Around 6 days ago at the time of publishing this review, PlayStation sent me a PS VR2 headset for review, ahead of the hardware’s official release.
When it comes to accessibility reviews for gaming hardware, VR headsets are one of the more difficult kinds of hardware to easily sum up as accessible, or not, with any degree of generalisation. From physical movement expectations, to the benefits of head mounted displays, everyone’s experience with a VR headset is going to be wildly different.
What I can say about the PS VR2 after a few days with the tech is that there are some really exciting potential use cases for gaming with PlayStation’s expensive new headset, as well as some limitations that players are going to need to keep in mind if they’re considering this particular purchase.
The PS VR2 is an inside-out tracking VR headset, which uses a series of cameras on the outside of the headset to track the motion of a pair of motion controllers, keep track of where you are in a room as you walk around, and track where you’re facing. The headset doesn’t require the use of an external camera placed on top of the TV for tracking, and as such does a much better job of keeping track of its position if you turn 360 degrees in a circle.
When initially unboxing the PS VR2, it is worth noting that the headset can be a little tricky to work out how best to remove from the box it ships in. There is an outer box, with a second box inside. While it’s difficult to lift the interior box out of the exterior box, what isn’t immediately apparent is that the internal box is not sealed shut, you don’t have to remove it from the external box to open it, there is a lid at the top that can be lifted up to access everything inside. If you try and turn the outer box upside down to remove the inner box, as I’ve had to do with some consoles in the past like the PS5 itself, the headset will just tumble out because there’s a lid that will open up.
The exterior box is sealed with a pair of clear stickers, and inside the box three twist ties are used to secure various cables.
The PS VR2 is pretty easy to set up once you have it out of the packaging. The headset has a 15 ft long USB-C cable that plugs into a port directly on the front of the PS5 console. While this is easy to set up, as a very physically clumsy person I do worry about accidentally tripping over or pulling the cable. If the included USB-C cable were to be damaged by being incorrectly pulled from the console at an angle, possibly damaging the connector, you’d likely need to hope for a Sony repair, as the cable is built directly into the back of the headset and not user replaceable.
Once plugged in, a guided setup will talk you through connecting your controllers, as well as setting up the headset for use.
The PS VR2 headset has ample space for wearing glasses while the headset is in use, as well as the ability to move the lenses forward or back to avoid them pressing against your glasses uncomfortably, risking damaging the lenses on either your glasses or the headset.
Thanks in part to an internal fan over a heatsink, the PS VR2 is a lot less prone to fogging up if played intensely on a cold day. Generally, the headset stayed much cooler when in early use these first few days.
The headset also contains a much improved rubber face guard to block out external light from leaking into the headset. While not completely perfect for every face shape, I found that this blocked out almost all light, with the occasional exception of a tiny little bit of light around the nose in very rare movement positions.
As an autistic gamer, this improved blockage of light leakage has vastly improved my enjoyment of the PS VR2. I tend to find it hard to mentally block out “unimportant” sensory information, and this headset is one of the best I’ve used for not getting distracted by the outside world.
There is a little bit of a “dark void” around your periphery, as the headset’s 110 degree field of view doesn’t extend all the way to the left and right of your vision, but it’s a wide enough field of view to not be distracting, and to be immersive. The field of view top to bottom was fairly complete in my experience.
As part of setup, the PS VR2 will help the user check they’ve correctly set the distance between their eyes by using a dial to physically move the lenses closer together or further apart, as well as showing them whether the headset is correctly placed level on their face, by using a visualiser that shows in real time the position of the headset, lenses, eyes, and a rating of whether these factors are correctly set.
The player can then set their play area by looking around the room using passthrough view, which shows a black and white feed from the cameras on the headset, and paints a polygonal map across objects like walls, the floor, the ceiling, and objects like tables or chairs. This is one of the most accurate and simple room scale setups I’ve experienced with a VR headset, and allows for easy tweaking of the map using a controller pointer. Floor height can be adjusted by placing a controller on the floor, or by using an analogue stick if reaching down to the floor is difficult.
Lastly, the headset walks the player through setting up eye tracking, one of the most important and impressive aspects of the device.
Of note, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of eye tracking in the PS VR2 if you have either one missing eye, or one eye that behaves differently to the other. I can confirm that if I closed one of my eyes, eye tracking support would often stop working, which leads me to believe the headset requires seeing two eyes before it will eye track. I cannot review how well eye tracking will work for a wide range of disabilities, and that is just something to keep in mind.
So, with the headset set up, I want to talk about eye tracking specifically as a piece of tech in the PS VR2, some of the exciting applications of the tech in launch software for the headset, and some of the limitations to be aware of.
