For much of its early life, Sony's foray into virtual reality was codenamed Project Morpheus. However, in September last year, during the Tokyo Game Show, it gave its first headset the, perhaps obvious, name of PlayStation VR.
The product hasn't changed much at all though - at least not in a way that anyone who experienced Project Morpheus before would notice. It makes it easier for us to have a decent impression of what to expect come the product's release in October later this year, and thus we feel ready to reveal our current thoughts on what is likely to be the most mass market, full VR headset, save for those that work with smartphones.
We've played PlayStation VR several games and partaken in some rather interesting experiences seen through the headset over the last two years. We also have some interesting ideas on whether we think it will be a success when it is finally ready for public consumption. Hopefully, that will all become clear in this extensive preview.
PlayStation VR hardware
We've seen an image of what Sony plans to put in the box when it is released in October this year, but it's not clear what accessories might be included with the cables and such like.
We know that the headset will be included - which we've now seen a final build of - and we're sure that PlayStation VR requires the use of a separate media box that will link the headset to the PS4, with a PlayStation Camera handling external motion tracking. The control system we've most used during demos comes in the form of two PlayStation Move controllers, the same devices launched for the PS3 a few years back - so there is a use for them after all.
We've also played a driving game, DriveClub, using a conventional PS4 steering wheel. And on one or two occasions, the DualShock 4 was the control device of choice.
PlayStation VR headset
Unlike its peers, the PlayStation VR headset looks like something from science fiction. It is space-age and futuristic in style, with glowing led panels and swish lines.
In addition, it fits around the head rather than feature a top strap and therefore feels a tighter on the sides and back. It is adjustable though, and the screen and processing unit is in a box that encases your eyes, much like every other VR device out there.
There is a soft rim around the eye piece and padding in the band, but, if we're being honest, it feels a little heavier in build to the consumer Oculus Rift. Whether that stacks up when the specifications are finally released, we'll have to see.
The headset can be tweaked to ensure the lenses are the correct distance for a clear picture by tightening the whole unit and, like many VR headsets, it is possible to wear glasses at the same time.
Technically, the screen resolution is not quite as good as others that will be available to the public this year. The PlayStation VR uses a single 1920 x 1080 Full HD OLED panel - so 960 x 1080 for each eye. Some rivals use higher resolutions and different panels for each eye.
However, by restricting the resolution - and let's face it, the PS4 is only capable of outputting 1080p video anyway - the headset can maintain a frame rate of up to 120fps. That's awesome when you consider that the Oculus Rift refreshes at 90Hz (90fps) maximum, although technically the games are likely to still run at 60fps on the console and upconverted for the headset.
Upconverted or not, on-screen action could therefore seem super smooth, even if it looks a little less crisp that on other devices. And while we've noticed pixels at the start of sessions, we soon forget they are there and marvel at the action instead.
Strangely, whenever we've experienced PlayStation VR we have always had to wear separate, third-party virtual surround headphones. That's okay, but combining the headphones with the headset would have been a more elegant solution. With the act of putting Move controllers around your wrist, adjusting the headset and then wearing headphones, it's quite a clumsy process you have to go through each time just to play a game.
The aid of another person is recommended, but we think it's just about doable when alone.
The LED strip lights all over the front and rear of the PlayStation VR aren't just for show. Like the PlayStation Move controllers, they work with the PlayStation Camera to track head position. It is here that you notice the biggest aesthetic difference between the consumer PlayStation VR headset and the previous Project Morpheus one, in that there is now an additional LED strip on the front of the visor. This should make tracking even more precise.
PlayStation VR controllers
Naturally, as the PlayStation VR headset links with a PS4 - through an external connections box, it is understood - there will naturally be some games that make full use of the fact that owners will have a DualShock 4 controller to hand. We've actually used one for a demo in the past (The Kitchen), and that also made use of the motion control aspects of the gamepad.
We also played a VR version of DriveClub using an authorised PS4 racing wheel and sat in a bucket seat.
However, the controllers that will be used in many VR experiences and dedicated games are the PlayStation Move motion controllers originally designed for the PlayStation 3. Finally, there's a use for them now that 2D motion gaming itself has died a premature death.
Two PlayStation Move controllers are used more than often, to reflect both hands within a virtual world. They feature glowing LED balls on the end of each baton, which are picked up in a real space by the PlayStation Camera, and there is very little latency between movements made using them (one frame, it is said) and therefore motions are nigh-on instant in a game or interactive experience.
Each Move controller features a gyroscope and an accelerometer as well as the visual ball. There is also a magnetic field sensor inside.
It also features seven buttons in total, but the most useful one for VR purposes is the trigger on the underside. This helps game developers recognise hand closing gestures. There's a button on the top, where the thumb would be placed, that could also be used for other gesture control.
