PSVR 2 in sync with PS5 in 2020?

PlayStation is winning the high-end VR battle. Sony has sold 4.2 million PlayStation VR headsets as of March, as Dominic Mallinson, senior vice president of R&D at Sony, made sure to point out at Collision 2019 in Toronto. What will make PSVR 2 the breakthrough device for the mass market?...


PlayStation is winning the high-end VR battle. Sony has sold 4.2 million PlayStation VR headsets as of March, as Dominic Mallinson, senior vice president of R&D at Sony, made sure to point out at Collision 2019 in Toronto. What will make PSVR 2 the breakthrough device for the mass market?

4.2 million PSVR units sold to date. “We’re very happy with those numbers and very happy with the position,” Mallinson noted. “But we know we can do better. There are over 96 million PlayStation 4s in the market today. And every single one of those is capable of delivering a great VR experience. So we’d like to convert many, many more of those people to be PSVR users. And we won’t just stop with PS4.”

Mallinson is of course referring to Sony’s promise last month that PlayStation 5 will support PSVR 2. Because he’s part of Sony’s R&D labs, Mallinson gets to see some of the experiments, direction, and new content “that’s coming through the pipeline,” as he put it. That’s what helped him name his session “The future is bright for virtual reality.”

The first takeaway is straightforward: TV shows, regular video games, movies, books, and radio all give you a certain level of immersion. VR goes the furthest. “VR engages all of your senses in a more heightened way,” Mallinson stated. “It engages your eyes in a more heightened way. It engages optics in a more heightened way. You just don’t get that in any other medium.”

Mallinson briefly talked about how people who suck at golf feel empowered playing the game in VR. He described — but emphasized that it’s impossible to do it justice — the incredibly unique feeling of flying around like Iron Man.

Speaking of feelings, he was asked how he felt seeing his classic PlayStation hit Wipeout come to VR.

“It was wonderful,” Mallinson said with a big smile. “It got me a little bit emotional because it’s what we always dreamed of doing when we created Wipeout — having it in VR. So to see them actually deliver that, and do a really good job as well, was just fantastic. Unfortunately for me, personally, I get a little bit sick in VR. So much as I enjoy playing it, I couldn’t play it for too long because it is a little bit more extreme.”

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The takeaway Mallinson talked about the most, both onstage and in Venturebeats follow-up. He gave three examples of evolutionary hardware improvements first, and offered his predictions.

“The first is resolution,” Mallinson explained. “This is more pixels per degree. It’s about the sharpness and the clarity of the display. And you have to be able to match what people expect to see today with high definition. I would expect the resolution to roughly double in the next set of VR products.”

“Along with that, we also need a greater field of view,” he continued. “The human visual system is out to about 180 degrees. Most VR headsets today are about 100 degrees. There are diminishing returns to get wider. But I would expect the next set of products to be roughly 120 degrees in terms of field of view.

“And finally, HDR. In the TV industry, HDR is already incredibly important to creating the best experiences. The human eye sees an enormous range of light from bright sunlight to deep shadow. Today’s VR panels only capture a tiny fraction of that. So in order to increase the sense of presence, I do expect to see HDR adopted in the near future.”

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Trippin’ over those Cables

He offered two solutions: an all-in-one headset, where the compute is part of the headset, and using wireless transmission technology to replace the cable in PSVR 2.

“In both cases, these require a battery, either on your head or close to your head,” Mallinson noted. “Having a battery on your head is a little bit inconvenient in terms of ergonomics and industrial design. But I think that the all-in-one headsets that you’re beginning to see now are actually getting pretty good. But honestly speaking, they cannot possibly compete with a wired headset today because of the enormous amount of compute and rendering performance you can get on a high-end PC or a games console. You just can’t put that on your head.”

Thankfully, progress is moving quickly here too.

“But fortunately, wireless transmission technology is getting better every day,” Mallinson said. “New technologies such as 60 gigahertz are allowing for these options to become possible for VR products. But it might well remain an option, because it will be more costly than with the cable.”

Tracking your Gaze

“Gaze tracking, this is the technology that excites me the most,” Mallinson declared. “We’re already beginning to see this in some products on display at industry events. I think it has the greatest potential to change the PSVR 2 user experience at a pretty fundamental level. I think it was Shakespeare who coined this phrase that ‘the eyes are a window to our souls’. I’ve been a little more prosaic by saying that ‘the eyes are a window to our thoughts’. I think everyone can intuitively understand just how rich human communication becomes when you have that eye contact.”

“So what do I mean by gaze tracking? I mean the technology to understand where you’re looking in this virtual world. What is your attention point? And then on top of that, we can then layer extra things. We can understand perhaps your attention by measuring pupil dilation. We can do biometrics to understand who you are looking at. … And we can measure your IPD (interpupillary distance) — the distance between your pupils. This is very important to VR because it allows us to accurately set up the optics and the rendering to give you maximum comfort, and to really get the correct sense of distance and scale in VR. So fundamentally, with this technology, we know what you’re looking at in VR. And this allows for countless user interface and user experience possibilities.”

Forve… Fover… Fearov… You know what we mean.

The other reason Mallinson is so bullish about gaze tracking is because it enables foveated rendering in PSVR 2.

“More pixels needs more rendering performance,” Mallinson explained. “If you just brute force it, it requires a lot of extra rendering performance. The human eye has a part in the retina called the fovea, which is responsible for our super-sharp vision. We don’t see very much in the peripheral vision. So if we can match our rendering performance to the fovea, we can deliver higher effective resolutions, and also better quality images. So gaze tracking is a win-win in this respect.”

Gaze tracking thus “pays for itself.” It brings a new user experience, and enables the hardware optimization of foveated rendering. All of the above together consists of the rapid improvements in technology that Mallinson expects will drive wider adoption of VR.

In the coming months we will surely get more details on both devices, so stay tuned for the latest on PS5 and PSVR 2!

Big thanks to Venturebeat for the recap and interview!
About author

Jorge Wolters Gregório

Gamer dad who loves the classics, indies, racers and the occasional shooter. Have been in the industry for almost two decades now and am as enthusiastic as ever! #4theplayers

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