I tried PlayStation VR and immediately bought a PS4 to get in on the action. What's Xbox's response?
Public trials of PlayStation VR are going on at various events across the world and my own chance came at Insomnia 58 over the August bank holiday weekend in Birmingham (the UK one, not the Alabama one.) Booking a slot to try it out is increasingly tough as we get closer to launch and what happened after mine should give Microsoft something to think about.
24 hours after my trial I had a PlayStation 4 sat on my desk ready and waiting for October 13 (or some point after depending on how orders actually go.) Microsoft has teased VR support for Project Scorpio, but that's not coming until the latter part of 2017 at best. PlayStation VR is so good already that it could quickly become a defining feature that drives console sales for years.
VR is still a fairly niche thing but it's very quickly becoming part of mainstream and mobile computing. Google is readying its Daydream mobile VR system, Samsung has Gear VR, and then there's the goliaths that are Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The mobile options are good, but fall way short of the incredible experience you get from the likes of Oculus and HTC.
The Rift and the Vive are very expensive and require substantial PC hardware to push their experiences. There's no way around it, but for the power and price you do get the very best VR experience around.
Waiting for Scorpio puts Microsoft on a 12-month backfoot
PlayStation VR sits in the middle. There are already tens of millions of PS4 owners around the world who already have everything they need to get in on the action. The rest comes in the box with the headset. It's not as good an experience as Rift and Vive, but it's close enough to be immersive, exciting and ultimately, enormous fun.
It's the first instance of true VR for the masses, and those masses will love it.
This is why I'm a little concerned about Microsoft's seemingly lethargic stance towards the VR onslaught. Sure, VR hasn't exactly taken off yet, but I have now doubt that it will. Just as the iPhone did for previously niche smartphones, I'd wager that PlayStation VR will be right on the front lines of leading and defining the virtual revolution. It can, and will sell consoles, and right now there's no Xbox answer to it.
That it's still a console offers an advantage over the high-powered Vive and Rift: when you don't want to strap on a VR headset you can instead kick your feet up and sink back into the sofa to play Uncharted 4 or Gran Turismo on your TV. VR-capable PCs are perfectly capable gaming rigs, but gaming on a PC isn't for everyone.
I still prefer the Xbox One as a console, and having now owned every PlayStation and every Xbox, I feel well placed to make a reasoned judgment on that. With the Xbox One, Microsoft really kicked it up a gear, and it's definitely my number one. Sony's software is pretty bad, the console is ridiculously noisy and the exclusive games aren't as appealing as those available on Xbox.
It might lose out on things like graphical power, but all round I'm quite happy and believe it's still the best option — especially with the upgraded Xbox One S. But that's me, and I already have an Xbox One. And yet I went out bought a PS4 based on little else other than PlayStation VR.
I'm not representative of everyone, of course, but I am concerned at what effect Sony's latest showpiece will have on Xbox. If VR really does take off, and there's no reason to think it won't, Microsoft is going to be playing a serious case of catch up.
And that makes me more than a little nervous.