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Inside PS4's new VR headset

Sony's next big peripheral expected for fall 2014 launch, said to be more accurate than Oculus Rift

Three months ago, Sony made a big splash at E3 touting the PlayStation 4 to the world. At the same time, though, it was already laying the groundwork for another notable consumer technology venture.

As media and buyers got hands on time with the upcoming console and debated the WWE-like theatrics of the Sony and Microsoft press conferences, the company was holding top secret meetings with developers and publishers, showing off a virtual reality headset for the PS4 and drumming up support for it.

Officially, Sony isn't talking about the device, citing its long-standing policy of not commenting on rumor and speculation. But people in the know say the company is making a major push with the technology - even greater than it did with the PlayStation Move three years ago. (Like the Move, the headset will be sold separate from the console.)

The headset (which is not tied to the company's existing Wearable HDTV Personal 3D Viewer, pictured above) uses the PS4's PlayStation Eye camera, like Move did, for head tracking. This, say people who have used it, makes the headset even more accurate than the Oculus Rift - though it does present some aesthetic challenges.

At present, the working prototype for the headset, which select developers currently have in house, looks much like Oculus' better-known VR system - with ping pong balls attached. The design is not expected to be final.

While there have been reports that the system will make its debut at this year's Tokyo Game Show, those appear inaccurate. Sony does not wish to distract buyers in the days leading up to the PS4's launch - and, as yet, there are not enough games that can showcase the technology.

People with knowledge of the product say they believe the headset will launch in the fall of 2014, but that date, too, is subject to change.

While this isn't Sony's first time experimenting with virtual reality, it does appear to be the company's most serious. Several years ago, developers at GDC showcased a prototype game using the Personal 3D Viewer to select members of the media, though no version was ever released for that system. (That could be because the product was expensive and never sold in the North American market.)

The headset could be a differentiator for the PS4 - and could be part of the reason Sony is so aggressively targeting independent developers in the upcoming generation. Microsoft is not believed to be working on similar technology - and Oculus has said its focus with the Rift is PC and mobile technology.

Sony's device will certainly be a rival to Oculus. That company, though, has momentum on its side. After an incredibly successful Kickstarter, which brought in just shy of $2.5 million, Oculus raised $16 million in Series A venture capital led by Spark Capital and Matrix Partners. Sony is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, but it has been experiencing significant financial hardships in recent years, which could erase some of that financial advantage.

Oculus also has been recruiting high-level developer talent to its roster. A month ago, id Software founder John Carmack signed on to become the company's chief technical officer.

"I believe that VR will have a huge impact in the coming years, but everyone working today is a pioneer," said Carmack at the time. "The paradigms that everyone will take for granted in the future are being figured out today; probably by people reading this message. It's certainly not there yet. There is a lot more work to do, and there are problems we don't even know about that will need to be solved, but I am eager to work on them."

Oculus declined to comment on Sony's headset when contacted by GamesIndustry International.

Sony's push into virtual reality brings to mind its 'jump in with both feet' approach to 3D two years ago. That didn't work out for a number of the same danger factors as VR. Players weren't crazy about wearing the glasses - and the fast-moving 3D images, combined with the fact that gamers blink less than passive TV watchers, resulted in player headaches.

The most significant problem, however, was lack of publisher support. Sony is working hard to ensure that doesn't happen again, making something Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said at the launch of the PlayStation 3D monitor just as relevant today.

"I think it's a very similar analogy to HD," he noted. "Content will drive adoption."

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Latest comments (20)

heirdt von braun Marketing Specialist 8 years ago
It is true Oculus Rift might have a slight advantage in terms of financial support, and even Carmack is a very good bet, no doubt. However, in my humble opinion he's been hired mainly for PR purposes, his experience is valuable and many gamers recognise and appreciate him very much, specially PC gamers, which of course makes sense. Right now their main advantage is brand positioning, manufacturing costs (as it uses only 1 LCD screen), and industry support, but it would be hard to believe Oculus Rift technology is as complicated to replicate as some gamers tend to believe. It's a good "high res" (supports 720p for now and promises 1080p) visor with 3D support, please forgive my ignorance, but it doesn't sound necessarily better than Sony HMZ. Sony developed a bit questionable but cost-effective technology using dual OLED screens format in order to create a superior 3D quality effect (artifacts free), it is much better technology than most 3D HDTV's as screens are presumably quicker (response time), and feautures very good contrast and colour accuracy, the only downside is resolution (720p only). Yes, Oculus rift is superior in some areas because it's cheaper to manufacture, but I'm not entirely convinced produces a better 3D effect.

