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Virtual reality gets a new player with Sony's 'Project Morpheus'

Doug Gross, CNN
Sony announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality system for the PlayStation 4, at the Game Developers Conference.
Sony announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality system for the PlayStation 4, at the Game Developers Conference.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sony announces "Project Morpheus," a virtual-reality gaming system
  • The headset will immerse players in the game's virtual world
  • Morpheus joins Oculus Rift as emerging VR leaders
  • Microsoft also rumored to be working on virtual reality

(CNN) -- Virtual reality, the emerging 3D technology many expect to be the next quantum leap in the video gaming world, just got a little more real.

Sony, makers of the top-selling PlayStation 4, has rolled out "Project Morpheus," a virtual reality system it says will pair with its top-selling gaming console to immerse players in the virtual worlds in which they're playing.

The system, announced Tuesday at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, joins Oculus Rift, a similar full-immersion VR system that has captured the imaginations of gamers since its $2.4 million debut on Kickstarter in 2012.

"At (Sony Computer Entertainment), we view innovation as an opportunity to build on our mission to push the boundaries of play," said Shuhei Yoshida, president of SCE Worldwide Studios, at the conference. "Project Morpheus is the latest example of innovation from SCE, and we're looking forward to its continued development and the games that will be created as development kits get into the hands of content creators."

Virtual reality utilizes a headset that gives the wearer a 360-degree field of vision, allowing them to interact with their surroundings as if they were really there. Morpheus will feature a visor-style headset and interact with the camera on the Playstation 4 using sensors that track the player's head movements.

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"Game of Thrones" actress Maisie Williams wears an Oculus Rift headset at South by Southwest.

Despite a multitude of other dramatic changes through the decades, the way console gamers have interacted with visuals has remained virtually unchanged. The prospect of replacing the static, two-dimensional screen has many in the gaming world anxiously contemplating the possibilities.

"VR is exciting because it thoroughly immerses players in ways not possible on a regular TV set," said Dan "Shoe" Hsu, a longtime gaming journalist and editor-in-chief of GamesBeat.

"Wherever you turn your head, that's where you'll look, even if it's physically behind you. That sort of 360-degree immersion has never been done in a believable manner in the past, but the technology has caught up. We can now experience the same high graphical fidelity that we see on HDTVs within virtual reality now."

Sony did not announce a specific timetable or price details for Morpheus, saying models that will be made available to developers are prototypes.

It all raises the question of whether top-tier game developers will be willing to make the considerable investment of time and resources it will take to create games for a new, untested system that will only be owned by some gamers who own one particular console.

Hsu thinks Sony is in a good position, though. In just three-and-a-half months, the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 6 million units worldwide.

"Not every PS4 owner will buy it, of course," he said. "But because Project Morpheus is essentially a new platform on its own, there will be plenty of developers who will want to be first or early on it. This is a chance for developers to plant their flags in a new market."

So, what does the arrival of Morpheus mean for Oculus? With Xbox-maker Microsoft also rumored to be working on its own headset, will the independent shop get squeezed by gaming's big names before it even hits the market?

Don't count on it.

For one, the Oculus Rift is designed to work, primarily, with PCs. So, even if the console makers each develop their own systems, there's plenty of space for the system to thrive despite the competition.

And it's got plenty of momentum itself. Oculus has drummed up more than $90 million in funding and, in August, brought in legendary gaming developer John Carmack, the lead programmer behind classic games like "Doom," "Quake" and "Wolfenstein 3D," as chief technology officer.

"Oculus is still in a great position with its head start in development, both in hardware and software," Hsu said. "Third-party games have been in the works for the Oculus Rift for quite some time now, so the company is in a good spot for when the headset releases."

The system got a profile boost at this month's South by Southwest Interactive festival, when it was used for a popular exhibit promoting HBO's "Game of Thrones."

"Competition is always, always good," Hsu said. "If Sony's announcement forces Oculus to be even more aggressive in creating a top-notch VR unit and getting it to market more quickly, then the consumers will benefit."

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