Sony: Project Morpheus virtual reality headset is a significant investment


Head of Sony Andrew House sees a bright future for the device which delivers a ‘magical sense of presence’ to users

The virtual reality technology Project Morpheus is “the new frontier of game development” and represents a significant investment by the company, Sony’s games chief has said.

Speaking to the Guardian, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew House, said, “It’s definitely more than an experiment. We’ve made some commitments; we’re putting significant investment into the product.”

Revealed at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco in June, Project Morpheus is a virtual reality (VR) headset which puts two high definition screens in front of the wearer’s eyes, providing an immersive 3D view of the game world.

The device also includes movement tracking technologies, so players can move their head to look around the virtual scene. The product will work in conjunction with Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, but no release date has been announced.

Although the concept has been around for several decades, virtual reality is only now emerging as a realistic mainstream consumer technology. Headsets launched in the early nineties featured low-resolution screens and significant lag between player movements and on-screen action causing motion sickness.

In 2012, however, a start-up tech company named Oculus successfully crowd-funded a new VR headset on the Kickstarter site and has since sold over 100,000 early versions of its Oculus Rift device to developers. A consumer launch is expected next autumn.

For Sony, virtual reality represents a new way to boost consumer electronics sales. 3D TV has largely proved a failure, as many consumers were unimpressed with stereoscopic 3D effects in the living room. But virtual reality potentially provides a much more complete experience.

“We do now think that we can get to this point of delivering a magical sense of presence – where your brain tricks you into thinking you’re actually in this place,” said House. “We think there’s something there that could be really, really interesting for a next frontier of game development.”

“Developers are passionate about VR”

Another important element for Sony is engaging with the game development community. The company’s PlayStation 4 console is in burgeoning competition with Microsoft’s Xbox One, and both want to attract the most talented game makers to their machines. The huge popularity of Oculus Rift among games coders and designers has encouraged Sony to think that Project Morpheus is a good way of securing talent.

“With Oculus we saw this groundswell of game development that didn’t necessarily have a monetisable or a business option, but [developers were] so passionate about this space that they were doing this essentially in their spare time,” said House. “It struck that me that if there’s a variety of game developersshowing interest in this space then it’s probably time to jump in and see if we can play a part and give them the tools they’re looking for.”

The big question is whether mainstream users will be willing to sit in their living rooms wearing virtual reality headsets. There has been much enthusiasm within the games community, but technologies like this have been largely untested among the wider consumer base. It may be that sales of the Google Glass device, which offers augmented reality technology, provides a useful analogue.

Asked about the mass market potential of the device, House replied, “I don’t know, but I think that at the very least it’s going to be another really interesting advance for the PS4 ecosystem and another way to deliver brand new experiences. That’s what we’re all about.”