Sony has thrown down the gauntlet in the virtual reality space.
The company announced that Project Morpheus – a virtual reality headset exclusively for the PlayStation 4 – will be available to consumers in the first half of 2016. This marks the first announcement of commercial availability for a major company working in the VR space.
"A new dimension of gaming is, at long last, here – and PlayStation is again at the forefront with Project Morpheus," said Shuhei Yoshida, president of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment.
Sony will announce additional details and games for the system at E3, the videogame industry's annual trade show, in June
Unlike the Oculus Rift or Valve Software and HTC's recently announced Vive, which are meant for PC users, Project Morpheus is designed for a single system, which ensures a consistent user experience. Sony said it factored in the technical requirements for VR when designing the PS4, ensuring it would be an optimal experience for players.
First announced a year ago, Morpheus has been a hit with those that have used early prototypes. In working with developer partners, though, Sony dramatically raised the bar for the device's technical specifications and said at a presentation at the ongoing Game Developer's Conference that it considered the new specifications very close to where it wants to be for a mass market launch.
Among the changes are a state of the art OLED display, which removes motion drag, something that can result in the feeling of motion sickness. The company also updated the system's refresh rate to 120 Hz, allowing it to deliver incredibly sharp visuals. (To put that in perspective, most console games run, at best, at 60 Hz – or frames per second.)
The company also reduced the latency – or lag – in Project Morpheus to less than 18 milliseconds. Virtual reality experts have said that at 20 milliseconds, the average user is unable to distinguish a difference between motions in the real world and virtual one. (The speed cuts the lag of the first Project Morpheus prototype in half.)
Other improvements include additional tracking LEDs for better motion tracking and a more user friendly design.
"It doesn't matter how much technology you pack into the headset if consumers find it uncomfortable," said Yoshida.
Virtual reality is an ongoing theme at this year's GDC. Oculus chief technical officer will deliver a keynote address on Wednesday, Valve is showcasing Vive to attract development partners and there are numerous panels about how to best create VR games.
"The enthusiasm among developers for this new medium reminds me of the early days of game development, when we made the transition from 2D … to 3D," said Yoshida.