I’ve just spent some time trying out Sony’s first attempt at mass market virtual reality, PlayStation VR. As the name suggests it’s a system designed as an add-on to Sony’s current-gen games console, PlayStation 4. It’s seen by many as one of the more affordable routes into VR but at £350, it’s still a fairly substantial investment for most people.
In the half hour or so I spent with the PS VR I tried two games, Battlezone VR and RIGS. On booting up Battlezone VR, and looking around the interior of my tank, one of the first things that struck me was how odd it felt looking around at objects that appeared to really be right there in front of me, but being unable to reach out and touch them. Once the game got going though, and I started to adjust to the experience, the sense of immersion was pretty incredible. There was enough time to familiarise myself with my (virtual) surroundings before things really got going, and after a few easy enemy battles the intensity of the gameplay started to ramp up nicely. RIGS, on the other hand, throws you straight into a bright and vividly coloured virtual arena where the aim of the game is something to do with blowing up your opponents and scoring goals. I won’t try to explain it beyond that as to be honest I really didn’t have much of an idea what was going on. It was a much more intense, overwhelming experience than Battlezone VR and it didn’t take long for motion sickness to kick in, accompanied by a slight headache.
I’d read a few comments online about the low resolution of PS VR, in comparison to higher end systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It’s understandable given the relatively low price point, and I really hadn’t expected it to be an issue, but it was actually quite noticeable and did detract from the overall experience a little. What was more problematic for me though was the motion sickness and accompanying headache. Although it may just be that, with VR gameplay being such an intense experience, it just takes some getting used to.
I think the key point with PS VR is this is really the first attempt at VR for the mainstream, and I think there’s some way to go before this kind of tech really starts to mature. I personally feel that the hardware needs to be less obtrusive – not just in the size of the headset (although it does feel very light and comfortable to wear) but the fact that at least three other pieces of hardware (PS4 console, PS4 camera and VR processing unit plus optional PS Move controllers) are needed to make it work. Personally I think I’ll be holding out for the inevitable PS VR v2 before I start trying to convince my wife we need one…
I recently picked up a Google Cardboard viewer. I was interested to see exactly what kind of Virtual Reality experience it could offer, given that it’s probably the most accessible VR tech currently available (assuming you already have access to a smartphone).
The cardboard structure feels pretty low-tech, but for a few pounds it’ll convert a regular smartphone into a reasonably able VR device, which is pretty impressive. Obviously pressing hard cardboard edges against your face isn’t the most comfortable viewing experience, but in short bursts it’s tolerable.
After a few viewing issues (you need to calibrate the Cardboard app for your viewer, and initially the app wouldn’t recognise the QR code on mine) I was up and running and trying out the demos in the official Cardboard app. The demos serve as a reasonable introduction to VR, and my kids certainly found them lots of fun, but for slightly more meaningful experiences you need to look elsewhere. The official Star Wars app has a VR section called Jakku Spy, which features some short but pretty impressive 360 movies. You can also find 360 videos on YouTube, like Google’s own ‘Inside Abbey Road’, which you can see below – although for the full effect it really needs to be seen through a Cardboard viewer.
For a more comprehensive introduction to Google Cardboard you can check out the official page here.
I recently picked up a Motorola 360 smartwatch, and after I worked out how to get a full day out of the battery (basically try not to use it much) the next thing I wanted to do was create my own watch face for it. One of the things I like most about Android is how you can tinker with the UI to your heart’s content (if you’re into that kind of thing), and Android Wear is no different.
A quick look on Google will tell you there are plenty of ways of creating your own faces for Android Wear, but the method I opted for was using an app called WearFaces. If you visit the app’s website you can download template images to get you started (square or round, depending on the watch you’re creating for) – although these are just for the face itself; separate image files need to be created for the dial and the hands. Once you’ve created your custom watch face (as a massive geek I had to go for a Star Wars theme) you need to load your images into the app – on your phone rather than the watch itself. Once you’ve added your images, hit the ‘Send to Wear’ button to send your custom watch face via bluetooth to your device.
If you happen to have an Android Wear watch with a round face and would like a Star Wars themed face for it, you can download my custom WearFaces pack here.