We've known it's coming for some time. Initial press and controller imagery from Sony was swiftly augmented by leaked specifications, now fully fleshed out via an announcement from Jim Ryan himself at CES 2022, along with more details from the PlayStation Blog. PlayStationVR 2 is now official and it's looking hugely exciting. In fact, from our perspective, high-end VR gaming in general needs a shot in the arm in a world where the mobile-based Oculus Quest 2 reigns supreme and the success of PlayStationVR 2 is our best chance of this happening.
The specs reveal a headset that pushes back boundaries in many directions, building significantly upon the successes of the first PSVR, radically improving screen fidelity, boosting immersion and ridding the platform of the complicated set-up that proved so frustrating for PS4 owners. On that latter point, PSVR2 should literally be plug and play: there's no breakout box, no external camera, no mixture of various USB and HDMI cables - everything is routed through USB-C, meaning that PSVR2 should simply plug directly into the front of the console and you're good to go.
The lack of an external camera or indeed any kind of extra tracking equipment, is down to Sony taking a leaf out of Oculus's book, using inside-out tracking to deliver a more immediate intuitive experience, with four internal cameras used to get the job done. We'd still expect the player to be required to set-up a play area in an initial calibration sequence but beyond that, it should be plain sailing. Perhaps the best news is that the new VR controllers appear to very closely follow the basic design of Oculus Touch, which we rank as the best VR interface around. These connect via Bluetooth and we'd expect to see them included in the box. This may present cost implications, but based on the specs, it looks like Sony is sparing no (realistic) expense.
|Host System||PlayStation 5||PlayStation 4/PS4 Pro|
|Screen Type||OLED/HDR - 90/120Hz||OLED/SDR - 90/120Hz|
|Resolution||2000x2040 Per Eye||960x1080 Per Eye|
|Field of View||110 Degrees||100 Degrees|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, IR Proximity Sensor||Accelerometer, Gyroscope|
|Cameras||Four for headset and controller tracking - two IR for eye-tracking||One (external)|
|Interface||USB-C||USB/HDMI via breakout box|
That starts with the internal display. After the 960x1080 per eye of the first PSVR, Sony has almost quadrupled resolution with 2000x2040 per eye for its successor. Not only that, but the platform holder has also decided to stick with OLED displays at a time where many HMD suppliers - including Oculus - have downgraded to LCD instead. OLED makes for excellent contrast, but it also opens the door to HDR support, something we believe to be a first in a consumer-level headset. There's no indication of how effective the HDR will be: no peak brightness level is revealed, for example, but it's an exciting development nonetheless.
It's also good to see that Sony has retained the same 90Hz and 120Hz support for the panel enjoyed by the first PSVR as this opens up a range of options. Developers can target 90fps gaming - which is absolutely fine - or push harder for a full refresh 120fps. However, the 120Hz mode also opens the door to running games at 60fps, then using the 'time warp' technique to running games more smoothly. Essentially, while the game runs at 60, actual movement is updated at twice that refresh rate, based on the movement of your head.
Sony has also included a single motor into the design of the PSVR2 headset to transmit (hopefully) subtle feedback to the user - the PlayStation Blog talks about the sensation of an object moving by your head, or the pulse of a heightened heartbeat. On top of this, haptics are also built into the new controllers along with the adaptive tension on the triggers. The latter point is an example of the DualSense controller I'm not particularly fond of (fundamentally, I don't think pulling a trigger to fire a gun should have friction attached and isn't particularly fun) but this does make more sense in virtual reality, where manipulating objects is supposed to feel that much more 'real'. In terms of the haptics, Sony's work with 3D audio - itself built upon techniques championed in the first PSVR - should transition beautifully to the new headset.
There are other aspects of the spec that caught my eye too. First of all, the all-important field of view is widened now to 110 degrees from the circa 100 degrees of the first PSVR - a spec point that puts the new headset up there with all but the highest specification PC HMDs. Another delightful surprise is eye-tracking support, with twin internal cameras monitoring your pupils to see exactly where you're looking. This works hand-in-hand with foveated rendering, which is the process by which rendering resolution is highest where the eye is focused, with resolution dropping in peripheral vision. Quite how this will be implemented remains to be seen - variable-rate shading (VRS) would work well here, but tier two support for that feature in the PlayStation 5 GPU is absent. Alternatively, software-driven support (as seen in the IW8 Call of Duty Engine) could work well, though this technique isn't a good fit for many game engines.
Ultimately, from what we've seen so far, the spec is excellent. It elevates our hopes that higher-end VR experiences may be on the cards. The truth is that the proliferation of Oculus Quest 2 has essentially seen the lion's share of VR development focused on a mobile-class device, to the detriment of the capabilities of PC and other higher-end hardware. Looking back, we had hoped to see Half-Life Alyx kick off a new era of cutting-edge VR experiences - but it never quite happened. Perhaps the eventual arrival of PSVR2 combined with a reasonably-sized PS5 installed base could make all the difference.
And honestly, launching PSVR2 with a port of Valve's VR masterpiece would be a stroke of genius - and it would be in the interests of all concerned to use this game to send a signal for what a high-end VR system could deliver. As it is, Sony chose to deliver the tiniest of teasers with Horizon Call of the Mountain to give some idea of what PSVR2 will deliver. A collaboration between Guerrilla Games and Firesprite, we must wonder whether there is a degree of asset-sharing going on between Forbidden West and this new VR offering. While the flat-out 'built from the ground-up' Half Life Alyx approach is the ideal, spin-out VR modes or smaller games leveraging the extreme fidelity assets of existing triple-A titles seems like a good approach in delivering high-end virtual reality titles that wouldn't break the bank to develop.
Ultimately, what's been revealed so far for PSVR2 is exciting and advanced enough to make us wonder just how much Sony is going to charge for the package, bearing in mind how competitive it is up against the best of the PC hardware out there. A $399 price-point seems optimistic, while $499 would be the absolute limit. On the flip side, Oculus Quest 2 currently retails at $299, has VR controllers included and integrates an entire mini-computer - something PSVR2 won't need - so maybe there is the financial leeway to deliver high quality hardware along the lines that Sony is proposing.
The other major question concerns backwards compatibility with the existing PSVR library. On the one hand, we should remember that PlayStation 5 is already compatible at the hardware level with the existing headset - so you'll be able to continue playing those games. However, it would be good to play those legacy games on the more modern headset. On the one hand, the required 90Hz/120Hz display support is there. On the other, the total revamp in tracking - along with very, very different controllers - suggests that it may be a bit too much to expect older games to work on the new kit. This is a device built with the future of VR in mind - and we really can't wait to see what Sony has lined up for us with it.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry