Project Morpheus: Eyes-on PS4’s New VR Prototype

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Project Morpheus: Eyes-on PS4’s New VR Prototype

First hands-on impressions with PS4’s virtual reality prototype

Sid Shuman: I’ve decided that describing virtual reality to someone who’s never tried it is basically impossible. Like tasting or smelling or seeing, VR is a sensory experience that you have to try for yourself to truly understand. Words can’t do it justice.

Nonetheless, Justin and I will do our best. Fresh off our positive test drive of last year’s original prototype, we were curious how much Project Morpheus’s upgraded specs have enhanced the overall VR experience, most notably that illusion of “presence” — the fragile feeling that you’re actually inhabiting the game’s world.

Read on for Justin’s thoughts. But based on what I experienced, Project Morpheus has indeed come a long, long way since last March. For starters, the headset feels far lighter and much more comfortable. The screen can slide forward a few inches, which makes makes taking it on and off a much simpler affair.

Project Morpheus

Then there’s the display, which has seen a hefty upgrade from last year’s LCD to an OLED 1920 X RGB X 1080 specification that boasts richer colors and silky smoothness thanks to the new 120hz refresh rate. There’s no doubt about it: The new display makes a world of difference.

There are myriad other enhancements. Nine LEDs now adorn the front and sides of Project Morpheus, which will allow PS Camera to track in 360 degrees. And latency, that eternal enemy of VR engineers, has been reduced to less than 18 milliseconds — a key technical achievement that promises to make the player’s movements more responsive and the experience more immersive.

“The new display makes a world of difference.”

What none of these technical specs explain is how immersive Project Morpheus really is. It’s groundbreaking. I tried out two demos, “Magic Controller” and “Bedroom Robots,” both of which starred the cute little Asobi robots from PS4’s Playroom app.

“Magic Controller” was a great introduction to the basics of VR. As I peered down at my DUALSHOCK 4, I saw a 3D cartoon simulacrum accurately overlaid over the form of my actual DUALSHOCK 4, keeping up a perfect illusion as I rotated the controller in my (real) hands. This was fascinating enough, but then the “magic” DUALSHOCK 4 transformed into a music player, and then a working flashlight, before my eyes.

Project Morpheus

This demo might sound like kid’s stuff, but I was totally engrossed. I clicked the touchpad to deploy a small army of Asobi robots, who began dancing frantically while I waved my DUALSHOCK 4 flashlight’s beam over them. Thanks to the headset’s realistic depth perception, I felt like I was there, inhabiting that smoky dance floor with them. It was an impressive start.

The second demo, “Bedroom Robots,” took a different approach. In this voyeuristic VR demo, I peered into a dollhouse populated with tiny robots. Leaning in closer to get a better look, I watched them ride exercise bikes, throw frisbees, and play ping-pong. Project Morpheus kept up perfectly with all of my real-life moments, letting me change my viewing angle as naturally as in real life.

“It’s impossible to explain.”

As I studied the tiny figures, a shiver traveled up my spine. The animations were charming enough, but if I had viewed this scene on a TV screen I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. Seen through Project Morpheus, the scene took on a weight and a gravity I haven’t experienced outside of, well, real life. Again, it’s impossible to explain. You really do have to try it.

The technical stuff is way beyond me. But I’m hugely hopeful that Project Morpheus will empower completely new approaches to “game” design. Imagine a VR murder mystery that puts you at the center of a dinner party, or a stroll through an alien garden where you can stop to smell the (flesh-eating) roses. Played on a 2D TV screen, these experiences might look neat, but you’d be done in minutes. Experienced through Project Morpheus, they have the potential to be truly memorable and powerful.

My body is ready.

Justin Massongill:

My Project Morpheus experience involved a cage, some jellyfish, an agitated shark, an increased heart rate and a genuine sense of terror.

First things first: strapping the newest prototype onto my noggin was a trivial affair, requiring minimal adjustments to find a comfortable fit (which left space for my glasses without sacrificing precious immersion).

A refresh of last year’s demo, “The Deep” showcases just how convincingly PS4’s prototype VR headset can persuade the human brain that you’re somewhere you’re not. Project Morpheus’ new enhancements coalesce to drastically elevate the demo’s immersiveness.

Project Morpheus

As the demo began, I found myself standing in a cage maybe 20 feet under water. When I looked straight up I could see the cable suspending me, leading back up to a small boat on the surface. Schools of fish swam by, and bubbles floated through the water, sometimes just in front of my face — an unexpected “wow” moment each time it happened.

“It left space for my glasses without sacrificing immersion.”

I descended further down through different scenes, including a particularly gorgeous area lit only by passing jellyfish, leading to the meat of the demo: a tense standoff with a shark who had a hankerin’ for some tasty human flesh.

