Two patents filed by Sony combine to reveal a new and very exciting PlayStation VR headset that we can't wait to get our eyeballs into.
The first, published this month, talks about a method for detecting how close your face is to the headset and where your eyeballs are pointing. It is of course full of dry jargon like this:
A method, comprising: detecting, by a sensor of a head mounted display (HMD), that the HMD is being worn by a user, the detecting identifies proximity of a face of the user to the sensor of the HMD; detecting, by the sensor of the HMD, an encoded signal indicative of glasses being worn by the user while wearing the HMD; disabling, by the HMD, a gaze detection function of the HMD responsive to processing of the encoded signal from said glasses; and receiving, by the HMD, encoded gaze data from said glasses, the encoded gaze data being used by an image frame processor that produces image frames for rendering on a display screen of the HMD.
(HMD is 'head-mounted display,' aka the thing you put on your bonce to go into the virtual world).
But us geek types won't be put off by intentionally dull legalese – we know what the description refers to. It's something called 'foveated rendering,' widely considered the next step in immersive entertainment. Basically, it uses eye tracking to work out what you're looking at, then only renders that in high-resolution – everything else can be blurry since you're not looking directly at it. This massively reduces the workload on the graphics processor – by a factor of 20, according to Oculus's Michael Abrash.
That means the headset not only doesn't have to worry about microscopic details of things you're not looking at, it can also concentrate all its graphical might in the area you are looking at, meaning that area can be that much more impressive. The term 'foveated' comes from foveal vision, the area you're focusing on – which is named after the fovea centralis, the little pit in your retina where visual detail is focused ('foves' is Latin for 'pit'). Every day's a school day.
The other patent was published last month and shows a wireless VR headset powered by the PlayStation (which in the image looks like the PS4, but they're hardly going to reveal the new design in a patent doc):
Put together, the two documents reveal that Sony is working on wireless PSVR that can render much, much more than the current headset. Given that the PS5 will obviously also have improved hardware, we're looking at something leaps and bounds ahead of what we have now – insanely detailed, super-realistic worlds beaming wirelessly from your PlayStation to your eyes.
Clearly, Sony is going all-in on VR. But whether it'll catch on comes down to the same factor as always: will it be affordable? Other manufacturers have made some very impressive VR headsets already, including ones with foveated rendering, but the price is still a major stumbling block.
PlayStation hardware is usually designed and priced to be accessible to mainstream gamers, and while PSVR wasn't cheap, it was doable. Will PSVR 2 be the same, or will all this fancy new tech put it squarely out of reach for the mainstream gamer?
Microsoft's HoloLens 2 headset, which also has eye-tracking, is set to cost $3,500 (£2,778), but will apparently offer financing deals whereby you can pay monthly, like a smartphone contract.
Gaming's getting amazing, but it's also getting pricey. Will you be saving up for PSVR 2 based on these patents? We've got to admit, we're excited. [T3]