PS5: Sony Exec Reveals Disappointing News About Its Powerhouse Virtual Reality

Sony appears to be leaning toward spacing hardware launches out. 

by James Dennin
Danny Paez/Flickr

The next-generation gaming consoles are coming, and they’re expected to offer an entirely new set of trade-offs that change how we think about and spend time playing video games. As companies with massive cloud businesses like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft begin leveraging their infrastructure to launch (or build out) game-streaming services, the following question will arise more and more: Do you want superior specs, or a greater variety of games?

Based on a massive dump of leaks and subsequent press from Sony executives, it looked like the Playstation 5 is leaning toward the latter. The PS5 may have backward compatibility, meaning you could run your old games on it, too.

But there are also rumored specs that are impressive: Patents had sketched out many of the new VR system’s capabilities. The new PS5, for example, will have an AMD GPU that supports ray tracing, a cutting-edge graphics rendering technique that traces light paths to better simulate how light interacts with on-screen objects. NVIDIA, recently released a demo revealing how much their new ray tracing software improves graphics in Quake II, a title from 1997.

But not everything on gamers’ wish lists is expected to play out. Specifically, in an interview with CNET, head of Playstation R&D Dominic Mallinson muted expectations that the PS5 would ship with a companion headset. This is a bit of a disappointment, as numerous patents have sketched out how the console and a wireless headset will interact with one another to enable more immersive VR-gaming.

Chipmaker NVIDIA released a demo revealing how much ray tracing techniques can improve graphics on even old games like this one from 1997.


Why a Staggered Release Makes Sense

The main substance of the remarks is that Sony isn’t in any rush to launch all of its upcoming hardware, and instead will space out the releases.

“There’s no reason for us to coincide it with a new console. From the point of view of the consumer, to be bombarded with many many things — oh, you have to buy this, you have to buy that — is a message that we don’t want to send,” he told CNET at the Collision Conference in Toronto. “In some ways, it’s good to have a little breathing space between those things.”

A spaced-out released schedule also enables PS5 to stay top-of-mind for consumers in a competitive gaming market. And finally, it will go a long way to ensure no pieces of hardware is overlooked.

It’s a disappointing revelation for a few reasons. VR headset launches are growing more frequent, with Valve and Oculus launching new products during the spring. A raft of patent applications also suggested that Sony was working on new ways for consoles and VR headsets to interact without wires. Some of Sony’s patents were pretty granular, including a concept to make it easier to wear a VR headset over a pair of eyeglasses.

There are a few explanations for the expected delay for Sony’s VR headset. Mallinson notes that the market for VR is still underdeveloped. Sony has sold something like 4 million PSVR headsets, compared with nearly 97 million PS 4s. That landscape means it’s still relatively hard for VR developers to make money making games. Developing the VR powerhouse fans expected would also have run the risk of making the device too expensive.

A blueprint of a patented Sony VR headset that wirelessly lets users play immersive games.

Japan Patent Office

The PS5’s approach to VR will likely take the shape of future-proofing. In addition to ray tracing, which would help make VR worlds more realistic, Mallinson also told CNET that the company is actively exploring eye tracking, which isn’t yet offered on any mainstream VR headsets.

Eye tracking will make it easier for headsets to make virtual worlds seem bigger than they are, important if you’re going to be playing VR games in your living room.

It may be disappointing news to gamers who were expecting multiple Sony hardware launches in 2020. But just because the PS5 won’t launch alongside a VR headset, doesn’t mean that the console developers aren’t looking ahead to VR. If it makes it easier for Sony to deliver more titles or cheaper hardware, staggered releases will benefit gamers in the long run, too.

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