Up until now, Sony has been pretty quiet about their plans for VR on the PlayStation 5. While the company assured gamers that the PS4-era PSVR would still work with the PlayStation 5, it hasn’t said much about how much it intended to advance or extend the VR capabilities of the new console. The company has now announced a new PSVR headset, meaning one that’s specifically tuned for the PlayStation 5.
Sony is only teasing its design for now, but the company claims the new headset will improve on both the PS4-era PSVR’s field of view and its resolution. The first-generation PSVR had a 1920×1080 display (960×1080 per eye) and a 100-degree FoV. Competing headsets like the first-generation Oculus Rift claimed a 110-degree FoV (evaluations measured less) and the recent, high-end Valve Index claims a 135-degree FoV.
Sony also plans to bring “some” of its DualSense technologies to its new VR controllers. This means the company will finally be retiring the PlayStation Move controllers that it relied on for PSVR. The DualSense has been widely praised for its haptic feedback and variable resistance triggers, and we can safely assume any new control mechanisms will be more accurate than the 2010-era PS Move. The new PSVR system will connect to the console via a single cable. There is no mention of a wireless option.
Just how dedicated Sony is to this platform remains to be seen. In an October 29 interview with The Washington Post, Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan poured cold water on the idea that VR would get a big boost on the PlayStation 5: “I think we’re more than a few minutes from the future of VR,” Ryan said. “PlayStation believes in VR. Sony believes in VR, and we definitely believe at some point in the future, VR will represent a meaningful component of interactive entertainment. Will it be this year? No. Will it be next year? No. But will it come at some stage? We believe that.”
When the company building the product isn’t willing to commit to more than “We think this could be big, at some distant point in the future,” it’s not unrealistic to ask just what kind of plans Sony is making, and in what time frame. For now, all Sony is saying is that the updated PS5 version of PSVR won’t launch in 2021.
As of last January, Sony had moved 5 million headsets, but IDC reports total VR shipments from all vendors absolutely fell off a cliff last year. Sales fell 43.3 percent in Q1 2020, 43.7 percent in Q2, and 60.1 percent in Q3. SuperDataResearch, a division of Nielsen, estimates that the PSVR only moved 125K units in Q4 2020, for example. Since Q4 may have been the high water mark for shipments, it’s possible Sony moved fewer than 500K PSVR kits in total last year. Five and a half million wouldn’t be nothing for lifetime sales, but the company has shipped 115M PS4 and PS4 Pros to-date. This means PSVR adoption is under 5 percent.
The problem is, Sony has done very little to improve this situation. The PS5 is only backward compatible with the PSVR if you get a (free) adapter from Sony. Sony’s pointed comments about VR not being the future of gaming for now, and the fact that we won’t see a new PSVR until sometime in 2022 doesn’t send a strong message of faith in the platform. That’s unfortunate for anyone who doesn’t want to be part of Facebook’s VR ecosystem, as Sony is one of the few companies offering a relatively low-cost headset with paired controllers that can be paired with a larger system for increased rendering horsepower. The Valve Index wins a lot of rave reviews, but it also costs $ 1,000.
Right now, VR is stuck in the liminal zone between “nig enough to attract the mass market” and “too small to care about.” It’s great for Sony to support the capability, but it’s hard not to think that more attention and support from the company would bring about the VR future it predicts a little more quickly. It’s completely understandable that getting the console out the door was Sony’s first and largest priority. But the company is still sending mixed signals on what kind of long-term support potential customers should expect.