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Plantronics Debuts First Headphones Designed For Sony's PlayStation VR

Publish Date:

Thursday, April 14, 2016 8:00 am PDT

News Organization:

Forbes

Source URL:

Plantronics PLT +% has partnered up with Sony to design a pair of headphones they believe will improve your virtual reality experience with the PlayStation VR. Dubbed the RIG 4VR, the headphones will launch right alongside Sony’s VR HMD this October for $69.99.

So why Sony and not the competition? “We prioritized these headphones around the PlayStation VR because we found their headgear design was more evolved, and had the biggest compatibility from an install base perspective,” Corey Rosemond, Business Development Director, Gaming at Plantronics, told me via a phone conversation. ”Plus the PSVR is going to have a significant amount of rich, gamer-first content.”

That’s sound business sense. I’ve argued that Sony’s PlayStation VR stands to be three times more popular than the Oculus Rift or HTC HTCCY +% Vive based on compatible, addressable hardware (Sony’s nearly 40 million PS4′s are all “VR Ready”), and after spending time with all three major headsets, the PSVR is far and away the most comfortable (the Rift being a close second).

As someone who’s had his face inside the PSVR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, I’ll contend that your choice in a VR audio companion shouldn’t be an arbitrary one, especially when you already have something on your head. To facilitate lengthier gaming sessions and prevent player fatigue, they have to be comfortable and lightweight. To that end, Plantronics’ RIG 4VR (I’m not loving the name, but I’ll get over it) is constructed with an “ultra-light, super-flexible frame and modular components for extraordinary comfort.” Feeling is believing, but based on prior gaming-centric Plantronics gear I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ll find out at E3 when the company lets press get ears-on with the PSVR and RIG 4VR simultaneously, so I’ll report back!

Other design considerations like an oval earcup mean an extra layer of comfort and stability, and one thing I appreciate is the location of the actual wire. Note that it’s rear-oriented and at a slight angle, thus out of the player’s way. Plantronics tells me this particular decision was made so that the headset “connects and meshes perfectly” with the other PSVR cables. Keep it light, keep it out of the way. So far so good.

How about being loud? Well, standard 40mm drivers here. Not the 50mm we’re seeing more of these days, but still enough to drive quality sound, and at $69.99 this seems reasonable.

Plantronics also includes a removable flip-to-mute noise cancelling microphone. Removable because the PSVR has a built-in microphone, and because an alternate, included cable lets you connect it to the PS4′s Dual Shock controller. Or an Xbox One controller. Or a PC. Or your mobile phone. So, they’ve got the “platform agnostic” angle covered too, which is what I’m always looking for. If they’re as light and comfortable as they insist, these could become your go-to cans for any system.

Here’s what I found most interesting about the RIG 4VR headphones: Plantronics insisted on a vented earcup design to purposefully let in ambient sound. Why? To help VR gamers maintain their natural balance. Even when you’re seated in VR, becoming disoriented and losing your balance is a possibility if you’re just completely blocked out from the real world. If you’ve ever been inside a true sound-proof chamber, with a complete absence of sound, you’ll discover you may feel disoriented or even “tipsy.” That’s because our brains use even the most subtle sounds to determine your position in the world. It’s not quite the issue the Mayo Clinic is solving with VR motion sickness, but it’s an important consideration.

Another benefit to letting in the ambient sound? Sony has stated that several PlayStation VR titles will be party-type games where one or more players interact via the television while the other player engages from inside the PSVR headset.

Finally, the RIG 4VR has Plantronics’ “sidetone” feature, which lets your hear your own voice played back quietly in the headphones. This helps diminish our natural inclination to talk loudly or flat out yell while wearing headphones.

On paper, it seems like Plantronics and Sony have checked a lot of boxes and negated some potential issues associated with VR gaming. If they deliver, $69.99 is reasonable for what they’re putting on the table. I also appreciate that while these upcoming headphones are philosophically designed for the PlayStation VR, they’re by no means locked to that platform. I’m looking to trying them out at E3, and later in the year you can definitely expect a full review.

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