Sony’s Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, on display during the 2014 Game Developers Conference.
Image: Mashable Chelsea Stark

When Sony announced that it is developing its own virtual reality system, the gaming world’s dreams came one step close to a retail reality.

Sony showed off its Project Morpheus headset to developers and press during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, and Mashable spent some quality time checking it out.

Oculus Rift, the only other virtual reality alternative, came out with a second-generation version on Wednesday. The two have stark differences and striking similarities.

Four years in the making

Sony’s research and development team has been working on Project Morpheus since 2010. While the developer kit we saw at the booths doesn’t necessarily represent the retail product, it’s clear Sony took its time.

morpheus headset

The Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, as seen at the Sony booth at the Game Developers Conference.

Image: Mashable Chelsea Stark

The Morpheus headset is covered in blue lights that make it feel futuristic, even if they don’t serve a purpose. It matches the tone of the DualShock 4 and PlayStation Move controllers precisely.

The headset fits around your head using a plastic strap that goes around the bottom of the skull, along with an elastic band on top. This plastic band solves one of the problems of Oculus Rift: easily adjusting the headset while you’re wearing it. It settled in comfortably over my eyes, and even though I only wore it for two four-minute sessions, it was light and not cumbersome. The weight was never balanced too far forward on my head and the eye cups fit easily over a pair of glasses, minimizing neck strain. When I saw photos of myself wearing the headset, I didn’t realize how far forward it had sat on my face, at least during my brief testing period.

The demos

During its first of two demos with the Morpheus, Sony showed an underwater simulation called The Deep, which puts players in shark-infested waters.

It was more of a hands-off experience, and players mostly had the option of shooting ineffective bullets at angry sharks swimming toward them — but it was a great display of the technology. The headset, which has a 1080p resolution, displayed images of the underwater world that were sharp and crisp. It was hard not to compare it to the next-generation Oculus Rift developer headset, which looked similar in graphical capability. (The OR’s previous generation only offered a resolution of 640 x 800 per eye.) There was very little motion blur, even when I moved my head quickly, and the latency seemed to clear up. This headset was easily comparable to the kits Oculus VR will send this summer to developers who preorder them.

man wearing project morpheus

A man wears the Sony Project Morpheus virtual reality headset during GDC.

Image: Mashable Chelsea Stark

The Morpheus’ motion tracking for the head position generally worked well, but in two demos, it required recalibration as the game lost track of my body’s position. For anyone who has used an Oculus Rift, this problem isn’t uncommon, but it’s a sign that Sony is experimenting with the same types of problems. During a simulated dive underwater, my hand — holding a DualShock 4 — stopped syncing up with where the game thought it was, so I had to hold the controller a bit strangely while finishing.

A second Morpheus demo, The Castle, had similar issues tracking my positioning. Players held two PlayStation Move motion controllers that represented their right and left hands. Moving them around and grasping objects sometimes worked perfectly, but was also prone to problems. I found some trouble grabbing and picking up weapons, as my hand seemed to pass right through them.

Still, it was good to see Sony facing some of the same problems that Oculus Rift demos have shown in the past. Virtual reality poses one of the biggest problems in gaming, and with two companies on the playing field, developers and consumers will be the ones to reap the rewards.

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