While 1992’s film the Lawnmower Man popularised a vision of the future in which virtual reality dominated life, the high cost of components has made the technology prohibitively expensive to date.
But on Tuesday Sony Computer Entertainment announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality headset that works with the company’s PlayStation 4 video game console. The headset will fool its wearer into believing they have entered a simulated 3D world and, potentially, bring the science-fiction dreams of the 1990s to the consumer market.
“Virtual reality is the next innovation from PlayStation that may well shape the future of video games,” said Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios at the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. “VR has been the dream of many game creators ever since the first computer game. Many of us have dreamed about VR and what it could mean for the games that we create.”
Yoshida explained the unique appeal of VR as the sense of being bodily present in a simulated environment. “VR goes one step further than immersion to deliver ‘presence’,” he said. “This is something that can only be realised by VR.”
Richard Marks, one of Project Morpheus’s creators, described his own experience with the technology, saying: “When I first experienced presence it shifted my scepticism into complete belief.”
Project Morpheus has been in development for the past three years and is still in prototype form. Sony made no mention of a launch date or price point and, as such, the product is unlikely to be the first to market. Oculus Rift, first announced in 2012 and slated for release later this year is a PC-compatible VR technology.
Invented by 21-year-old Palmer Luckey, Oculus VR has raised $75m in venture funding in the past 12 months and has generated a groundswell of interest in the technology. Yoshida even paid tribute to Oculus Rift in his presentation. “I have an enormous amount of respect for them,” he said. “We were inspired in our work by the enthusiastic reactions of developers and journalists who tried their prototypes.”
Marks explained that VR’s influence and application will soon extend far beyond the video game industry. “Allowing people to experience what it’s like to be somewhere else will impact many aspects of life,” he said, explaining how Sony is working with Nasa to allow users to experience what it’s like to stand on Mars by using real image data gathered from the Mars Rover. “VR is going to be pervasive,” said Marks. “It could even be used to pick out a hotel room for your next trip by visiting a virtual version of that room.”
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