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PSVR 1 relied on outdated PS Move controllers that weren’t very precise and also lacked thumbsticks.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