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E3 2015: Sony goes dark on virtual reality headset Project Morpheus

June 17, 2015 2:17 AM
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The stage was set at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week for a vicious battle of virtual reality, with both Microsoft and Sony eyeing the tech for their gaming consoles and several players muscling in on the PC space.

Yet while there still may prove to be blood on the show floor as E3 goes on, at day zero on Monday — where the big names in gaming show their biggest wares to the world's press — Sony appeared to back down from the fight.

As the only console-maker with its own VR headset — tentatively named Project Morpheus — Sony was expected to sell hard at its press conference and point out its hardware's strengths.

Mobile competitors like Samsung's Gear VR can use the phone you already have, but are less functional. Big name VR players such as Oculus and HTC have comparable headsets and more software, but you need an expensive PC and some technical nous to run them. Hours before Sony's conference, rival Microsoft announced it had partnered with both PC headset makers, meaning VR play from an Xbox One was possible but you'd still presumably need a PC in the middle.

Two-thirds of the way through Sony's presentation (which by the way was set beneath a giant wrap-around screen, prompting further Morpheus buzz), plenty of huge games had been demonstrated but no talk of VR. PlayStation boss Andrew House took the stage and a large image of Project Morpheus appeared above him. A deep 'whooooo' from the crowd.

A little more than two minutes later the image was gone, and so was all talk of the headset. House had said developers were really figuring out how to make a game for Morpheus. He had said the PlayStation ecosystem would allow for things that would be difficult on other VR platforms, like having one player wear the headset while his buddies next to him take part in the same game with standard controllers. He had announced an online multiplayer Morpheus game called RIGS.

There's evidence to suggest Sony had initially planned a much bigger presence for the headset at its conference, but it's unclear why the company would end up cutting the slot to the two-and-a-bit minutes it eventually got.

Perhaps Microsoft's partnership announcements, or its lauded demonstration of the augmented reality headset HoloLens, prompted Sony to avoid inviting direct comparisons. Maybe it simply decided its time was better spent on traditional games in response to Microsoft's very strong showing.

Having enough games to show was certainly not a problem, as several existing games are known to be coming to Morpheus with a software update, and it wouldn't be surprising to find some of the games announced at Sony's conference (like Media Molecule's weird motion-controlled animation game Dreams) were actually designed with the headset in mind.

Could there be deeper problems keeping Sony from launching an all out assault on the console VR space? Are they now unsure whether they want to bring a new product to market, despite their indication that it would be arriving in stores early next year?

All the current VR headsets plus HoloLens should be on the show floor for the rest of the week, so it's possible the story could become clearer before it's all over.


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June 17, 2015 2:17 AM

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