sony morpheus gdc2014 hubert nguyenAt GDC 2014, Sony dropped a bomb in the VR world by introducing its VR headset concept to the world (this was preceded by its share of Sony rumors). Called Morpheus, the VR headset is Sony’s way of saying that Virtual Reality came make a comeback after more than a decade after being shelved by the gaming industry. The the moment, the Sony Morpheus is still a concept, but as you can see, the Industrial design already looks pretty slick and the graphics are powered by a PS4, although nothing would prevent it from running with PS3 and the Eyetoy webcam. I tried it at GDC with the “Deep” demo, and here are my impressions:

Sony Morpheus Specifications (as of GDC14)

  • Display
    • 5-inch Panel
    • Native Resolution (X): 1920
    • Native Resolution (Y): 1080
    • Resolution per eye: 960×1080
    • Technology: LCD
    • Field of view: 90 degrees
  • Co-Processor
    • Unknown, most likely serves for basic 2D graphics and data flow to/from PS4
  • Sensors
    • Internal: Accelerometer/Gyroscope/[no Magnetometer]
    • External: Camera
  • Connectivity
    • HDMI
    • USB

Industrial Design

project morpheus1As I mentioned before, the Sony Morpheus has a slick design. It could almost look like a finished product that you can buy. I guess that’s what a big company like Sony can do since they have quite a bit of experience in putting prototypes together. It doesn’t affect the effectiveness, but it does help produce a good impression. Although I like the design for now, I’ll put this aspect in the background since we have yet to see a final product.

sony vr headset gdc14 001

The Morpheus headset has LED light in the front to help the Playstation Camera track the head motion, which means that you can move your head around and act naturally. As long as you stay within the field of view of the Playstation Camera, the game should be able to track the position of your head in space. Inside the Morpheus headset, there is an array of motion sensors that will provide orientation, acceleration etc. By merging all those signals, the app does a good job of knowing where the camera should be.

sony vr headset gdc14 002

The headset design seemed quite polished, but Sony has prefered providing us with some assistance to put the gear on. I understand, since there were cables left and right and they certainly don’t want to have the public drop a couple of headsets on the ground. However, it felt a little more complicated to put on than the Oculus Rift DK2.

Comfort, weight

The headset seems to weigh a little more than 1lbs, but it was pretty comfortable once it was set in place. After moving it a little to tweak the focus and how it fits on my head, I quickly focused on the content: a deep-dive into a virtual world aboard a shark-cage.

The headset is comfortable and I didn’t feel any particular pressure on the eyes. The screen was also far enough from my eyes to avoid eye-strain and it was visually comfortable during the whole demo.

As usual, with 1lbs or so on the head, I didn’t feel like shaking my head or doing any kind of quick head motion. Fortunately, most VR games are tuned so that users don’t have to do that so, it was just fine.

Display & immersion level

Image quality

Sony is using LCD displays in the headset, which means that while the image does look good and bright, the contrast is in theory not as good as AMOLED displays. Sony has been pretty tight-lipped on the specifications of the Morpheus VR headset, but just by eyeballing it, I could tell that it could use a higher resolution.

My understanding is that Sony uses 1080p image split in two (960×1080 for each eye). Don’t get me wrong: it’s good, but in the VR space, things are being blown out as big as possible in your field of vision, so it’s never good enough – at least, we’re not there yet. Although the resolution is comparable to the Oculus Rift DK2, the Sony VR headset didn’t have that lenticular/pentile screen effect that I had with the DK2.

The main negative thing with the Sony Morpheus headset is that the field of view is a little bit narrower than the Oculus Rift DK2. While it doesn’t kill the experience, it is certainly critical element in how immersed you are. The solution? Bigger screen + higher resolution. But at least, it’s solvable for all VR companies –  it’s “just” expensive.

Latency

There are a few factors which can induce latency in a VR system, so I want to cover them one by one before addressing the overall perceived latency of the system.

Display response time: the LCDs used by Sony were fast enough to allow a comfortable usage. I wasn’t bothered by any blurring effect and the image itself was pretty good.

The rendering speed was supposedly at 60FPS according to the Sony staff, and I can believe it because the scene was pretty foggy and there was not that many things to make it slow. I’m saying supposedly because it felt more like 30FPS to me, but it is possible that the head-tracking was inducing some lag which made the overall, perceived speed to be lower than the nominal rendering speed.

If you render at 60FPS, but your head tracking is at 30FPS or feels like 30FPS, then the overall experience will seem less smooth to the user.

Body tracking

In the Sony demo, you could see your limbs move, thanks to a full-body motion tracking that Sony has from its past experience with PlayStation motion-tracking. It’s not as good as Kinect, but I could look at my legs, and bend my knees. There is potential for better immersion, but I don’t think that the body tracking is good enough to actually use limbs effectively in games. At this point, I recommend basing gameplay on head motion and a reliable controller. We’ll have to see what comes out of all this.

Conclusion

This is a smashing entry (or reentry if you consider that other head-mounted Sony display are VR-related) for Sony into the virtual reality (VR) space. Sony came up with a cool design and an effective first attempt at VR. Things looked polished and worked very well. Sony needs to improve its field of view and the resolution of its system, but it starts with a very solid foundation.

Sony has some advantage with its system since it can track full body motion, but this is something that Oculus can also handle without too many issues with some software work. Keep in mind that Sony is not promising a product, so we don’t know if this will be on the shelves anytime soon. One thing is for sure: it won’t hit the shelves in 2014.

This is a neck to neck race with Oculus, which says that Sony’s move vindicates Oculus’ quest for VR perfection.

Filed in Featured >Gaming . Tags: GDC, gdc 2014, Sony and vr.
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