Google made a lot of announcements today, but I was particularly interested in Google’s next generation of mobile VR, Daydream. When Google’s Cardboard VR came out, it was a neat way to get a feel for what VR could offer without dropping any (or very little) money. I liked Cardboard, but it was pretty limited and paled in comparison to Samsung’s Gear VR.
Daydream, however, seems like a lot more. Google has made their own new VR headset (out of soft fabrics apparently) and claim it will be the most comfortable headset available. It looks a bit like my grandmother’s old sofa. Google went out of their way to talk about how they got design experts to make sure it was all perfect, but honestly, I think it looks ridiculous. On the other hand, I’ll put damn near anything on my face if it means being able to ignore the world through VR.
I do like the fact that the Daydream is apparently accommodating those (like me) who wear glasses. Beyond that, one of the most important aspects of the Daydream package is its inclusion of a small motion controller. The design, which looks a lot like a Roku remote, is meant to be simple for anyone to use. It has two buttons, a touch pad at the tip, and acts as your virtual pointer within the apps.
This controller gives Daydream a significant leg up on the current unopposed king of mobile VR, Samsung’s Gear VR. While you can use most bluetooth controllers with the Gear VR, a truly immersive VR experience really requires a control mechanism that understands and replicates natural motions within your virtual world. Google seems to have taken that to heart.
Admittedly, they only mentioned the use of one controller with the system, so gamers hoping for a mobile VR experience to rival the HTC Vive will probably be disappointed. Still, the apps they showed off, including the games, looked remarkably good. Starting off with an exclusive game based on the upcoming Harry Potter-related movie, Strange Beasts and Where to Find Them, the graphics appeared to be console-level quality. The gameplay looked far more simplistic.
Probably more appealing to the average user, however, is the extensive list of supported multimedia apps. Netflix on the Gear VR is probably my favorite VR app and it’s hitting Daydream with a slew of others like Hulu, Vudu, Google Play, and of course YouTube (which is owned by Google). As a personal theater, the Daydream is certain to be exceptionally cool.
On the downside, Google and Amazon are sadly going at each other’s throats lately, so there’s the huge omission of Amazon Prime video. Given that Amazon has yet to release a version of their video service on Google TV and it’s barely on standard Android devices, it seems unlikely you’ll be watching the new Tick or the Man in the High Castle in VR.
Daydream is due out in November for $79 and includes the controller, which sounds like a good deal. For those who are getting a new phone—especially Google’s new Pixel XL—that’s a bargain. While a new phone is probably a necessity to achieve a headache-free experience, it’s still a huge hurdle for the platform, especially in the near term. I have no idea if my brand-spanking new Note 7 (the non-exploding edition) will work for it and Google didn’t list any other compatible brands beyond their own in the presentation.
So, I’m excited about the potential for Daydream, but there’s still a lot of questions about how accessible it will be for most people. Also, Google has only announced Pixels for Verizon, so there might be a wait to jump in with your own carrier.
The appeal of Cardboard was that it worked with nearly any phone (even the iPhone), so that anyone with a suitable box could hold it to their head and experience a little VR. Daydream goes far beyond that technologically and potential wise and looks great, but the price of admission will be far higher. We’ll find out if it’s worth it soon enough, but either way, it’s clear Google is going after the mobile VR space in a big way.