Eye-tracking

A typical eye-tracking visualization | Image courtesy 7invensun

Eye-tracking has been touted in the VR industry for years, but the tech has only ever been built into high-end enterprise headsets. Sony may be the first to deliver a consumer VR headset with eye-tracking.

It might not be immediately obvious why you’d want to be able to track the user’s eyes in a VR headset (especially if you’re already tracking the motion of their head), but it turns out that eye-tracking can be a game-changer for VR in many ways.

One of the big ones of course is ‘foveated rendering’. Since our eyes only see sharp in a fairly small central region (the fovea), rendering scenes in high detail in your peripheral vision is a waste of computing power. If you can track exactly where the user is looking, you can render the center part of each frame in high detail while reducing detail in the periphery where it won’t be noticed. This means games can look more detailed without using more computing power.

But eye-tracking goes far beyond just foveated rendering. Sony has only explicitly mentioned foveated rendering so far, but the tech could also be used for automatic IPD measurement, automatic user sign-ins, realistic eye movements for multiplayer avatars, intent tracking, and even eye-based input. Having eye-tracking in PSVR 2 essentially opens up a whole new door of possibilities for VR developers.

Controllers

PSVR 2 controllers | Image courtesy Sony

One of the biggest improvements to PSVR 2 will the new ‘Sense’ controllers.

PSVR 1 relied on outdated PS Move controllers that weren’t very precise and also lacked thumbsticks.

Like other headsets with inside-out tracking, the PSVR 2 Sense controllers will be tracked from the cameras on the headset itself. This is stands to vastly increase the controller tracking coverage because users can now turn around without blocking the PS Camera from seeing their PS Move controllers. And because the Sense controllers are made from the ground up for VR (unlike the PS Move controllers), we expect the quality of the tracking will be improved too.

Crucially, the Sense controllers are also jumping in line with all over modern VR controllers in terms of inputs. They’ll have thumbsticks and two face buttons, which has become the defacto standard with the likes of Oculus Rift, Quest, Valve Index, Reverb G2, Vive Focus 3, and more. Having the same button-and-stick layout across all these controllers makes it easier for developers to port their games from one headset to another.

Image courtesy Sony

And then there’s the enhanced capabilities of the PSVR 2 Sense controllers. Sony says they will include advanced haptics similar to what’s in the impressive PS5 controller. That means adaptive triggers that can change how each pull feels, and highly-detailed haptics that go far beyond the basic rumble motors in the PS Move controllers.

Audio & Headset Haptics

Amidst a very impressive list of capabilities listed above, audio might be the Achilles’ heel of PSVR 2.

It’s here where we’d love to say ‘Sony is following every other major headset maker by including on-board audio on PSVR 2’. Alas, this isn’t looking to be the case.

Unless there’s more to be revealed about the headset, the specs Sony has released so far mention nothing about on-board audio for PSVR 2. The only detail relating to the headset’s audio so far is that it will have a 3.5mm headphone jack, just like the original.

Ostensibly this means Sony is expecting users to use earbuds or headphones (or rely on their TV speakers), but by 2022 the VR headset market has clearly shown the demand for on-board audio. Most people don’t want to bother with putting another thing on their head after the headset, especially in the case of bulky over-ear headphones which don’t always fit around the headstrap of a VR headset.

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But there might be more to the story than we know. Sony has confirmed that PSVR 2 will include head-mounted haptics (another first among commercially available headsets). That means that, like the controllers, the headset itself will be able to shake in response to things happening in the virtual world. In the case of the PS5 controller though, this is often achieved by sending audio waveforms to the haptic unit which buzzes accordingly so that you can feel the sound.

It seems odd that PSVR 2 would have a haptic unit on the headset which accepts audio input… but not also include speakers?

In fact, the PS5 controller has both a haptic unit and a small speaker so that you can feel and hear certain audio coming from the controller for increased immersion. It seems like this same framework (a haptic unit and speakers) would make sense for a headset too. Alas, Sony has yet to provide any indication of on-board audio.

– – — – –

All things considered, PlayStation 2 is shaping up to be a significant upgrade over Sony’s first headset. Beyond that, it looks like PSVR 2 may launch with several first-to-market features among consumer headsets, like HDR, eye-tracking, and head-mounted haptics. We’re still waiting to learn what this impressive package will cost or exactly when it will launch.

