There’s no good reason for the new PlayStation VR headset to exist
You’d be forgiven if you didn’t realize that Sony released the second version of its PlayStation VR headset this month. The new version (model number CUH-ZVR2) was announced with minimal fanfare in October because there’s really not much to make fanfare about. This is a minor revision that fixes some small design flaws with last year’s launch hardware and does not alter the headset’s core specs (resolution, field-of-view, refresh rate, etc.) in any way.
After comparing the two headsets over the last few days, though, I came away wondering why the PSVR v2 even exists in the first place. Rather than requiring a completely new headset (which retails for $200 to $300 standalone, depending on sales), the improvements made to the v2 model could and should have been available to existing PSVR owners as modular replacements for a fraction of the cost.
Pass me some HDR
The most important change in the new PSVR headset actually has nothing to do with virtual reality at all. Like the first PSVR, the new one also comes with a “Processor Unit” breakout box that allows the PS4 to display images on the TV while the headset is plugged in (as well as adding a bit of extra VR horsepower).
On PSVR v1, this breakout box wasn’t able to process or transmit HDR color data found in many PS4 Pro and standard PS4 games. If you wanted those HDR colors on your 4K TV while PSVR was hooked up, you’d have to unplug the breakout box and plug the PS4 directly into the TV, then switch back if and when you wanted VR. The PSVR v2 breakout box adds this much-needed HDR support and gives the box itself a slightly slimmer redesign.
That’s great news for new PSVR owners who have 4K TVs. But it is not-so-great news for the more than 1 million people who have already bought the headset. That’s because the only way to get this upgraded box is to spend hundreds of dollars on a completely new PSVR package. Sony doesn’t offer the upgraded Processor Unit as a replacement or a la carte purchase for existing PSVR owners, and the company didn’t return a request for comment on whether they were planning to offer it separately in the future.
Sure, the HDR passthrough isn’t a make-or-break feature that renders the old PSVR units obsolete or anything. But it’s also a pretty basic function that probably should have been included with the PSVR when it launched a year ago. Forcing early adopters to spend hundreds of dollars to fix it just one year later, rather than just offering a cheaper replacement Processor Unit for those affected, is an odd choice.
Detach the cable
The other major change to the PSVR v2 comes in the cable. Last year’s model featured a thick, braided double HDMI cable, including an awkward plastic junction box about halfway down its length. This year’s cable removes that junction box and cuts the cable thickness in half, reducing the weight of the cable and the amount of “tug” it exerts on the headset.
It’s not a huge difference—a few ounces at most—but the lighter cable definitely exerts a bit less tug on the headset as you move around in VR space. And when you’re talking about a piece of hardware you wear strapped to your head, every ounce of tug makes a difference.
Both the v1 and v2 cables are permanently attached to their respective PSVR headsets at one end, which means there’s no way to get the new and improved cable without buying an entirely new headset. Again, that’s a pretty frustrating decision for early adopters who might want the upgrade without spending hundreds of dollars.
A more future-proofed design would have allowed for a cable that is detachable at both ends (as seen on the HTC Vive), letting users purchase new cable upgrades at minimal cost. A fully replaceable cable would also be useful if HDMI connection technology is upgraded or replaced in the coming years, or if a viable wireless connection solution comes to pass (again, see wireless options for the HTC Vive).
It would be a bit much to expect every single piece of the PSVR headset to be a self-contained bit of modular design that could be easily upgraded and replaced. The v2 model now offers a headphone jack and volume/microphone controls that are integrated into the headset itself, for instance, and moves the power and focus adjustment buttons to more natural positions. These changes would be hard if not impossible to pull off without replacing the entire unit (though some sort of snap-on button pad would at least be plausible with a detachable cable design).
Still, most of the PSVR v2’s incremental upgrades shouldn’t require early adopters to throw out their entire purchase just to get some minor improvements a year or less after their initial purchase. Replacing an entire head-mounted display just to get a better cord and connection box seems like a failure of design.
Author Kyle Orland