Technology Column

PlayStation is last hope for virtual reality

/ The Daily Orange

This year was poised to be “The Year of Virtual Reality.” Just on the verge of major breakthroughs, the emerging technology was due for a big breakout with the Oculus Rift’s launch in March and the HTC Vive’s release in April. Both products eventually released to warm reception and much initial excitement over the new technology’s long-awaited arrival.

To wrap up this blockbuster of a year, Sony was set to release its PlayStation VR headset on Thursday — a potentially groundbreaking device for virtual reality with a lower price point and the PlayStation brand name to sell it. Well, something happened that not many people were anticipating back in January: the hype for virtual reality has plateaued. Vive and Rift have refused to disclose sales numbers for the devices, fueling speculation of less-than-spectacular adoption rates.

This has led up to the PlayStation VR’s role in the future of virtual reality: in a world of disappointing technology growth and lowered expectations, Sony has the ability to turn things around with its own vision of the future. Some of the technology needs to be brought up to speed, but ultimately, the gaming background of PlayStation as a manufacturer is what sets it apart from the rest.

The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift truly work great, but what’s holding these devices back from becoming powerhouse gaming consoles is a pretty simple factor: the games themselves. As the bestselling console of this generation, PlayStation 4 could help PSVR in becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Gaming is the most obvious and most effective current use for VR right now. And so long as Sony can bring the name recognition and provide some great games to launch with, there’s no reason it shouldn’t take off. If it fails to, though, we might need to take a hard look at the current state of VR and decide what might need to change before it becomes the new 3D or motion gaming: a cool new technology that works, but doesn’t have the draw to become anything more than a quick trend.

While PSVR is our only hope, its vision of the future happens to be a little bit steeped in the past. The VR gaming will use the three-year-old PlayStation 4 console and PlayStation Camera, and is dependent on the six-year-old PlayStation Move motion controllers for input on many PSVR games.

PlayStation Move launched in 2010 as a motion controller for the PlayStation 3 console — a knee-jerk reaction to the Wii’s popularity that never really took off on its own. Move died out along with the rest of the motion gaming fad, so including the old technology with PlayStation VR seems less utilitarian than lazy.

The other VR gaming device, PlayStation Camera, has only a slightly more honorable history of its own: it launched with the PlayStation 4 console in 2013 as a direct response to the popularity of Xbox Kinect, with motion-tracking cameras and voice controls of its own. The device launched with a minigame collection called “The Playroom,” but never got much mileage from the PlayStation user base as a whole — outside of the “Just Dance” series.

Utilizing legacy hardware to save costs is a smart move in theory for Sony, but will ultimately fail for a simple reason: the old devices PSVR is utilizing were never all that popular to begin with. And there is the other concern of price. The basic PSVR headset is priced at $399, but if you’re like most consumers and don’t already own the Camera and Move accessories, you’ll need to dish out $499 for the rest of the basic hardware.

A high-priced accessory, on top of a console you likely already spent 300 to 500 dollars on, won’t catch the eyes of too many holiday shoppers. Still, comparable bundles for VR systems like the Vive and Rift come at $800, making PlayStation’s offering look cheap in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong: VR has potential far beyond gaming, and is already being used in cases like education, tourism and entertainment to develop new experiences for anyone to enjoy. It’s clear right now that in its early stages, VR has a lot holding it back from the mainstream.

Experiences on virtual reality platforms are unlike anything else out there, and nearly anyone who’s tried an early version of this technology should know that this will likely be the future of media consumption — it just needs a little help.

Once the kinks are worked out, PSVR will have a chance to succeed well past Oculus and HTC. The PlayStation 4 is the best-selling console of this generation and offering PSVR as an extension of the PS4 experience to customers has a lot more potential than getting people to buy an $800 VR system with no real brand loyalty.

Brett Weiser-Schlesinger is junior newspaper and online journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bweisers@syr.edu.

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