Wolverton: PlayStation VR lacks room to roam

Sony’s PlayStation VR generally has what it takes to compete with Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive. But there’s one area where it comes up significantly short of its rivals.

As I wrote in my recent column, Sony’s new VR headset offers a high-quality virtual reality experience that’s comparable to what you’d get from Rift or Vive. But because it largely depends on off-the-shelf components designed for Sony’s PlayStation 4 game console, Sony’s able to offer the entire VR system for hundreds of dollars less than what you’d have to spend for a Rift or Vive setup.

But there’s one notable shortcoming with Sony’s VR game plan: At least right now, there’s no way to do what’s called “room-scale” virtual reality with it. The VR experience you get with the PS VR is largely a stationary one.

You can turn your actual head and even rotate your body and have those movements show up in the virtual world. But PS VR won’t allow you to walk around a virtual space by actually moving your feet. Instead, you either have to stay seated or standing in one place. Your virtual persona can move around, but only if you push a button or press on a joy stick, not by you actually walking.

This limitation stands in contrast to the other two high-end virtual reality systems now on the market.

Indeed, the ability to move physically inside a virtual space was one of the distinguishing features of HTC’s Vive when it launched. Vive includes two laser emitters that you position in opposite corners of the room you use for VR. Thanks to those emitters and sensors on the headset, Vive’s setup gives you a real, physical play space in which you can move around. According to HTC, that play space can be as square with sides as long as 11 1/2 feet. That’s around 133 square feet of space to move around in.

Facebook’s Rift didn’t initially support this kind of room-scale VR. Rift only comes with one external sensor, which is typically positioned in front of you. With that sensor you can move in a square space of about 3 feet by 3 feet. That allows you to lean your body, but doesn’t exactly allow you to move around.

But Oculus recently added what it calls “experimental” support for more than one sensor and provided instructions for how users could configure a room-scale VR set-up for Rift. With two sensors — and its new motion-sensing Touch controllers — Oculus says Rift will now support movement within a square space of about 5 feet each side. With three sensors, Rift will offer a square play space of about 8 feet a side.

There’s an ongoing debate among virtual reality developers about the importance of room-scale VR, with some saying it will only appeal to a small niche of users. For the time being, there likely will be relatively few VR games or simulations that take advantage of the feature, because only the highest end systems support it.

But at least for some visionaries, being able to physically move around in a virtual space is an important part of creating a truly immersive VR experience. For them, the Holodeck, where crew members of the Starship Enterprise used to spend their downtime on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” is a kind of ultimate goal.

For now, Sony’s PS VR remains farther from that vision than HTC’s Vive or Oculus’ Rift.

Photo: Tech Files columnist Troy Wolverton tests out Sony’s PlayStation VR virtual reality system. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Markus Schoierer

    Sorry but this is not 100% correct. In Batam VR for Playstation you can walk a few steps in each direction. The limit is not really the technology it is the availalbe space of your living room (not everyone live in a Wayne Manor) 😉