PSVR on the PC

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Hardware, Virtual Reality

PSVR on the PC

One of the reasons I chose the PSVR was because I’d heard of an effort to “hack” the PSVR into the PC ecosystem, which instantly increased the value of the lower-cost headset by orders of magnitude. It stands to reason that since the connections that the PSVR require are non-proprietary — HDMI, USB, and power — then the only gap between the PS4 and the PC is software, specifically the drivers that allow the PC to recognize the headset as an actual VR headset.

I was familiar with Trinus from my limited time with the “low-rent” VR Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Like PSVR, the smartphone VR could be connected to a PC via the Trinus app, which recognizes the otherwise unrecognized VR headset as a legitimate display while also handling positional data from the device’s gyroscope. Since that time the Trinus developer has been busy creating a version specifically designed to bridge that gap between the PSVR and the PC.

What you’ll need

  1. A PlayStation VR headset. These had been out of stock in a lot of places until somewhat recently and can be had new for $399. A word of warning: I wouldn’t rush out and buy one specifically for this. Trinus is still in beta, so the support for this kind of thing is tenuous at best. If you have a PS4, however, I highly recommend the PSVR.
  2. Trinus PSVR. You can download the Trinus PSVR app for free. It will run in “demo mode” for something like 5 – 10 minutes before disconnecting the headset. A license is only about $11 USD ($8.99 EUR)
  3. SteamVR. SteamVR is a free app available through Steam that lets you run standard games and apps in stereoscopic mode.
  4. Patience.
  5. A VR ready game. Although I’ve only tried this with a VR-enabled game, I believe that this should work with any game or app combined with SteamVR. However, to get the biggest bang for the buck, find a 2D game which has a VR mode. Examples from my library include Elite Dangerous, Serious Sam (some variety), Subnautica, and Tabletop Simulator. I’d caution you against spending money on a VR-only title from the Steam store, however, as Trinus is in beta, and might not play well with games that are expecting the full breadth of Vive or Oculus input.

Installing SteamVR

SteamVR is intended for use with the HTC Vive, and possibly to a lesser extent, the Oculus. To that end, a lot of what you’re going to see when dealing with SteamVR (specifically, controller support and “room scale” terms and settings) isn’t going to work with the PSVR, but that’s ok: we’re not using it for the bells and whistles, only to take advantage of the display and gyroscope support.

SteamVR is something that everyone has in their library.

When viewing your normal library, click on the GAMES header next to the search box that sits beneath the SEARCH box. Then select TOOLS

TOOLS is the dumping ground for a lot of apps you might not have known you owned. It’s mostly multiplayer server stand-alone installers, but it has a few goodies provided by Valve just for using Steam — like SteamVR

Right-click and choose INSTALL. It should place an icon on your desktop.

Installing Trinus PSVR

You can get the Trinus PSVR demo from the normal Trinus website. Installation should be self-explanatory. It will ask to install a driver, which you should accept since it’s Trinus’ job to drive the data from the PSVR headset to SteamVR and associated applications.

Install a VR-enabled game or app

You’re on your own for this one.

Install the PSVR

Hooking up the PSVR to your PC is not that different from hooking it up to your PlayStation 4. You plug the breakout box’s HDMI input into your PC video card, the box’s HDMI output to your desktop monitor (you will want to have a monitor hooked up as a failsafe), the PSVR USB to a free USB port (not sure if it has to be 3.x, or if it can be 2.x), and the power supply to an outlet.

Running Trinus

Fire up Trinus. Although you might end up on the MAIN tab, you’re going to want the HOW TO tab first

The CONNECT sub-tab shows you the hookup diagram so there’s no ambiguity when plugging everything in.

At this point, you might be tempted to turn on the headset to see what’s what. If you do so you’ll probably just see an “xUSB” icon in the viewport. Don’t worry: if you’ve plugged the USB cable into the PC you’re all set; this is a generic warning that lets you know that Trinus hasn’t officially introduced your headset to your PC.

Next, you’ll want the INSTALL subtab:

There’s only one option: SteamVR Driver. “But wait!” you might think. “I already installed SteamVR!” What you’re installing here is the bridge between Trinus and SteamVR: this is the actual part that is missing from native PSVR support on the PC, so the driver combined with the settings you can fiddle with in Trinus, and the display handling of SteamVR, provide us with this wonderful hack. You won’t get immediate feedback when you click INSTALL, but know that Trinus has got your back.

One last thing

This system works best when you have more than one monitor because once you activate Trinus, your main monitor will reflect what’s displayed in the headset, which is non-native for a 2D display. It helps to drag app icons to an unaffected 2D monitor because you might have a hard time finding and accessing them if they’re on your main screen once Trinus starts.

Fire it up

The next few steps are straightforward but expect some trial and error. When I first got to this point my main monitor fish eyed so bad that I couldn’t access the Trinus control panel to see what I needed to do. This is why a second monitor is highly recommended.

Here’s a rough guide to what I did that eventually got things working for me, but know that it’s less a science, and more like voodoo (remember: we’re hacking hardware using beta software, so please be kind).

Switch over to the MAIN tab of Trinus. There are a few things to notice here, the most important one being the footer output section. This is where you’re going to get information on what Trinus wants you to know. Notice the line referring to SteamVR — make sure your message is pleasing like the one in the image.

