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How to sell VR to the masses, according to Sony

How to sell VR to the masses, according to Sony


Goodbye blue sky

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As recently as last year, you could position virtual reality headsets sort of like runway fashion designs: as abstractly stylish and futuristic things that the vast majority of people will never have to even consider purchasing, and could therefore admire from afar.

In 2016, that’s changed. VR might not be mainstream, but companies are starting to pitch it that way. Take, for example, Sony’s PlayStation VR, coming out on Thursday. In honor of the release, Sony has published a three-part, 8-minute instructional video series for installing and using PSVR. Turns out the whole thing is a little more complicated than this fantastic GIF from last year:

Actually, we already knew that, having set up the headset ourselves several times during our review process. But the videos do tell us a bit about what Sony thinks potential PSVR buyers need to hear. Namely...

You need an entire video just to figure out what’s in the box

This is somewhat fair, because there are a lot of cables involved in PSVR setup. Sony labeled the cables with numbers and then put them in small boxes with their own, non-corresponding numbers. (Small Box #1, as the video helpfully explains, contains Cables #2 and #3.) But as I mentioned in the review, it’s pretty clear what goes where. Devoting 90 seconds to just laying out what’s included seems a little excessive — especially since the one important bit, the fact that the required camera isn’t necessarily in that box, gets glossed over.

PSVR is divine, yet not untouchably so

"This is a magical, beautiful, piece of hardware," the video seems to say, "but we’re going to poke some fun at ourselves for saying so. Yeah, we’ve all seen The Lawnmower Man / The Matrix / that Power Glove scene from The Wizard, too."

Your living room will temporarily look like a municipal power grid diagram, get over it

The PSVR’s setup is a lot easier than that of, say, the HTC Vive, just because you don’t have to separately plug in two laser towers and deal with SteamVR. But Sony is setting some silly expectations with this neat, Ikea-esque map of wires. They will tangle; this is the burden of wired VR. One day we will look back nostalgically on this headache.

Finally, an escape from the terror of the blue void

Sony’s ideal consumer is someone living in a space with so few possessions that they can literally kick everything out of the way. (Except the dog, who is kindly ushered off into a corner.) If you do own any primitive, non-virtual objects, you must jettison them immediately. On one hand, Sony is targeting early adopters, who may well live in one of San Francisco’s sparsely furnished new high-rises. On the other, those early adopters also tend to have lots and lots of other gadgets already. Things might be a bit more crowded.

Snub your neighbors, embrace the darkness

While we had relatively few problems tracking the PSVR headset, other reviewers encountered more difficulties, and one of the major problems seems to be light. Here, Sony warns of lamps directly behind you, as well as sunlight from your windows. It illustrates this by having your avatar close the blinds on his smiling, waving neighbor. Sorry, real humans! I have virtual reality now!

Don’t try these snacks at home

Yes, there are decent reasons to — as Sony suggests — watch movies in the PSVR’s "cinematic mode." But unless you’re ready to spend the next week picking oily kernels out of the couch, its refreshment suggestions should be taken as purely symbolic.