It was only a matter of time. The Oculus Rift has caught so much attention—deservedly so—that of course one of the big dogs was going to start honing in on its virtual reality territory. Tonight, that's Sony. And its Project Morpheus VR headset sounds fantastic.
This isn't Sony's first exploration into the world of faceputers; the wonderfully weird HMZ-T1 was a wearable television that was better than it sounds. But Project Morpheus is different. Instead of TV, it's for games. And it's got a major chance of succeeding, despite currently being just a prototype.
Especially important is that Sony's got the muscle to make Morpheus a reality; while the Oculus Rift is popular, it's also relatively niche, and has run low on components recently. If Sony sees enough interest in Morpheus, it would be able to scale up the project relatively quickly. And combined with PlayStation Move and the PlayStation Camera, it could create a potent virtual environment.
Sony says it's focusing on six main VR areas: sight, sound, tracking, control, easy of use, and content. Those seem like reasonable things to focus on! Although it's the content that's really going to make the biggest difference. Get developers on board with something as far-flung as Morpheus is even more important than attracting consumers. Sony's already got a handful of software partners lined up—including Autodesk, Epic Games, and Unity—and there will be a build of Thief from Square Enix available as a demo tomorrow, along with EVE Valkyrie.
Otherwise, there's not much more than generalities being tossed around in support of its efforts. Sony has a strong background on optics, which should help with sight. It has some proprietary tech to help with presence. The PlayStation Camera handles the tracking by checking your position a thousand times a second, while PS Move can help with control. And Sony says Morpheus will be a plug-and-play experience, which is easy to say when you're dealing with a prototype.
Sony also offered up some basic platitudes regarding its overall feelings about virtual reality; that it's a medium unto itself, that it requires its own kind of game art, that it's a social experience, that it can do more than games. It all sounds familiar, but in a good way; it would be all too typical of a megacorporation to take everything good about Oculus and turn it into something dead and stale. The dev kit even allows for mirroring the image onto a normal screen, so that multiple players can participate without needing their own headset. Sony appears to get it.
That extends to the more technical stuff too; low latency, renders that don't get fuzzy, frame rates that are worth a damn. These are the right things to focus on. It's got a 1080p display, a 90-degree field of view, and will work with people who wear glasses. Sony's clearly got its priorities in the right place—as long as they actually pull it off.
And that speaks to big honking warning sign with Morpheus. A sleek futuristic ski mask with blue glowing lights smells distinctly of vaporware—especially one that needs to be connected by a five-meter wire to the console. And even if Morpheus does come to fruition, is it a compelling enough alternative to Kinect's seamless integration into your living room life? PS4 with Morpheus funnels you ever deeper into the gaming ecosystem, while Kinect pushes out into other aspects of your life.
It's one thing to be able to create a Project Morpheus, even with every expectation of success. It's another to offer it for a price (that HMZ-T1? $800) that makes it appealing, with games and apps that people want to play and use, in a way that makes it a viable product over the long haul.