The dream of being able to explore a virtual world without physical limitations has been around for decades now, the potential of virtual reality is exciting, but at the moment there's a lot of hurdles to jump through. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are expensive, they require an equally expensive PC, and a large dedicated space, there is lots of wires, requires multiple power ports and is in no way portable.
Google is here to change all that, with their new mobile virtual reality platform called Daydream and the headset to go with it, the Daydream View.
A few years ago Google released Cardboard, this little headset is less than $35 and is a great taste of what the mobile platform can offer for VR, but the Daydream View is offering a quality flagship experience while undercutting the price of the big competitors.
The build of headset is nice, its sits lightly on your head and is covered in a soft fabric. It looks less like a big plastic toy compared to something like Samsung’s gear VR. The beauty of Daydream is Google has removed all the previously required setup, no longer do you have to fumble with getting apps all ready and lining the phone up just right. All you need to do is place you phone inside the headset, a small NFC chip tells you phone to launch the daydream app, it automatically adjusts the screen to line up with the lenses and pairs the remote to your phone. As soon as your phone touches the headset its ready to go.
That small motion controller sets the Daydream apart. Most other mobile VR units they usually have a button, either on the headset itself or sometimes it’s in your hand. These headsets force you to focus the centre of your vision on a target and then press the button to select it. Although this wasn't a deal breaker, it was obvious that it wasn't a very natural way of navigating a UI.
Google’s motion remote sits closer to a Vive controller, with volume controls on the side, a home button, a back button and a touch pad. The touch pad can be used to swipe through menus and is aware of exactly where your thumb is. You get a pointer in your vision and you can click the touch pad to select items, allowing you to move your hand and head independently.
The controller uses nine axis gyro sensors compared to the standard 6 you usually find, this allows a more accurate tracking of movement but there are limitations, the remote knows where you're pointing but cant tell the distance its sitting from your head.
Sometimes the cursor will start drifting or lose orientation, but when this happens all you need to do is hold down the home button and the view will correct itself. This is an essential piece of control that none of the other mobile headsets offer and its great being able to reorientate the view and know that you're facing straight into the content as the developer intended.
The Daydream app is polished, simplistic layouts with dynamic background environments. Daydream requires everything to run in a smooth 60 frames per second at a combined resolution 1440p, which is a good thing and a bad thing. That high framerate makes looking around smooth and immersive but the hardware required to push 60fps from a phone is quite demanding so daydream certification is hard to achieve.
Right now there's a small handful of devices that can support Daydream, with an even smaller amount available in New Zealand, which is why Google has been pushing the Pixel as the main phone to use with Daydream VR at this time.
The required specs ensures a quality experience, and you don't have to worry about whether or not something will work or run well, which you definitely did with Cardboard. Even though the Pixels Snapdragon 821 usually runs quite cool, inside the Daydream View it gets really hot and after about 20 minutes of intense use you will find the phone nearly too hot to touch when you take it out, sometimes you can even get warnings telling you to stop and let your phone cool down a bit.
Inside Daydream, you can access a special VR play store, with the majority of apps free. I tried out a few games and they were fun, the YouTube app has a near endless supply of 360 videos now and you can even watch Netflix on a big screen in a nice mountainside cabin that dims the lights for you when you select something to watch.
You can see the potential of a portable VR platform, imagine collaborating with clients when they can physically see your ideas, or viewing a bunch of potential new homes without leaving your seat. The possibilities are exciting, but this headset seems to fall into the footsteps of the rest of the VR industry. The hardware is here, paving the way for VR to become something big, we're just waiting for the developers to follow. New apps are steadily being released, and with a lower price point the adoption rate will pick up, encouraging a greater desire for developers to jump on board.
Mobile VR is a cool experience, and the Daydream view is the most refined and capable on the market right now. If you already own a Pixel this headset is sort of a no brainer.
As for the rest of us I guess we just keep waiting.
Feel free to check out the Google Daydream View as well as the supported Google Pixel for yourself in-store or online.