We've found the Move controllers to be a bit more limited to use than the Oculus Touch or HTC Vive batons, but considering they are already available and, in many cases, already sitting in PlayStation fans' drawers, it's great that they can be dug out and used once more.
PlayStation VR sensor
As well as the sensors in the wands and the headset - which also has an accelerometer and gyroscope - the system requires the use of a PlayStation Camera to track the LEDs on the PlayStation VR and Move controllers.
Again, this is a device that already exists and is used by many PS4 owners already. It will likely be included in the box with the PlayStation VR helmet, but is also fairly inexpensive at around £40. It can also be used for other PS4 games and functions outside of VR and comes with a built-in microphone for voice-control and in-game chat.
There are plenty of third-party accessories already available for it too, which help mount it in a wall, top of a TV or serve as a desktop stand.
PlayStation VR release date and price
After much speculation and the occasional "leak", Sony revealed that the price of the PlayStation VR will be £349 in the UK. It will also be $399 in the US, 399 euros in Europe and 44,980 yen in Sony's homeland of Japan.
That's half the price of the HTC Vive and £150 less than an Oculus Rift, the headset's two main rivals.
And considering that the PS VR will work with a conventional PlayStation 4 rather than a high-end PC, as with the others, it is definitely the most affordable option in this category.
Sadly, the release date isn't as welcome as the price. Even though the company previously said it would come in the first half of 2016, it will now not be available until October 2016. Still, that's in time for the Christmas rush.
No pre-order details have been announced as yet.
PlayStation VR hardware requirements
As we mentioned above, unlike rival VR headsets - namely Oculus Rift and HTC Vive - the PlayStation VR will not require a beefy PC to run. Instead, it will work with a standard PlayStation 4 console.
The final consumer headset will come with a separate processing box though that is required to hook it up to the PlayStation 4.
Certainly, a separate media box has been present at every demo we've undertaken, and it even looks like a mini PS4 in design. It supplies power and video to the headset, while sending motion signals back to the console.
From everything we've also seen so far, you'll need a decent pair of virtual surround headphones, with third-party cans used in the vast majority of our demos. Sony might include its PS4 compatible pair, but we doubt it.
PlayStation VR games and content
Considering its roots, the vast number of demonstrations we've had and additional PlayStation VR software that's been announced so far centres on gaming. While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have also been touted in an entertainment sense beyond games, the PS VR is seen primarily as a games accessory.
These are our thoughts on some of the games we've tried so far. We're not sure whether any or all will be launch titles, and there have been several others announced that we're yet to try. These should give you some idea, however.
PlayStation VR: The Kitchen
The Kitchen became one of the biggest talking points of E3 2015 - at least amongst the people who had experienced it or witness someone else doing so. Rather than an actual game as such, it's a proof of concept by Capcom that quite literally had our hearts racing more than if we had spent twenty minutes cross-training.
You start tied to a chair in a manky, dirty basement, with another man tied up on the floor next to you. You can look around but have limited view - behind you especially as you're tied to a chair. It's very Saw or Hostel and quite frankly petrifying. We thoroughly enjoyed it (no spoilers here as you might get to have a go yourself some time) and although we mostly smiled through the showing, others screamed.
It is genuinely that scary.
PlayStation VR: The London Heist
Based on the ages old PlayStation game The Getaway, The London Heist is a British gangster caper that was originally designed to be a standalone game, but will now be bundled as part of London Studios' launch title, PlayStation VR Worlds. It will be accompanied by Into The Deep, VR Luge, Danger Ball and Scavenger's Odyssey.
It makes sense as the parts we've already played suit a mini-game structure.
The demos available to us so far included two specific sections - one in a getaway vehicle being pursued by gangsters and the other in a mansion where you are trying to steal a precious gem.
The best of the two was the one that had us sat in the passenger seat of a car racing away from a bank job, while being set upon by motorbike riders and other enemies in SUVs. We had to dispatch them by shooting an in-game Uzi, and pick up and reload magazines of bullets along the way. One particular aspect we loved was the ability to open the car door and physically look out behind the car to dispatch enemies behind us.
The other level was played from a standing position, with the ability to duck behind a desk as enemies fired upon us. We could peer out and fire back at them. Heaven knows what it looked like to people in the real world, but it was great fun.
PlayStation VR: EVE: Valkyrie
Like Oculus Rift, EVE: Valkyrie is expected on PlayStation VR too. It's a space combat game where you are the pilot of a nippy fighter craft.
There is much to rave about with EVE: Valkyrie, but as we found whenever we played the game briefly on Rift, much of the time during our PS VR EVE demo was spent marvelling at the fact we could see a virtual pair of legs in the cockpit of the ship.
