2016 is shaping up to be the year of virtual reality. Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are already set to make their way into consumers’ hands in the next month, and now one of the most popular videogame console manufacturers of the last few decades has lifted the lid on its first VR system. At the Game Developers Conference in San Fransisco yesterday (Mar. 15), Sony unveiled PlayStation VR—a $400 virtual-reality system that connects to a PlayStation 4 and will be released in October.
Sony appears to be pricing its headset to directly take on Oculus and the HTC Vive, which cost $600 and $800, respectively. Unlike those headsets, the PlayStation VR won’t need a thousand-dollar computer to work. It will, however, require a PlayStation 4, which at the time of publishing costs about $370. That’s a lot cheaper (although not quite at the impulse-buy price point of something like Samsung’s $100 Gear VR headset). But there are a lot of people with PlayStations who might see the VR headset as a welcome addition to their console.
Sony first announced the PlayStation VR in 2014, and last month, it was revealed that the headset would likely be delayed until October.
While Sony will have lost precious months to its competition, it’s hoping that the massive core of popular game titles that developers are producing for the system will convince hardcore gamers to wait. Oculus announced today that there will be 30 games available for the Rift when it launches, but Sony said 230 developers and publishers are working on games for its system. They include names like 2K Games (makers of the popular 2K sports games franchises) and Ubisoft (which is behind the Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and Rainbow Six franchises), and Electronic Arts has said it will be working on a VR version of Star Wars: Battlefront exclusively for Sony. If there’s anything that could make gamers wait for something, it’s the possibility of pretending to be Luke Skywalker in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader in virtual reality.
Beyond gaming, Sony’s system will have a “cinematic mode” that will, as Sony said, “let users enjoy a variety of content in a large virtual screen.” It pretty much sounds like having a home cinema attached to your face. The headset will also be able to view any photos shot with a 360-degree camera, which will apparently “let them feel as if they are physically inside the captured scene.” The future of photography sounds intense.
Consumer virtual reality is still in its infancy and there’s no guarantee that any of the systems coming out this year will prove popular with the general public. Sony sent a shockwave through the gaming industry when it launched the first PlayStation in 1994, and it’s managed to build on that popularity with pretty much every system it’s launched since then. But the last time a gaming titan tried to release a mass-market VR system, it didn’t go so well for them. It remains to be seen if things will be any different 20 years later, or virtually the same.