they are the cat's meow they force people into restrictive licenses...competition helps resolve that problem as well. Point is, without Sony, Oculus could still screw themselves and VR just by having the wrong approach to business. Example, Xbone reveal, which in the long run, MS has Sony to thank for by not following them off the cliff into the DRM void. All in all, I'd say the value of competition will help more than a potentially crappy implementation by Sony will hurt.
  • universaltofu - February 21, 2014 5:48 p.m.

    I remember being so amped for a VR future, now the feeling has passed and this looming convergence of peripherals seems like a bit much, like we'll all be wearing helmets and power gloves waving at kinects in front of eye toys jumping on mats and wailing on plastic instruments.
  • StrayGator - February 22, 2014 12:16 a.m.

    ...and headbutting padded walls, if I catch your drift.
  • Dehumanization - February 21, 2014 5:47 p.m.

    Can you add like a GPU or something that comes with the VR (like an attachment) that will help with the processing load?
  • Peloun - February 21, 2014 6:36 p.m.

    do you even have any clue how hardware works?
  • Dehumanization - February 21, 2014 7:10 p.m.

    What? not possible for a micro-pc that the PS4 can attach to to compensate? I know they did that kind of stuff a lot with Sega Genesis
  • SouthTippBass - February 21, 2014 7:18 p.m.

    I don't even...
  • Dehumanization - February 21, 2014 8:59 p.m.

    Fine, no VR until PS5, there.
  • ryan-stephens - February 24, 2014 12:23 p.m.

    I get what you are saying thought @dehumanization. I remember the N64 having the "expansion pack" that was required for several games. Although I dont recall what exactly it was for/did
  • StrayGator - February 22, 2014 12:34 a.m.

    32X was for all intents and purposes a separate console with its own output and power jack, using the Genesis mostly for input (pwr/rst, controllers). supplemental proccessing is possible theoretically. There were few attempts to utilize thunderbolt or other fast interfaces to allow external GPUs to work with notebooks. The results are always underwhelming because the bandwidth is a fraction of what required by a modern GPU.
  • brickman409 - February 22, 2014 12:30 a.m.

    The sell external GPU's for PCs which connect via USB. They're not very powerful, but I don't see why a vamped up version of the same concept couldn't apply to the PS4 or Xbone. They did it way back when with the 32x expansion for the Sega Genesis. Hell, even the Xbone Kinect has it's own built in processor and ram(not really a GPU, but still it's an external process in a peripheral)
  • Hobogonigal - February 23, 2014 1:19 a.m.

    I'm not really that knowledgeable about hardware myself, but doesn't the Kinect have its own processor that helps to compensate for the extra load it adds? But I guess that is an extra CPU, rather than a GPU. I suppose the console would have to be built with the addition of a second GPU in mind (have the appropriate motherboard, wiring, ports, software and such)? So they'd have to release something like a PS4 slim with all those physical alterations... which could create a divide between the userbase.

Showing 1-18 of 18 comments

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