Playstation VR: What It Is and How It Works

Try VR gaming at home

PlayStation VR (PSVR) is Sony's virtual reality headset that requires a PlayStation console to work.

In addition to the headset, Sony's VR ecosystem makes use of the PlayStation Move for a control scheme and accomplishes head tracking with the PlayStation Camera. Although the Move and Camera were both introduced long before PlayStation VR, they were developed with virtual reality in mind.

PSVR was designed to work with the PS4, but it will also work with the PS5.

How Does PlayStation VR Work?

PlayStation VR shares a lot in common with PC-based VR systems like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but it uses a PS4 console instead of an expensive computer.

Sony PlayStation VR

Since the PS4 is less powerful than VR-capable PCs, the PSVR also includes a processor unit to handle 3D audio processing and some other behind the scenes tasks. This unit sits between the PlayStation VR headset and the television, which allows players to leave the PlayStation VR hooked in while playing non-VR games.

One of the most important things about virtual reality is head tracking, which allows games to respond when the player moves their head. PlayStation VR accomplishes this by leveraging the PlayStation Camera, which is capable of tracking LEDs that are built into the surface of the headset.

PlayStation Move controllers are also tracked by the same camera, which makes them well suited to the purpose of controlling VR games. However, you also have the option of using a regular PS4 controller when a game supports that.

Do You Really Need a PlayStation Camera to Use PSVR?

You don't technically need the PlayStation Camera to use PSVR, but PlayStation VR does not function as a true virtual reality headset without a PlayStation Camera peripheral. There is no way for the head tracking to work without a PlayStation Camera, so your view is fixed, with no way to move it around, if you don't have that peripheral.

Using a PlayStation VR without the Camera peripheral locks you into the virtual theater mode. This mode places a large screen in front of you in a virtual space, simulating a big-screen television, but it's otherwise no different from watching a movie on a regular screen. The screen moves along with your head when you turn your head, always placed directly in front of you.

PlayStation VR Features

PSVR features
The latest update of the PSVR includes a processing unit capable of passing through HDR video to a 4k television. Sony
  • Works with every PS4: Compatible with original PS4, PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro.
  • Real VR experience without an expensive PC: Requires a PS4 console instead of an expensive gaming rig.
  • Uses existing Move and Camera peripherals: Leverages existing Move and Camera technology, so owners of those devices have nothing extra to buy.
  • Immersive 3D Audio: External processor unit provides 3D audio to further the illusion of actually being in a virtual space.
  • Play with friends on the same PS4: One player can use the PSVR headset, while a second player uses a television to play a game on the same console.

PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR2

VR CUH-ZVR2 headset


Manufacturer: Sony
Resolution: 1920x1080 (960x1080 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90-120 Hz
Nominal field of view: 100 degrees
Weight: 600 grams
Console: PS4
Camera: None
Manufacturing status: Released November 2017.

The CUH-ZVR2 is the second version of the PlayStation VR product line, and it made only minimal changes to the original hardware. Most of the changes are cosmetic, and there were no changes to important factors like the field of view, resolution, or refresh rate.

The most obvious change is that the CUH-ZVR2 uses a redesigned cable that weighs less and connects to the headset differently. This results in a little less neck strain and head tug when playing for long periods of time.

In terms of features and performance, the biggest change was the processor unit. The new unit is capable of handling HDR color data, which the original couldn't. That doesn't have any impact on VR, but it does mean that owners of 4K televisions won't have to unplug the PSVR for non-VR games and ultra high def (UHD) Blu-Ray movies to look their best.

The updated headset also includes a built-in headphone jack with volume controls, relocated power and focus buttons, and weighs just a bit less.

PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR1

PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR1 Headset


Manufacturer: Sony
Resolution: 1920x1080 (960x1080 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90-120 Hz
Nominal field of view: 100 degrees
Weight: 610 grams
Console: PS4​
Camera: None
Manufacturing status: No longer being made. The CUH-ZVR1 was available from October 2016 until November 2017.

The CUH-ZVR1 was the first version of PlayStation VR, and it's identical to the second version in terms of the most important specifications. It weighs a little more, has a bulkier cable, and isn't capable of passing HDR color data to 4K televisions.

Sony Visortron, Glasstron and HMZ

glasstron headset
Glasstron was an early example of Sony delving into head mounted displays. Sony

PlayStation VR wasn't Sony's first foray into head mounted displays or virtual reality. Although Project Morpheus, which grew into PSVR, didn't get started until 2011, Sony was actually interested in virtual reality much earlier than that.

In fact, the PlayStation Move was designed with VR in mind even though it was released three years before Morpheus even got started.

Sony Visortron
One of Sony's first attempts at a head-mounted display was the Visortron, which was in development between 1992 and 1995. It was never sold, but Sony did release a different head-mounted display, the Glasstron, in 1996.

Sony Glasstron
The Glasstron was a head-mounted display that looked like a headband connected to a set of futuristic sunglasses. The basic design utilized two LCD screens, and some models of the hardware were able to create a 3D effect by displaying subtly different images on each screen.

The hardware went through almost half a dozen revisions between 1995 and 1998, which is when the final version was released. Some versions of the hardware included shutters that allowed the user to see through the display.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer Headset
The HMZ-T1 and HMZ-T2 were Sony's final attempt at a head-mounted 3D device prior to the development of Project Morpheus and PlayStation VR. The device included a head unit with one OLED display per eye, stereo headphones, and an external processor unit with HDMI connections.