After circling my cage a few times, the creature lunged at me. Thankfully my steadfast vessel fended off my would-be killer. The shark latched on to one of the cage’s light fixtures, jerking and thrashing it loose and tossing it to the ocean floor. The cage shook with each pull, which — get this — my brain interpreted as actual movement. Embarrassingly, I involuntarily tried to compensate for this by moving my real-life legs. I had to make a concerted effort to remind myself that I wasn’t actually hundreds of feet underwater, being attacked by a highly evolved aquatic predator.

Project Morpheus

After a couple more circles around my beaten and battered cage, the shark came at me again. Then again. Each time, he would barely miss and nudge the cage to the side, or he would tear into another part of the cage and rip it off. Eventually, the entire front panel of the cage was gone, leaving nothing but fear between me and my impending end. I stood, alone and vulnerable, inside three fourths of a cage, watching as the animal circled, eyeing me — toying with me. He made a run for me a couple more times, and one time I caught myself actually taking a step back. Again, involuntary.

“One time, I caught myself actually taking a step back.”

At this point, my palms were sweaty. My heart was beating just a bit faster than normal. I felt genuinely uncomfortable even though I knew none of this was real. As far as my brain was concerned, it was real. I was there. I was, in some small part of my mind, mildly scared for my life.

This is the most exciting proposition of Project Morpheus, and of virtual reality as a concept. If someone who’s closely followed and scrutinised this new technology can still be awed by it, imagine how inspiring and transformative it could be for others! One of our most impossible science fiction fantasies is here, it’s real, and it’s exactly as unbelievable as we had always hoped it would be.

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  • Now whilst I have yet to get myself a PS4 (to go alongside my PS2 and PS3), if this was available to buy today – I’d buy it. That is how much I want this.

    I know there are detractors who are unconvinced, but if Sony and 3rd party developers can get the games right (and perhaps add support for current games), and give us new experiences that have never been possible before, this will fly of the shelves.

  • I’m just glad to hear us bespectacled folk won’t have problems using it. Made me look forward to it a great deal more than i did before reading this entry.

  • I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who know about this stuff and have tried it themselves.
    Everyone is thinking about the kinect motion failure fad but apparently….this actually works.
    I have track IR and have used that for DCS World extensively Wven that allows a superb sense of presence.

    Is Media Molecule working on a Morphepus launch game?
    Not long till E3 eh

  • Hi, could you please answer one question- I have read conflicting reports on this, I am blind in my left eye – will a VR headset still work with my right eye ? Or is it projecting 3d stereoscopic?

    • As far as my knowledge goes, human brain can’t effectively measure distance to object with one eye only, so, I guess, you should see picture like in real life, but wouldn’t be “real 3D”. You should definitely try it and decide for yourself

    • Yes. You will see the VR world the same you see the real world. So you’ll lose the stereoscopic effect, just like you do in real life, but can still see the VR world through one eye and use other cues to judge distance, again just like you do in real life (not just visual, but VR also incorporates realistic 3D audio too). And of course, head-tracking and input won’t be any problem for you either.

      There are lots of conflicting reports from people who don’t understand that VR isn’t simply about strapping a 3D TV to your face. Stereoscopy is only a very minor aspect of the VR experience, and you’ll still get a lot out of VR without it.

      (For what it’s worth, I also only see through one eye and I have first-hand experience with VR)

    • Yes, it’s working. I can barely see a thing with my right eye, but it was an enjoyable experience (if somewhat nauseating, but that’s not because of my eyes). Source: first-hand experience with Oculus.

  • Silly question I know, but is the image actually 3D? Actually has depth?

    Or does it appear as a flat image to yourself that moves with your head with the headset?

    Does each screen play a slightly different frame to give depth? How does the 3D work, and if like other 3D methods, will it give me a headache if I use it too much?

    I do want it btw.

    • It provides different picture for each eye, it also has a much better picture quality and brightness compared to current 3D in cinema theaters or at home due to lack of glasses, that usually absorb considerable amount of light. Also you should know that usually 3D films are 24 FPS (this is the main reason for nausea and headache) as opposed to 120 FPS here.

    • Adding to what transpondster has said, there’s one caveat that could cause headaches with VR. When viewing the VR world, the optics inside the VR headset is designed to let your eyes always focus naturally at the far distance (infinity). However, if an virtual object comes close to your face, your brain will naturally try to focus closer to see the object more clearly, but changing focus will cause you to see the object and everything in the scene out of focus, because even though the object APPEARS to be close, the optics are still fixed for your eyes to focus in the far distance. This conflict could definitely cause people some headaches.

      I think this is a very difficult problem to solve in VR, and probably won’t be solved for at least a generation or two.