PS VR2 uses eye tracking for a few purposes, some more understated, and some more user facing.
The PS VR2 features effectively a 4K OLED HDR capable display, split across two smaller screens, one per eye. In order to get the most out of these displays, the headset makes use of something called foveated rendering, where eye tracking is used to see where you’re currently looking, and render that part of the screen in higher resolution detail, with areas in your peripheral vision dynamically being set lower in resolution.
This tech works really well, and is basically impossible to notice while playing. The eye tracking tech in my experience was accurate, and very fast to react. I made conscious attempts to trick the technology, looking rapidly back and forth in different directions trying to see a location in low detail before the headset caught up and bumped the resolution, but I was never able to.
In practice, this allows the headset to display as crisp and clear a resolution as possible where you’re looking, making VR games easier to see detail in, without unnecessarily straining the PS5 hardware. This means that more games run reliably at 90-120 FPS, which makes a big difference to comfort while playing.
Additionally, the improved screens, as well as foveated rendering, make text a lot more clearly legible than it is in other similarly priced headsets, which is really appreciated.
Games that have lots of small details, such as trying to see the American sign Language in Moss, are much easier to capture those details when you’re looking through this headset compared to other headsets in this price range.
That said, foveated rendering is visible in gameplay footage captured via a capture card, or when a non-VR player is watching the gameplay feed of the headset on the TV. If your eyes are not the ones controlling the foveated rendering, you will notice areas get blurry and out of focus as someone’s playing. It’s great that someone can watch along on a TV and offer advice and support by seeing what’s happening in game, but they will occasionally notice blurry areas of game visuals.
Beyond that, in launch software, eye tracking is mostly used for things like menu navigation, as seen in Horizon: Call of the Mountain.
The really interesting use case however for eye tracking, when it comes to the launch day software, is Rez Infinite, a game that can be largely, but not entirely, played using eye tracking.
In Rez Infinite, one of the control mode options available to players, hidden in settings, is a mode where the player uses eye tracking to target enemies, holding down the X button to start locking onto targets, and letting go to fire missiles.
The eye tracking support in Rez Infinite is incredibly precise, allowing for fast and responsive enemy targeting. The eye tracking range seems to be slightly limited, there are spots right on the edges of your periphery which are too far to the side for eye tracking to accurately track, but in approximately the centre 80% of the screen, eye tracking was rock solid.
Rez Infinite’s opening level was largely able to be completed while keeping the player’s head completely stationary, only using eye tracking and a single button. Toward the end of the level some enemies, most notably the end of level boss, did begin to fly to the very left and right of the player, requiring a head turn of 90 degrees to face them, but for the most part eye tracking alone was able to complete much of the first level.
While this particular piece of software did require some head movement due to existing level design choices, it proves a really strong proof of concept that the PS VR2’s tech could very much support games designed purely for eye tracking support, for players unable to move their head, neck, or hands. I’m excited and hopeful to see if any developers use the tech this way going forward.
As someone with a coordination disability, I genuinely found Rez Infinite infinitely more playable as a result of having access to this eye tracking mode. My hands don’t always do what I want them to quickly or accurately, but my eyes are much better at precisely obeying me, and this was really useful. I hope more games make use of these kinds of features in the future.
While we’re talking about use cases for PS VR2, it is important to note that for players hoping to play PS VR2 titles while lying down, it is possible to set the ceiling as your centred forward position when using a virtual screen in VR, such as navigating the PS5 home screen, or playing a non-VR game in “theatre mode” on a virtual large screen, the same cannot be said for any of the launch software for the system. None of the launch software would allow me to lie down, and set the ceiling as the location to display the main game information, including software with no motion controls involved such as Tetris Effect that I can’t logically see why couldn’t be set to be played looking up at the ceiling.
If you would benefit from being able to play non-VR games projected on your ceiling, that use case for the headset is viable, you can put a big virtual screen on the ceiling and play games up there.
In terms of other hardware features, the headset itself contains rumble. While immersive, in some titles it can be a little disorienting or overwhelming at first. Headset rumble can be turned off on a system level, as well as on a per title basis in some software.
The PS VR2 doesn’t have speakers built into the headset, meaning that players will either need to listen to audio from their TV, or wear a pair of headphones while playing. The headset does ship with in-ear headphones that attach to the back of the headset, but these may not be comfortable for all users. I really struggled with them.
Thankfully, any set of headphones can be plugged in, with the headset design featuring enough room for some kinds of over ear headphones to be worn without resting on the headset. As someone who struggles with in-ear headphones, I was able to wear my over-ear headphones fairly comfortably with the headset.