This helps ground the experience. By seeing parts of yourself in the virtual world, it helps the illusion that you are really there.
Naturally, the zipping around blowing enemies away impressed too, but initially we suspect you'll be just as amazed at the ambient details CCP has included.
PlayStation VR: DriveClub
Sony decided to exhibit at Paris Games Week in October last year rather than the earlier Gamescom in Germany and we got to have a 15 minute session on DriveClub as seen through the headset.
Sadly, it might never see the light of day considering Sony has shut down the studio, Evolution, but our experience said as much for driving games in VR in general as that specific title.
Specifically, we'd never twigged how good a driving game could be in PlayStation VR beforehand, but it seems such a natural fit. It's obvious really.
Whether you like DriveClub in its existing 2D form or not, it becomes a very different beast through a PlayStation VR headset.
We played it while sat in racing seat and behind a decent steering wheel and pedals accessory, but a lot of the experience would have been as fun even with a DualShock 4. Certainly, the instinctive things we found ourselves doing would have been the same.
Anyone who's befriended us on PS4 or Xbox One and have raced against us at any driving game will know that we want to barge our way through other cars in a dash for superiority. However, when playing with the headset on, we started to be much more respectful to the vehicles around us.
The opponents seemed much more tangible and therefore realistic, so when they slowed down to take a corner, rather than using them as a steering barrier we actually slowed down with them, attempting to avoid contact.
Another strange, more real-world driving effect the VR experience had on us helped us corner much more effectively. When any driver is about to take a corner in a real car, they will look towards the direction they are about to travel - something not feasible in a conventional racing game.
We did so all the time, which also allowed other instincts to kick in. We hit the brakes much sooner when approaching a corner, and accelerated much more quickly when exiting. Basically, we became better racing drivers.
PlayStation VR: The Playroom VR
Let's be honest, Playroom on PS4 - which was one of the included launch titles that worked well with the PlayStation Camera - was a bit meh. It was fun to muck around with for a while, but seemed more like a tech demo than a game.
However, on PlayStation VR, it could become something quite different.
Spattered with virtual reality mini-games, something tells us it might be an included title with the headset itself. Certainly the one game we've played from the collection - Cat and Mouse - seems like the sort of thing you'd get out to show the whole family how a VR headset can enhance experiences.
In it, the person wearing the headset is a robot cat and there are four other players are mice. The mice must run around collecting cheese while the cat hides behind a net curtain.
By looking at a specific mouse and lunging forward, the headset wearer can catch them and stop their cheese stealing exploits. The mice thought, who each use conventional controllers, can hide under cans or other household packaging until the cat disappears again.
It's definitely fun and the simple gameplay means anyone can have a go. It won't be the main driver for VR though, we feel.
PlayStation VR: Current challenges
In its PlayStation VR headset Sony has a distinct advantage over Oculus and HTC/Valve with their respective devices; it already has a vast user base with the equipment needed to run it.
The other companies both require consumers to own beefy PC setups, which can cost many hundreds if not a thousand pounds to invest in. The PlayStation 4 is a fraction of that price and there are already 36 million units in households worldwide.
Of course, the number of those that belong to people interested in virtual reality will be far smaller than that, but to have such a massive potential audience to entice puts Sony in a very strong position.
It will also boil down to price, we feel.
While the Oculus Rift is pricey, at £500, and the HTC Vive is even more expensive at £700, they are both pitched at audiences who are used to paying top dollar for the best experiences.
Many PC gamers are willing and often able to splash out the cash on their hobbies.
The PlayStation 4 is a cheaper alternative all-round and therefore has more mass market appeal. There are undoubtedly plenty of fervent gamers with PS4s who are willing to spend big, but to make PlayStation VR a success, Sony needs to aim it at a wider market.
That's why it has plumped for a £349 price point even with the amount of technology crammed into its headset. We suspect it might even be willing to make a loss per device in return for software sales.
Of all the virtual reality headsets that are coming out this year, PlayStation VR won't be the most technologically advanced or even be best supported in software terms. It will though be the one that will have the most eyes on - both figuratively and literally.
That's because, rather than aim at a dedicated minority, it is designed for the biggest majority in gaming at present. PS4 fans are many and varied.
For that reason, it's the most exciting prospect for us. We already have the equipment needed to run it and setup should be simple.
Most of the games we've seen so far are also designed for a simpler form of VR - in most of them we've been sitting - so we won't even need a massive play area to get the most from it.
Yes, we would rather a higher resolution screen, like Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, but VR for us is a living room entertainment experience and shouldn't be confined to a bedroom or study.
That's where our PS4 is based and that's why PlayStation VR is a different prospect. And at £349 it might just be affordable enough to turn heads.