  • I’d love this just to play it with Minecraft :-O

  • What about headphones? Will users be using their own headphones, and if so, what interface are they plugging into? USB port on the console, or will there be a mini-jack on the headmount?

  • Sincerely hope this won’t become the standard at some time and traditional gaming will always exist.. Not at all interested in different ways of playing, none come close to the original way, of which motion devices like wii mote and move testify. Plus they barely supported move, I don’t see this getting major software releases either. I’ll pass.

    • Morpheus is the companion that Move desperately needs. Imagine the amount of simulation games this will bring.

      Me and my team will want to develop for it in the near future.

    • Comparing VR to motion controllers shows a severe lack of understanding about VR.

      Regardless, traditional gaming will continue to exist alongside VR, just like radio has continued to exist alongside television.

    • A bit true – Kinect is thriving and Move has only Just Dance for now. It’s a pity we still don’t have any adult Sorcery-like game, a darker Harry Potter with awesome wands and spells or Star Wars Move (fighting on Kinect was an epic fail – dancing was awesome though…).

      And if there is Sports Champions 3 in the making for PS4 + Move, let it has online finally. It can’t be that hard to implement it as Kinect Sports has it.

      I’ll follow Project Morpheus development but seeing the lack of support for Move games (not even one as a PS+ freebie to boost Move sales), I’m a bit reluctant towards Morpheus. Sony, fix your strategies, please. There are people like me who own 4 Moves ready to be used in more newer games than Just Dance or Sportsfriends.

    • I wasn’t comparing VR to motion. If you actually read, I said it’s the companion the Move desperately needs.

      Using the two together opens a world of possibilities.

  • This is all great but you know what I REALLY REALLY want?!?! The option to freaking turn off the controller light! I know it’s to use with VR but I have no interest in it and I have no need for the damn light that drains the already short battery life and reflects on the TV sometimes. /rant

    • Just use the dim feature.

    • lmao

      The light is probably one of the things that consumes the least power. It’s a LED.

      Touchpad, vibration, mic/headphone connection and overall use contribute more to draining the battery.

    • Also, if the light is reflecting in your TV you most likely have issues with your setup.

      I am at 2 m max from mine, distance eyes to TV, and the only light I see when looking at the screen comes from the TV. Day and night.

      The natural position I hold the controller is always located a few cm down the TV.
      The only way I see the DS4 is if I’m looking at it intentionaly, and the light projected is minimal, a few cm.

    • *DS4 light

  • Sounds truly awesome but the price is a little worrisome, how affordable these end up being will play a huge part in there overall success.
    Does anyone know if we will be able to just play ordinary games and watch movies through this device, kinda like those virtual video glasses.

  • Sorry this is the wrong place, but i want to ask if there are other people who can only download parts of
    DYNASTY WARRIORS 8 Empires Free Alliances Version (ca. 5GB) & not the full 18.1 GB ?

    • The PS4 let’s you play as it downloads, so it will only download 5GB to let you play right away, the rest will be downloading in background! Let it download the 5GB, then go to the main sreen, go to DW8 and press Options, then click on “information” (i think it’s that), you’ll see there that it’s still downloading.

  • Thing that worries me is how much money Sony and devs are going to waste on this before they realise a vomit & headache inducing powerglove for the new decade isn’t going to sell.

    • That’s my main worry, the money it will suck out of the industry.
      It will not replace gaming as we know it but extend it.
      I just hope the free for all that will be the first couple of years arn’t just a repeat of old motion gaming mistakes.

      I really do feel like people, proper gaming people, like you and me believe In this.

    • That’s a closed-minded armchair analysis.

    • Another person with a complete lack of understanding of VR technology.

    • If you look at Nintendo’s history with motion control, they rushed it and tried to do it ahead of its time.

      When it comes to Sony, they wait until they’ve perfected the tech, as they did with Move.

      All it needs to keep going is the support from devs, and not rely on gimmick titles.

  • I try not to get hyped for anything, given the current state of the gaming industry (save for Persona 5, for which I am unashamedly looking forward to.)

    However, the prospect of finally getting the VR I was promised as a kid in the late 80s / early 90s is just too exciting not to by hyped about. The thought of loading up Elite: Dangerous, when it finally comes to PS4, and actually feeling as if I’m sitting in the cockpit of an advanced spaceship. The thought of Elder Scrolls VI, facing down a dragon in glorious HD VR (assuming I don’t fall flat on my behind when I get jumped by a sabrecat first.)

    My main worry for this is going to be price. If this retails at around the cost of a high-end set of headphones like the A50s, then it will be an expensive but worth-it proposition, as it will be priced as an accessory. With this price-bracket it will be very successful as that’s christmas present / annual bonus / special treat kind of money, and it will also serve to reinvigorate the PlayStation Move controllers and the camera sales.

