Al­tered States

Sony is bring­ing fully fledged vir­tual re­al­ity to the mass mar­ket – and chang­ing PlaySta­tion for­ever

EDGE - - DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE - BY BEN MAXWELL

There’s a photo of a Sony Walk­man hang­ing on the wall out­side of the room in which we’re watching

Taka­masa Araki, di­rec­tor of Sony’s me­chan­i­cal de­sign depart­ment, dis­as­sem­ble a PlaySta­tion VR head­set. It’s a bright-yel­low 1984 WM-F5 – a rugged splash-proof vari­ant of the de­vice that launched in 1979 – but it re­mains the ele­phant just out­side of the room. The shadow of Sony’s rad­i­cal cre­ation looms over ev­ery­thing it does, es­pe­cially when the com­pany an­nounces, in no un­cer­tain terms, it in­tends to cre­ate an­other rev­o­lu­tion.

“Sony is known for the Walk­man, which changed the world,” says Masayasu Ito, EVP of hard­ware, engi­neer­ing and op­er­a­tions. “And like­wise we want to change the world of videogames.”

But while the Walk­man in­tro­duced an en­tirely new form fac­tor, of­fer­ing an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive to the un­wieldy de­vices that came be­fore it, PSVR is en­ter­ing a mar­ket that al­ready boasts a range of VR head­sets, in­clud­ing two es­tab­lished be­he­moths in Rift and Vive. We’ve al­ready been in­tro­duced to HMDs, and we al­ready un­der­stand mo­tion controllers, so what’s left for PSVR to change? Quite a bit, it turns out.

“PlaySta­tion has been around for 20-odd years, and we wanted to cre­ate a de­vice that could of­fer a to­tally dif­fer­ent, unique ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Jun­pei Kura, vice pres­i­dent of the hard­ware de­sign divi­sion charged with shap­ing PSVR at Sony. “But that new ex­pe­ri­ence has to be com­fort­able, so it had to be hard­ware that could of­fer ease of use and com­fort. So we started think­ing about how that could be cre­ated. That was our vi­sion.”

In this re­spect, Sony’s de­sign team has suc­ceeded em­phat­i­cally. Don­ning the PSVR head­set feels ef­fort­less com­pared to a Vive or Rift. Thanks to the de­vice’s smartly de­signed ad­justable head­band, op­er­ated sim­ply by press­ing a but­ton at the rear of the band to re­lease the au­to­mat­i­cally re­tract­ing mech­a­nism, there are no Vel­cro straps to lo­cate and fid­dle with while wear­ing a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced blind­fold. Sim­i­larly, the fact that the dis­play sec­tion slides back and forth, al­low­ing you to push it to­wards or away from your face, makes it easy to use even if you’re wear­ing glasses. It’s an in­ge­nious touch, and cur­rently unique to Sony’s head­set.

“SONY IS KNOWN FOR THE WALK­MAN, WHICH CHANGED THE WORLD. AND LIKE­WISE WE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD OF VIDEOGAMES”

Sony’s track record in con­sumer-elec­tron­ics pro­duc­tion helps to im­me­di­ately dis­tin­guish PSVR against Rift and Vive. “We’re very keen on the beau­ti­ful de­sign,” Ito says

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