Sony plans to enter the virtual reality gaming space in a big way with PlayStation 4, Eurogamer can reveal.
Amid the growing popularity of the Oculus Rift VR headset among the development community and a small number of gamers, Sony has been working on a rival device for its next-gen console, and it is on track to be revealed in 2014.
Multiple sources have indicated to Eurogamer that Sony's VR headset will work similarly to Oculus'. Internally, the device has been demonstrated with Evolution Studios' PS4 racer DriveClub, with players able to look around the cockpit of a car.
Evolution's involvement comes as no surprise - the Liverpool studio is home to the Worldwide Studios Stereoscopic 3D team, which has worked on 3D game development since 2008. The team, and 3D chief Mick Hocking, have been relatively quiet since PlayStation's ill-fated 3D push in 2011.
Sony also has form with headmounted displays. The £1000 HMZ-T2 is a personal 3D viewer that can be used with 3D games and HD movies. It includes an OLED 720p panel for each eye that renders 3D pictures in high-contrast detail. Eurogamer reviewed its predecessor, the HMZ-T1, in late 2011. The Oculus Rift performs much better than the HMZ-T2 for games, and Sony hopes to one-up the rival device with its own offering.
Eurogamer understands Sony's VR headset was set to appear in some form at German show Gamescom last week, but was pulled. We now expect it to be unveiled next year.
Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida declined to comment when asked about VR in an interview with Eurogamer at Gamescom. "We don't talk about that," was all he'd say. This week Sony Computer Entertainment Europe declined to comment when contacted by Eurogamer.
Meanwhile, Eurogamer has heard that Oculus, maker of Oculus Rift, has attracted a number of potential suitors who are interested in buying the company, but it remains resistant to the idea while it continues to work towards the release of the long-awaited consumer version.
"VR's had a lot of failures in the past, and so the more people that enter the market is good because developers that ultimately have to develop the content, they know they'll have people playing their games which is better for all of us."Laird Malamed, COO of Oculus
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey told Eurogamer in a recent interview: "As far as getting acquired: that's not on the table.
"If people like Microsoft and Sony did come out and make their own head-mounted display, though, it would really just validate the market," he added. "There's certainly room for more than just one person in this market. Right now we're the only people in it. It would just show that VR really is - that it's important and it's here to stay."
At Gamescom, where Oculus showed off the HD version of its Rift headset, we asked COO Laird Malamed what he'd think if Microsoft or Sony entered the VR headset market. He replied: "They're big companies with lots of resources. For us we'd say good. With John Carmack coming over as our CTO, we've had a great Kickstarter campaign, they continue to be great supporters, but we're still a start-up.
"VR's had a lot of failures in the past, and so the more people that enter the market is good because developers that ultimately have to develop the content, they know they'll have people playing their games which is better for all of us."
There also remains the possibility that both Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony may facilitate Oculus Rift compatibility with their consoles, and Oculus is often asked about potential deals with first parties.
"They're a little busy," Malamed told Eurogamer. "We've chatted, but they're trying to bring their new consoles out. It's a possibility - it would work. It's the same thing as iOS - it could technically work, but the business side isn't there."