Sony’s PlayStation VR has been a quiet success, racking up over a million sales by June of 2017. Granted, that’s not much compared with the 62.6 million consoles Sony is estimated to have sold to date, but it’s not nothing, either, particularly for a new technology. The company is rolling out a modest update to its original design, and while it won’t likely persuade anyone to upgrade, new buyers waiting to see what features the second generation will bring might be enticed.
The headphone jack has moved from a cable to being integrated at the back of the headset, there’s a thinner single cable to carry data traffic to and from the additional Processor Unit Sony sells with the system, and the new headset now supports HDR. This last is a nice addition, since previously you had to pick between playing a game in SDR mode on a VR headset, or in HDR on your television. The PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro both already support HDR, so there shouldn’t be any issues with game compatibility going forward.
The headset will launch in Japan on October 14, with a US release date at an unspecified later time. Sony also notes that there are several upcoming VR titles, including Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Grand Turismo Sport. The status of some of these ports is a matter of debate; one YouTuber who tested Skyrim at Quakecon dismissed it as a “complete dumpster fire.”
When asked to expand, George Weidman (the owner of the above Twitter account) clarified:
The movement is all wrong. Handled via teleporter. You blink in and out of existence. A relaxing immersive walk through Skyrim is impossible … The combat is all wrong. Handled via a waggling sword and an unlimited point-and-forget flamethrower. Enemy AI not adjusted for new controls … Adding insult to injury, it looks like they had to lower all the settings to “garbage mode” to get it working in VR.
That’s… not exactly a robust lineup, and the pickings have been pretty slim as far as major AAA support. Doom is coming to VR and plays well by all accounts, but right now the lists are still dominated by smaller studios and indie content. There’s nothing wrong with that, and VR currently likely lends itself better to short bursts of gaming then long mega-playthroughs, but it’s still a little disappointing to see the content lagging behind headset sales. Some gamers may be waiting for true second-generation hardware, or for a sign that VR is going to be central to gaming’s future.
Robust support from Microsoft would be invaluable, since game developers are much more likely to want to spend time developing content if they know they can leverage it across multiple platforms, but Microsoft is still playing coy about its own VR plans. The Xbox One X will be the most powerful console on the market, which theoretically should make it an even better fit for VR than the PS4 Pro, but the ankle chain of guaranteed backwards compatibility with the Xbox One (and PS4, to be fair) means virtual reality may not emerge as a must-have feature of either console at any point in this product cycle. At that point, it’ll just be a question of whether the capability is impressive enough for one or both companies to plan for it as a must-have feature for the Xbox…Whatever and PS5, or if it’ll die by the wayside like the original PS Wii Move, or Xbox Kinect.
After being royally burned by Kinect 2, a device practically no one used or wanted for gaming, Microsoft will likely be leery of repeating that mistake again. Kinect 2 was supposed to be the killer capability that made the Xbox One desirable. Instead, it became a poster child for bad peripherals with capabilities people actively didn’t want. And Sony, thus far, seems to be keeping VR at arms length. They’re interested to see what it can do, but they’re scarcely shoving developers to turn their titles into VR games.