    If this retails at more than the price of the console, it will be a rich man’s toy and it will fail spectacularly. Sony are going to have to sell this at cost or as a loss leader, or the entire idea will fail.

    • Sony already said that they were going to make it as cheap as possible from a bussiness aspect, and that price was one of the, if not THE most important thing when it came to VR headsets. And that they did not want it to be a rich mans toy only.

  • Please have demos in Bristol UK

  • I’d love to be able to play with Morpheus when it releases, but I know it won’t be cheap. (need a cam too). Any idea just how much it will be?

    • Anywhere between €350 and €1000 I think.

    • Not a chance it’ll be over 300quid.

    • Yes, there’s a chance.

      The HMZ T3 costs like €900. That’s of course a very high-end personal display, but it’s still is an indication for the price of head-mounted displays with high-quality optics and a good display.

      The Samsung GearVR costs €200 iirc and that’s mostly just a casing (you need a Galaxy Note 4 with it it, which costs ~€800 or something, so €1000 for the whole thing)

      OculusVR co-founder also mentioned $400 as a possible price for the final consumer Oculus Rift VR headset.

      The developer’s kit of the Oculus Rift DK2 is also like £400 for reference.

    • Except that the DK2 is not much over £200. I’d you accidentally put two in your basket or get ripped off on eBay?

      Also GearVRs demographic is idiots that can’t fold google cardboard :p

    • The Morpheus consumer unit won’t cost more than the PS4 itself.

      Bundles like camera+move+morpheus, maybe, Morpheus alone I don’t think so.

      Guys like Yoshida are aware of the importance of price and, of course, he won’t be the only one.

  • How much does this thing weigh? If it’s heavy, I ain’t buying

    • It says in the article that it’s light.

      ‘For starters, the headset feels far lighter and much more comfortable.’

  • I’ve read four different demos and got k ows how many “all you wanted to know” articles but not one has mentioned whether or not this works as a regular head mounted display.

    If it does, I’m in. If it doesn’t, after seeing how Sony abandons support for its specialised peripherals and third party won’t support because they have the other platforms to worry, then that’s a deal breaker for me. This thing won’t be cheap so why buy it if none of my games will work on it?

    Which brings us to the second point, cost. This thing needs to be competitive with mid sized TVs and certainly shouldn’t cost more than the console its the accessory to. Price it too high and it will fail.

    And lastly sound, can I wear my Sony VSS headset over the top? Its no good having the most immersive visual presentation possible of its not backed up by great sound as well. The prototype has a headphone jack but I’m not going to wear regular earphones with this thing, I need that total noose cancellation to give the most immersive audio experience possible to go with those visuals.

  • This is going to bomb hard. Families don’t want kids to sit there with a tv strapped to their faces. The amount of disorientation is still a problem. Headaches are an issue just like 3D. The brightness of the OLED screens and the blue light created as a result is going to deteriorate peoples eyesight quicker than computer monitors and TV. People are far too quick to make a product and slap a brand on it before any real independent research takes place. Remember kids, it’s all fun until you hit age 30 and your eyes are wrecked. I’ll see most of you in 10-15 years.

  • It’s a shame the new consoles are so lacking in power that 1080p shared is the best we can hope for while the competitors are 1080 per eye. I don’t think I’ll bother with Morpheus and go Vive or Oculus.

    Interesting time for games though!

  • I’d like to see some thorough testing by people that, like myself, suffer from 3D/Motion sickness in games. We can’t play any game in the 3rd person perspective, and I’m assuming the same problem will arise using this peripheral.

    If I knew it didn’t elicit nausea after 5 minutes use, then I’d pre-order one. However, until then, it’s certanly going to be a ‘try before you buy’ situation.

    I just hope that there will be some demo units on display somewhere that aren’t being hogged by manky schoolkids spouting terms like ‘feels’, ‘dat VR though’ and ‘epicly awesome!’.

  • I’m ready for this.

  • If you could do anything #for the players , then it could be Virtual Reality. It’s hard to beleive ,but for the past 15years from the very first of my gaming experience I ,as many many more ,was dreaming about , reading about and waiting for the moment when it becomes possible.
    It is so close ,that ps4 can already manage!!! it . We have started to talk about specification …OoO But still long way to go , the hardest last step .
    I have simple questions. How long can i use it ? For example , I play then put pause and look through the window for the couple of seconds , but I need that . How VR can virtualise this experience ? Will ps4 be able to broadcast to VR and TV simultaneously or to 2VRs? And will it be compatible with ps 5 :) ?
    I’m a simple guy , I have simple tv and 50$ racing wheel (love it) , make this Morpheus Gooood , so good , that I couldn’t live without it.

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