Up until a year ago it seemed like the Oculus Rift would run unopposed for the title of premiere Virtual Reality experience. The headset was dominating the conversation with a series of successful showings, including a very impressive EVE: Valkyrie demo at E3 2013, so much so that Facebook bought the company for $2 billion.
Just a few months ago, however, Sony threw its name into the ring with Project Morpheus, their VR headset built specifically for the PlayStation 4. It was a major step forward for VR, as news outlets far and wide were now focusing on the blossoming technology, but more importantly it added a little more intrigue to the entire VR conversation.
In the hopes of furthering that conversation, Sony brought Project Morpheus along to E3 2014, and we had the opportunity to go hands-on with the headset. We were treated to three separate demos: all about 5-minutes in length and intended to show off the various uses for Project Morpheus.
It’s important to know first and foremost that I have yet to demo the Oculus Rift (that should change soon). In fact, my demo of Project Morpheus was my first experience with this next phase of VR. That being said, what was on-hand for the VR headset left a lasting impression, both in terms of what the headset already gets right and what it needs to improve.
From a design perspective, Project Morpheus is easy to wear – relatively light and secure on the player’s head. It’s also more accommodating to glasses wearers than most VR headsets, sporting an adjustable slider for the viewer that can get as close, or as far, to the user’s face as they like. Without going into too much detail just know that this a well-designed device with a great look.
The three demos Sony had to show included an interactive street luge experience, whereby the player lays down on a beanbag chair and tilts their head to guide the luge board; an underwater “adventure” that featured an attack on a shark cage; and a training simulator that incorporated PS Move. Each of the three demos was meant to highlight Project Morpheus’ ability to heighten an interactive experience. In the case of the luge, for example, it helped give the player a sense of speed and perspective, all the while they were tilting their head to guide the luge.
Operating Project Morpheus was as easy as you might expect of a competent VR headset. There were no problems with motion sickness, and the device provides a fully immersive and interactive experience. It might be reductive to say it, but the headset “works” and that’s the most important thing.
But, there were some rough patches for Project Morpheus as well. The headset’s motion tracking (via a light bar on the headset and the PS4 camera) was not perfect. Movement, and in turn the frame rate, wasn’t as fluid as some players might expect, and it wasn’t always clear how much movement was necessary to enact a precise movement. As a result, I spent some time weaving back and forth from curb to curb in the street luge demo, unsure how much to lean/tilt my head.
The visual presentation wasn’t overly impressive either, especially the resolution. In the underwater experience, for example, the attacking shark looked great up close, but some of the deep sea environments lacked the level of detail players expect. It’s not like looking into video game’s past, mind you, but still jarring compared to the sharp visuals we are used to seeing from modern games.
Obviously, Project Morpheus is still in the early stages as far as its public demonstrations go, but what we saw left us convinced that the technology has a place…provided it continues to grow. Tech demos are always important when it comes to showing off a device’s utility, but they seldom make a case for why something is essential. And at this point Project Morpheus is not essential. It’s a well-designed piece of tech that has shown early potential.
Further refinement will be necessary if Sony wants to stay competitive, but with a big name brand on its side and a growing platform (PS4) as its base, Project Morpheus could make the biggest splash for VR when all is said and done.
What have been your early impressions of Project Morpheus? Does the headset interest you more than the Oculus Rift? If you have any questions about the demo feel free to ask them in the comments.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina for more E3 2014 updates.