Sony took motion-controlled gaming to the next level when it unveiled a slick-looking Oculus Rift competitor at its virtual-reality-focused GDC 2014 press conference.
Project Morpheus is the name of the electronics company’s long-rumored VR headset for PS4 and its design looks to be straight out of the Tron: Legacy movie.
More than its futuristic-looking black-and-white color scheme that glows hues of blue, it’s what is on the inside that counts: a whole new way to experience games and other video content.
Sony is reaching out to developers, hence the virtual reality headset’s presence at GDC 2014, with the hope that its forever-unimpressive PlayStation Move efforts can be coupled with its new Oculus Rift rival.
How Project Morpheus’ virtual reality works
Donning the Project Morpheus prototype means literally getting behind a 1080p head-mounted display with a 5-inch LCD panel, 960xRGBx1080 resolution per eye and 90-degree field of view to look around.
This compares to the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift that boasts a field of view of approximately 110 degrees diagonally. It’s a slightly superior figure that’s slightly head-turning in more ways than one.
Built-in motion sensors like an accelerometer and gyroscope are tucked into the headset, enabling the virtual world’s image to rotate in real-time with the wearer’s head movement.
Further head-tracking happens on a third axis when coupled with the all-of-a-sudden useful PlayStation Camera. It looks for Project Morpheus 1,000 times every second and enables full 360 movement without losing track of the headset.
Its sensors don’t do all of the work. Movement in games can still be handled with the DualShock 4 controller or PlayStation Move, both of which are compatible with the headset prototype.
There’s an HDMI output and USB port, which givers wearers the ability to mirror what they’re seeing to a TV screen and opens the door to multiplayer with people who don’t have a headset of their own.
A 5 meter cable does tether this device, but Sony expressed interest in making this wireless one day in future models. This is a prototype after all.
Works with glasses, has stereoscopic sound
Most importantly among Project Morpheus specs for some people is that it’ll be compatible with glasses. You won’t have to endure for a six-month-long wait for a solution like Google Glass users did.
Emphasizing that sound is just as important to VR immersion, Sony pointed to new 3D audio technology it has developed for Project Morpheus. Stereoscopic sounds occur in all directions and changes in real-time depending on head orientation.
Project Morpheus game demos
As incredible as virtual reality technology sounds and may even perform at GDC 2014, we’re not going to see a Project Morpheus consumer version until content adequate is created.
Sony tapped its internal studios to illustrate an immersive game experiences via a God of War 2 stage demo in which players slashed through enemies through the eyes of Kratos.
Seeing through the eyes of your favorite video game character dates back to Wolfenstein, but strapping a 1080p screen while in the first-person perspective should make this experience a little much more up-close-and-personal.
That’s the same takeaway that other internal studio intend to mimic. Sony London Studio submerges players a shark-proof cage in "The Deep," while it goes all medieval in the "The Castle" tech demo.
Games that previously existed are taking advantage of this virtual reality technology too. The recently released Thief from Square Enix applies its slower pacing to Project Morpheus and EVE Valkyrie from CCP Games is a natural fit even though it was previously announced to be an Oculus Rift exclusive.
The PlayStation company also flashed 13 familiar third-party publishing and developer tool creating partner logos including ones from heavy-hitters like Epic Games, Crytek, Autodesk and Havok. We’re likely to see through the eyes of more game characters down the line.
More than just games
Beyond first-person perspective video games, Sony is partnering with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in order to send gamers to Mars via the Curiosity Rover.
This technology could give PS4 a distinct advantage over Xbox One thanks to its virtual tour of new worlds that would otherwise require players to go through astronaut training and warp 50 years in the future. It’s a new wrinkle to the constantly shifting PS4 vs Xbox One debate.
Sony has actually designed head-mounted displays before Project Morpheus including the personal 3D viewer, the Sony HMZ-T3W. But it lacked the head-shifting content that turned with head movement.
Of course, now that Oculus Rift has peaked gamers’ interest, Sony is ready to take its existing form factor to another level.
Project Morpheus price, release date
It’s up to developers to create these new experiences with Sony’s overused phrasing "sense of presence," but it’s also up to the electronic manufacturer to make the Project Morpheus price affordable.
Morpheus is currently in prototype form, so there’s no price or consumer release date tied to Sony’s VR headset. That being said, it’s hopefully going to be cheaper than its past hardware in this category.
The HMZ-T3W costs $999 (£1,299, about AU$1,094.20), while the lower-end HMZ-T2 costs $799 (about £999, about AU$875), all of which seem too pricey for gamers for one reason: Oculus Rift.
Oculus Rift, by contrast, is $300 (about £180, AU$329) for the developer unit and although the consumer version price hasn’t been announced yet, the startup company claims that it’ll be "affordable" too.
Sony is no stranger in making its video game hardware more accessible via low price points. It undercut the Xbox One price for a considerable advantage on stores shelves at launch.
At the right price and with a solid performance, Project Morpheus could give Sony another big advantage over Microsoft’s Xbox One, and it looks like we’ll find out if it’s up to the task at GDC 2014.
- What are PS4’s other advantages? Read our PS4 vs Xbox One comparison