Sony is an expert in too many technological areas. You name it: LCD's, High-def projectors, OLED displays, knows quite a bit about 3D stereoscopic technology (HDTV's, cameras, broadcasting, etc.) since they were involved in the development of this technology since the beginning, and on top of that they know a lot about Hollywood and video game industries. I think it would be impossible for Sony to not understand their technology. On the contrary I think they have enough resources to make it better, applying their own tech and utilising their mass production capabilities effortlessly. I'm not trying to say Oculus Rift is cheap, that's categorically dismissed, everything I'm saying is they can't afford to be that naive. Sony is an electronic expert, and always has been.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by heirdt von braun on 5th September 2013 10:07pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
This makes a hell of a lot of sense, as it seems that games need to be made to work with the Rift and there are issues with some of them while Sony at least has the advantage of PS4 developers working with a peripheral designed to be used with their new console. I'm gathering this will NOT be a mandated peripheral (a good thing), but I'd love to take it for a test drive. I'm one of those folks who gets ill from to much VR exposure, so I'll be a VERY light user if this thing sells for a decent enough price....
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Honestly Im not interested in the oculouse rift, not only because its a VR headset, but because its a seperate console. I have enough with SONY and Nintendo consoles. I dont think there is room for yet another one, with a seperate network, game format, platform and proprietary echo system. However if Im going to give VR a try, SONY's offering seems a bit more conveniant, because its just a peripheral. It works with what I already have. And games can be made to use or not use it. I dont have to buy another library of games for yet another console. So if i ever going to give VR a try, it will be with this.
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Show all comments (20)
Rick - at the moment, the Oculus Rift is actually a PC peripheral - it plugs into a PC and runs PC games. So it's much more like a "unique monitor" than a console. Hopefully it'll work with lots of different platforms, with many bespoke games, but also as an option for many existing games.
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Henry Durrant Programmer, SUMO Digital8 years ago
Oculus Rift is a peripheral and is open-platform too - i dont expect the Sony headset to work on anythign except PS4. As such, the two markets for both headsets are probably mostly mutally exclusive, so the more public and consumer awreness of VR being 'a thing' is good for everyone. Although if im going to buy one, I'd buy one I can use on more devices( including my PC), will have the most games, most applications, bigger devloper support/community, and which I could tinker with developing for myself - which would be the Oculus Rift.
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James McLaren Director of Engine Technology, Q-Games8 years ago
$16 million? That isn't even a medium size game budget these days. If Sony are going big into VR they'll be investing considerably more than that!
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Morgan King Animator 8 years ago
The more people doing VR the better, as far as I'm concerned. If Sony's using the Eye for head tracking, I have a hard time believing the latency could be low enough for immersion, as compared to the Rift, but perhaps it's more for positional tracking. In the console space, it does seem to have that potential expensive-peripheral-nobody-develops-for (see also: Kinect 1) because designing the UI and interactions for VR are so different from the usual TV-and-controller most players will be using. I hope it's awesome, though - if nothing else, Sony's investment should help hardware costs come down!
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Christopher Garratty Associate Counsel, Activision Blizzard8 years ago
"though it does present some aesthetic challenges" You won't be able to see it while you are using it, and when you aren't using it you can put it in a box. You won't be wearing it in public so I don't see what aesthetics have to do with... well, anything really.

Then again, I was one of those people who didn't care what the PS4 looks like so maybe I'm just weird?
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Tat Wei, Yeap Master Degree in Environmental Planning. 8 years ago
@ Chris

You're not the only one with that sentiment i can assure you.
There are gamers who like to show off, and there are gamers who actually just want to enjoy a good time.
I'd take you're the second one.
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games8 years ago
Inside PS4's new VR headset
more like: Inside PS4's NON EXISTENT VR headset.
Which of course, although it's nowhere near being ready or unveiled it definitely is so much better than anything you know! :)
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
Again, more scope for innovation...

Sony have superior finances and technological assets, even for something likely to be PS4 exclusive it will rival Occulus and serve to help push technology and VR implementation forward.

My answer to those who say 'just support occulus rift'.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Adam They have very little in the way of financial resources right now and "technological assets" Is a meaningless buzzword. Sony doesn't have access to some secret, undeveloped technology that the Occulus guys don't. They could arguably have better engineers, but have you seen the engineering team at Occulus? It's amazing.

