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Is PSVR the Last Best Hope for Virtual Reality?

2016, supposedly the year of virtual reality, or VR, has been relatively quiet. Hype-generating announcements, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, essentially targeted the high-end of VR, offering cutting-edge experiences as long as users had the requisite high-end PC hardware and the cash for associated headsets and controllers. Despite the ability to assemble a capable hardware set-up, the lack of actual breakthrough games to drive users to these VR solutions relegates the Rift and Vive in a niche category with their promises yet-to-be realized.

Sony, on the other hand, is building off of the success of its PS4 platform to release its PSVR – essentially a group of technologies it had developed for other purposes, but tailored for a more-affordable VR gaming experience when added to an existing PS4. VR can be as simple as smartphone enabled headsets such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR, but true motion tracking, fully interactive VR for mainstream users has been absent up until this past week. The PSVR (after having to purchase a PS4 console, now starting at $299) requires at least $399 of additional spend, and more likely $499 to obtain the required camera and motion controllers in addition to the VR headset. For that $800, one can conceivably game in VR at a price that is hundreds of dollars less than the Rift or Vive VR set-ups; however, the price point is still rather steep for most casual console gamers. Sony does have a large pool of third-party software developers and, more importantly, a large PS4 user base to encourage the development of cutting edge VR games. Around two dozen games were available by the October 13, 2016 PSVR launch date.

Initial reviews of the software and experience have been relatively good; however, some users have reported some hardware glitches while others have had to deal with the motion sickness problem that VR can induce in some users. Some have also complained that hand-held motion controllers – a hardware design that predates the PS4 – provide a poor gaming experience. All of these issues add up to reveal that enabling a fully interactive VR experience, especially at a low cost, is challenging. If problems persist or users remain unmotivated to spend the money for the PSVR, this attempt at taking VR mainstream may prove once-and-for-all that VR itself may be a niche technology.

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