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Sony’s next move in the PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One battle: A virtual reality headset

BusinessFeatures
by James Plafke, 08 Sep 2013Features
Sony’s next move in the PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One battle: A virtual reality headset

The Oculus Rift, though still only a development kit and full of half-working tech demos, is something of a cult phenomenon. For just $300 (£190), you can experience the closest thing the consumer market has had to in-home virtual reality. Sony appears to have caught on to the Rift’s hype, and earlier this week it emerged that the company is reportedly working on its own VR headset for the PlayStation 4.

Although it seems like virtual reality is only now just within our grasp, this isn’t actually the case. Rigs like the Oculus Rift, more or less, have been around for quite a while. The Rift’s real achievement is not that it sort of looks like we’re “inside” the (probably broken in some way) demo, but that it’s cheap and not impossible to configure. It wasn’t uncommon for a fancy arcade – when arcades were still a thing – to have multiple VR rigs, complete with motion controllers so you weren’t stuck facing one direction (toward the keyboard and mouse) like you are with the Rift.

Once upon a time, twenty years ago, even Sega was developing a VR headset for the Genesis. Nintendo, as you may know, created the Virtual Boy, which famously bombed so hard it’s now an expensive collector’s item. The Oculus Rift, though, was the first device that proved that the tech could work in a consumer setting, and be relatively simple and cheap. Now, perhaps due to all of the confidence gained from the PS4’s continued success in the media compared to the Xbox One, Sony is reportedly developing a VR headset for the upcoming console.

According to Eurogamer sources, Sony is set to reveal a PS4 VR headset sometime during 2014, and it will function similarly to the Oculus Rift. Reportedly, the VR headset is being tested with DriveClub, with players being able to look around the inside of a car by moving their head around in real life. This report holds more weight than it may seem, as DriveClub’s developer, Evolution Studios, has previously worked on 3D software since 2008.

Supposedly, the VR headset was to be revealed at Gamescom this year, but as we all now know, that didn’t come to pass. Eurogamer asked Shuhei Yoshida about the VR headset back at Gamescom, to which he replied, “We don’t talk about that,” a phrase that appears to confirm its existence.

If Sony’s VR endeavours don’t pan out, it’s entirely possible the company could simply facilitate Rift compatibility with the PS4 – as could Microsoft, Nintendo, and even Apple and Google with their mobile platforms. However, Sony would greatly benefit from releasing its own VR headset that is specifically made to work with the PS4, as that gives the headset a massive install base right off the bat.

Furthermore, Sony is adept at manufacturing and designing hardware – just compare the smaller, more powerful PS4 to the less powerful, much bigger Xbox One. The company also has a history with fancy headsets, such as the HMZ-T2 personal viewer (pictured right), which essentially makes you feel like you’re watching media on a large movie screen.

We thought that Sony packaging a cheap PS Vita with the PS4 would be a killer move, skyrocketing the PS4 to unreachable heights over the Xbox One. However, if Sony could create a consumer-grade (and consumer-affordable) VR headset in the style of the Oculus Rift that works out-of-the-box with every PS4 game, it could present gamers with a very easy choice. Would you rather play Xbox One games on your TV, or would you rather be inside the PS4 game you’re playing? The gaming market hasn’t yet seen an advertising campaign that powerful.

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