It's possible this will work better, but I'm not sure I see it being likely. Latency will be a big factor, for one thing. That said, I don't disagree that it's good to have competition. I'm just less than confident that this will be a competent competitor.
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heirdt von braun Marketing Specialist 8 years ago
Oh I think they do Nicholas, definitely. Although I have no idea about their R&D projects at all, I suspect they really care about video streaming technology on PS4 because of PSVita. I presume they have developed pretty good lag free technology and implemented dedicated hardware on their latest console, and I think they could use it for the VR headset. Oculus Rift biggest concern is exactly this one (response time), and it's definitely a game changer.

See, they are trying to replicate ipod success-positioning strategy. As you know Apple was struggling to sell their computers not long ago, but ipod helped positioning the brand like never before. This small but great invention became very well known all over the World, was blessed with a terrific reputation and thanks to this exceptional success phenomenon other apple products (computers) benefited. It's the Halo effect, that's how we call it in marketing. Brand positioning is important and demonstrates its power even today.

Have a nice day!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by heirdt von braun on 5th September 2013 10:16pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago

Sony's finances dwarf occulus even for a massive conglomerate supposedly "struggling" that itself is a bit of a meaningless buzzword for a company of Sony's nature.

As for technological assets and resources, whilst I'm not outright declaring Sony have surpassed the Rift (I couldn't confirm) as heird von braun and other have alluded to, the research they have in this area expands for years (pre-dating Occulus) and their assets (and research) stretches across multiple technology areas that they happen to have their fingers in.

They may not have a secret undeveloped technology. But if there is a developed technology, they may well already have it, if not invented it in the first place for use in this unit.

VR is not perfect but this imperfection, that we see in a lot of technology (especially the bleeding edge) is boosted by more competition. PS4 exclusive or not, this is Sony throwing resources at a dedicated device to make an amazing, optimised Playstation experience.

Technologies from this speculative device may be replicated, copied or even surpassed in the future simply because it exists and is not dissimilar to CPUs, GPUs, LCDs, cars or even game engines in this sense...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 5th September 2013 10:41pm

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heirdt von braun Marketing Specialist 8 years ago
Totally agree with you Adam. I think there's a lot of room for innovation and improvements. PS4 is all about gaming, and Oculus Rift sounds like a great addition. However, I can't stop telling to myself the level of interactivity is insufficient to publitise it as something innovative, I firmly believe gamers are much more difficult to convince or to impress these days, it authentically needs to be different. It's not just about image quality, it's also about experience. Playing a video game or watching movie/sports with a VR headset is very hard to justify when Sony only promises an excellent image free of artifacts (HMZ). On the other hand Oculus Rift offers a decent image quality at a good price tag, but the promised level of interactivity deludes quickly because of lag and somewhat inaccurate controls. It's just a prototype, I'm sorry if it sounds a little bit harsh for some.

Adding PSeye technology sounds interesting, but we can only imagine how it works, I think software technology will be a big deal, and since SCEI has a lot of developers at their disposal I'm starting to imagine a collaboration with Sony Pictures, as Kaz Hirai requires to aggressively justify their existence, I'm not sure if I'm fantasising but my five senses are telling me Sony will produce special content (films, tv programmes) supporting VR headset tech, not just games, they could surpass Kinect efforts with relative ease, since the accessibility level would be comparable, but immersion and interactivity with the VR could potentially be at a total different level, also it is far more attractive in my mind. It's like comparing PSmove with Kinect, obviously both technologies are comparable and have their own merits, but Kinect is more attractive.

This thing needs to be as big as PS4 itself, but must not surpass PS4 price tag. Ideally should be at $200-300 price range. That's a tough thing to achieve but no one said it would be easy to do.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by heirdt von braun on 5th September 2013 11:43pm

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Tat Wei, Yeap Master Degree in Environmental Planning. 8 years ago
I was thinking merging technology of VR head set with some Neuro-reader/mapper/scanner. Its
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises8 years ago
VR headsets will become exponentially cooler when you combine them with other specialty controllers, like a kinect and a PS Move gun.
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I dont think Carmack is some PR stunt by Oculus. The guy is a freakin genius, and I dont use that word very often, actually I almost never use it because I think very few geniuses actually exist.
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We are at a point where Sony feels it is worth showing their hand to be part of the future in VR. The new question has to be can the current consumer game publishers that have decimated their R&D resources recently be up to the task to create great and compelling VR content or is this an opening for the indies?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 8th September 2013 10:22am

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Pete Thompson Editor 8 years ago
As someone who wears glasses I'm not really interested in VR headsets, it's bad enough trying to play a 3D game on a 60" plasma with another pair of specs over the top of my everyday glasses, :-( But hopefully glasses wearers will be catered for by one of these peripherals..
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