Next, in PC MODE, select SteamVR (which is the default, I believe). For PSVR Display, select a display. This box will populate with all of the display outputs that your system has registered…except the PSVR itself, so don’t go looking for it or another display beyond what you have sitting on your desk. What you’re telling Trinus is which display output you want to show through the headset. My main display where I run my games is DISPLAY1, and that’s where I expected SteamVR to display. Finally, for PSVR MODE, select VR.

Before you do anything else at this point, place your VR Headset on the desk in front of you, facing the direction you want to face when using it. Trinus will calibrate your headset, and it needs to be ABSOLUTELY STILL for this to work. Even keeping it on your head could introduce subtle drift which will drive you bonkers (trust me on this).

In order for Trinus to recognize your PSVR headset, you need to click the broad START button. This will turn on the headset (if you haven’t), calibrate it, and will show the contents of whichever display you selected for PSVR DISPLAY inside the headset. At this point, you can put the headset on to verify that you’re seeing the desktop. It may screw up your actual desktop monitor display in the process. When you don the headset, you will probably get a really disorienting view of the same desktop, with each eye registering different parts of the screen instead of the overlap that we’d expect. This is because we don’t yet have the stereoscopic display that SteamVR provides.

If you can find it on a desktop, fire up SteamVR.

SteamVR has two components: the main visual output which, on a 2D monitor will display side-by-side fisheyes and a view of a gridded dome on a white background, and a small control panel which tells you the state of your hardware if you were using the Vive or Oculus. Assuming all you see are green status values, you’re on the right track. Greyed out icons are OK. If you see red, something is wrong. Sadly, troubleshooting SteamVR is outside the scope of this guide.

You will probably be greeted with a calibration wizard the first time you start SteamVR. For my setup, I chose the STANDING option, and then faced forward for the first step, and then put the PSVR headset on the floor at my feet for the second. Because the PSVR doesn’t use room-scale, nor does it use positioning outside of the built-in gyroscope, this is mainly to “calibrate” the position because SteamVR demands it.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a complete 3D view inside your headset. You can move your head to move the view around the SteamVR dome and confirm that you have gyro support.

Starting your app

For Elite Dangerous, I had to open my Steam Library, find Elite Dangerous in the list of installed games, right click on the name in the list, and select the RUN VR MODE option because normal Elite Dangerous will tell you that you’re trying to run a normal game in VR mode, which won’t accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.

I was unable to enact any input at this point. Upon removing the headset, I noticed that I had two game windows: One within the SteamVR view, and a smaller window on the secondary monitor. I had to click within the second, smaller Elite window to give the app focus. What this is doing, then, is running the app on the second monitor, but is — for lack of a more accurate technical term — projecting that app into the SteamVR space. I had tried running Elite normally using its 3D mode from the game’s OPTIONS, but that ran afoul of the weird resolutions required for the side-by-side stereoscopic view; running the game in VR mode from the start takes advantage of SteamVR’s resolution auto-scaling, and helped display a properly sized game despite the actual window resolution being much smaller than 1920×1080.

At this point, I was ready to rock! Input worked fine (HOTAS, mainly), and I was blown away by the sensation of scale when my cargo ship surfaced into the cavernous station where I had parked. While you can use the PSVR for a movie-screen-sized 2D experience (“cinematic mode” is what they call it), having a game which supports 3D VR is really going to knock your socks off.

Tweaking and troubleshooting

If you got this far with a serviceable experience, then the rest is gravy. Here’s a few things that you might want to set up or try within Trinus.

  1. IPD. On the MAIN tab of the Trinus app, there’s a slider labeled IPD. This stands for “interpupillary distance” and is a value which represents the distance between the pupils of your eyes, which is what grants us the power of binocular vision. Ideally, you should use this after getting SteamVR calibrated and before you start your game. If it looks like you’re experiencing double vision when viewing the SteamVR dome, use the IPD slider to adjust; you should see results instantly, allowing you to work visually rather than by some vague numeric value.
  2. Height. Beneath the IPD slider on the MAIN tab is another slider labeled HEIGHT. This may not matter in-game, but if you start SteamVR and find yourself “embedded” in the floor of the dome-grid, you can increase this slider to move the camera above ground to a comfortable height.
  3. Foggy visuals. The PSVR isn’t as resolution-intense as the Vive or Oculus, which is something we’re going to have to accept; the text in Elite Dangerous was rather hazy, for example, and therefore difficult to read. There’s a checkbox on the NON-VR tab of Trinus that may help improve visuals, although I haven’t tried it so I can say what it does or if it works. Alternatively, the game’s native video resolution might be able to help, although this could also knock your headset display out of whack.
  4. Set a RESET VIEW key: On the MAIN tab of Trinus, there’s a RESET VIEW section. I highly recommend setting a key. This will re-center your view to the direction you are facing at the time you hit the key, so make sure you’re facing a comfortable position before doing this (caveat: My experience was that Trinus reset my position to 90 degrees to my right rather than 0 degrees straight ahead. I had to turn my head to the right and then hit the reset button in order to center my forward-facing view to what I’d expected. I have no idea if I screwed this up or if this is standard).