PlayStation VR: What It Is and How It Works

Try VR gaming at home

PlayStation VR (PSVR) is Sony's virtual reality system. It requires a PlayStation console to work. The PSVR head unit shares a lot in common with PC-based VR systems like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. However, it uses a PS4 console instead of a VR-capable computer.

PSVR was designed to work with the PS4. It also works with the PS5 with an adapter.

How Does PlayStation VR Work?

Since the PS4 is less powerful than VR-capable PCs, the PSVR includes a processor unit to handle 3D audio processing and other behind the scenes tasks. This unit sits between the PlayStation VR headset and the television, allowing you 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 you move your 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 tracked by the same camera, making these controllers well suited to the purpose of controlling VR games. However, you have the option of using a regular PS4 controller for most games.

Sony PlayStation VR

Do You Really Need a PlayStation Camera to Use PSVR?

You don't technically need the PlayStation Camera to use PSVR. However, PlayStation VR doesn't function as a true virtual reality headset without a PlayStation Camera peripheral. There isn't a 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. Otherwise, it's no different from watching a movie on a regular screen. The screen moves when you turn your head so that it's always in front of you.

PlayStation VR PS5 Compatibility

The PS5 is backward compatible with PS4 games. You can play PSVR-compatible PS4 games on your PS5. Still, you need to request a PS5 VR camera adapter from Sony to use PSVR.

PSVR only supports PS4 games. So, if you want to play games like Hitman 3 in VR, you must purchase the PS4 version.

PlayStation VR Features

Both PSVR models have the same basic features:

  • Works with every PS4 and PS5: Compatible with the original PS4, PS4 Slim, PS4 Pro, and PS5.
  • Real VR experience without an expensive PC: Requires a PlayStation console instead of an expensive gaming rig.
  • Uses existing Move and Camera peripherals: Leverages existing Move and Camera technology. Hence, owners of those devices have nothing extra to buy.
  • Immersive 3D Audio: The 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 controller to play a game on the TV.

The Original PSVR: PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR1

PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR1 Headset


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

Manufacturer: Sony
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz to 120 Hz
Nominal field of view: 100 degrees
Weight: 610 grams
Camera: None
Manufacturing status: No longer being made. The CUH-ZVR1 was available from October 2016 until November 2017.

The Updated PSVR: PlayStation VR CUH-ZVR2

VR CUH-ZVR2 headset


The most apparent change is that the CUH-ZVR2 uses a redesigned cable that weighs less and connects to the headset differently. This results in less neck strain and head tug when playing for long periods. The updated headset weighs less and includes a built-in headphone jack with volume controls.

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. Instead, it means 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 the best.

Manufacturer: Sony
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz to 120 Hz
Nominal field of view: 100 degrees
Weight: 600 grams
Camera: None
Manufacturing status: Released in November 2017

PSVR Prototypes: Sony Visortron, Glasstron, and HMZ

Glasstron headset

PlayStation VR wasn't Sony's first foray into head-mounted displays or virtual reality. Although Project Morpheus, which grew into PSVR, didn't start until 2011, Sony was interested in virtual reality much earlier than that. The PlayStation Move was designed with VR in mind even though it was released three years before Morpheus 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 released 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 used two LCD screens. Some models of the hardware could 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.

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