While most launch PS VR2 software supports seated play, some exceptions do exist. What The Bat, for example, can only be played while standing, with a 2 metre square space to play in. The game insists on this, and will not boot up if your square standing area is even slightly below those dimensions.
The PS VR2 headset features a dedicated passthrough button, which can be used at any time to see the world outside of your headset in black and white. While some detail will be lost, I for example couldn’t see the teleprompter through Passthrough, it just was a little too blurry, this view is responsive and detailed enough to make it easy to quickly check your surroundings without having to remove the headset entirely.
In terms of controllers, the PS VR2 ships with a pair of “sense controllers”. These handheld controllers feature most of the buttons found on a traditional Dualsense controller, minus the D-Pad and Touchpad.
While I found the controllers comfortable to hold, and accurately tracked by the headset, you do need to place your hands inside a circular ring to reach the controls. This is not likely to be an issue for most users in most cases, but if you have particularly large hands, this may be a barrier to play. I can imagine, for example, a player with a cast on their arm not being able to hold this controller, even if they might otherwise be fine to grip and use its controls.
In terms of players who only have the use of one hand, it is important to note that the PS VR2 will only boot up and play games if both controllers are powered up and connected to the console, even if only one of them is going to be used. There is no system level support for single handed play, and you will need to check on a game by game basis if play using a single controller is supported.
Sense controllers are also currently not sold separately, so if you’re highly clumsy like myself, yay disabilities, you may have a problem on your hands if you ever accidentally damage or break one.
Some PS VR2 launch titles do support playing with a traditional DualSense controller, such as Tetris Effect. Some software requires the use of a traditional DualSense, mainly playing non-VR games on a virtual screen in theatre mode.
The Sense controllers also feature rumble, and the PS5’s adaptive triggers. These can be switched off at a system level.
Additionally of note, original PSVR games are not automatically compatible with the PS VR2. A lot of software will either not be playable at all, or require an upgrade or an update. In some cases, you may be charged a small fee to update to the PS VR2 compatible version of a game you already own.
In terms of PS VR2 accessibility settings, all of the PS5’s accessibility settings on a system level, other than Zoom, are available while in VR. This includes system level support for Color Correction, Invert Color, and Custom Button Assignment.
In terms of motion sickness, something I have at times struggled with in VR on other headsets, the PS VR2 isn’t magic, it will not magically reduce motion sickness triggers in games that fail to follow best practices for VR movement, but in decently thoughtful conditions it is one of the better headsets I’ve used in terms of motion sickness reduction.
There are some launch titles where analogue stick movement is your only option, and the movement speed and acceleration defaults are high, which are always going to push the limits of VR comfort for motion sickness prone players, but there are also titles like Horizon: Call of the Mountain, which I played for three hours with minimal motion sickness using analogue stick movement, something very rare for me.
I had three very lengthy day-long play sessions with PS VR2, one of which was on a day where I was very tired, a common motion sickness trigger for me, and I only had a few brief moments of motion sickness, in titles that were really pushing my limits. Kayak VR Mirage, for example, I was able to quickly tell that the levels set on a stormy sea were going to make me feel ill, but levels set on calm waters were no issue. Even in the cases where I deliberately engaged with mechanics that I knew would trigger motion sickness, I found I was generally able to play for longer, and feel less ill, than with comparable titles on other headsets.
Having spent a few days with the PS VR2 headset, my overall opinion is that the headset, while expensive, is really impressive in terms of the visual quality and feature set that it offers for the price. Foveated rendering does a great job of getting the most possible out of the PS5 hardware performance, and eye tracking feels like a real game changer in terms of features I would love to see become standards in VR.
A lot of the accessibility critiques I have of the PS VR2 are ultimately the same critiques I would have about any VR headset today. VR headsets manufacturers and software developers should really be considering making their software playable by users who are lying down if possible. Also, a lot of VR games require players to have a wide range of pain free arm motion ability in both hands and arms, and the tech at this price range hasn’t truly found a way to solve the issue of motion sickness across the board.
I have questions and concerns about how the headset handles eye tracking support, and whether that support will work well for users with a single eye, or two eyes that may not move in sync with each other, but I am really glad that eye tracking tech is included in the headset, and really hope we see developers take advantage of the possibilities that this technology opens up.
PS VR2 is a pricey investment right now, and one that’s tricky to reccomend based on the limited launch library, but I am really excited about the potential of the hardware, and I’m going to be keeping an eye out on software that releases for it. I’ll be sure to let you know in future if any PS VR2 titles make good accessibility focused use of any of the hardware’s unique features.