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  • Great comparison. I think that PSVR 2 is a very solid headset, I can’t wait toread the first hands-on reviews!

  • JB1968

    Good article where comparison makes sense. UploadVR should learn here.

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  • VRFriend

    Announce something which will be released for sale in 10 months? Crazy. Should be immediately, next day or week or month, not at the end of year.

    • Duckman

      lol

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, they haven’t announced anything officially yet.

    • ApocalypseShadow

      They announced PS5 name at CES and released in November. How many months was that?

      What hot item most people want but can’t get for a console? PS5.

      It’s not unheard of. I would love immediate release. But that’s not always the case because they are still planning strategy and dealing with production in this current climate.

  • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

    One thing I havent seen mentioned in articles is that exclusive PSVR2 games will be built ground up for PS5’s fast SSD. Im not sure when it will become common for PC VR games to require SSD, and for now they are limited by HDD compatibility. Though SSD’s are not yet tapped into to the extent I expect they will be, so that may not be a major edge right from the start. I imagine the SSD goes a long way for eye tracking and foreated rendering at the very least, allowing a ton of detail to be added and removed as the player looks to and from different areas. The SSD may be part of the reason Sony can beat the market to this feature in the first place.

    Would love to see what people with much more knowledge than me think about the SSD potential. I think the SSD will be one reason PSVR2 games will hold up well against PC VR even after the next PC HMD’s launch.. at least the PS exclusives. Would love to see Naughty Dog contribute something to VR this gen. Im sure the game they made would look amazing!

    • Lucidfeuer

      A dev who fiddled with a PS5 dev kit explained to me that the faster SSD just saves work on asset streaming, but there’s no seamless and streamlined tool to take advantage of it for now (maybe nanite when it’s eventually optimized for full games), rather it just allows to save on micro-management of memory loads and therefor is more of cop-out for production that a tool being used for now. It’s gonna take some years before you can see it being used to either augment the details of the world streaming or just save on loading times.

  • Charles

    “quality of the tracking will be improved to.”

    Typo in the article.

    • benz145

      Thanks : )

  • FrankB

    I wonder if there will be PC compatibility, given the interesting spec sheet it could well end up being a top class PC headset.

    • shadow9d9

      There is zero incentive for them to do that, especially with the truly abysmal pcvr game sales numbers.

  • xyzs

    If the lenses are not Fresnel, they really got everything right !
    (except the cable need and the just ok FOV)

  • ApocalypseShadow

    Onboard audio? Why? Leave it to choice.

    PSVR 1 needed the breakout box to process the 3D audio. PSVR 2 does not because of a dedicated sound chip called Tempest built into PS5. Sony gave PSVR 1 gamers a choice on how they wanted to hear be it ear buds or headphones.

    The same great audio that makes Returnal sound the way it does is going to be in VR as well. And that’s just a taste. The same 3.5 audio jack on the Dual Sense where you can use ear buds or headsets to hear that audio is being left up to your choosing again. Different gamers have different preferences on how they listen to sound. Sony is giving gamers that choice on what they want to wear. But PSVR 2 may still have included ear buds in the package just like the first headset if you don’t have any.

    Anyway, PSVR 2 is going to potentially be so far beyond PSVR 1, it’s scary. The graphics, sound and haptics along with analog sticks and 360 movement is going to be on another level. It’s like a gamer jumping from PS2 directly to PS4 Pro or better. Just insane.

  • Nepenthe

    Why wouldn’t we expect backward compatibility? I figured that would be a given at least for some stuff even if a per-game patch were required. Don’t most PS4 games play on the PS5? Sure, something that required the PS4 gamepad (like the precursor to Astro-Bot) wouldn’t work, but the PSVR1 has a decent library held back by the HMD and Move.

    • benz145

      Games like Astro Bot are designed for 6DOF input from the controller which isn’t supported by PS5 controllers. My guess is that we’ll see many PSVR games updated for PSVR 2, but there won’t be direct backwards compatibility.

  • TechnoHunter

    Sony needs to create a standalone VR Headset in my opinion, and then have the cables provided to hook it up to a PlayStation console, if they want to compete with Quest 2 which I think all VR headset hardware platforms should be doing or moving towards! :D