Since its first announcement at Google I/O 2016, it's been clear that Google wanted to make a bigger push with mobile VR. Clearly Google Cardboard was just the start of its virtual reality love-in.
Step forward Daydream VR, an entire platform dedicated to bringing great VR experiences to mobile devices. We had long suspected Google would follow up the simple Cardboard viewer with something more premium, like Samsung's Gear VR, and we were right.
Full review: Google Daydream View
It turns out Daydream View is only one piece of the Daydream puzzle. At its 2017 Google I/O, the company revealed a bigger piece of that puzzle: standalone VR headsets.
The view is clear: The Daydream platform is growing, and Google has the resources and the passion to push it even further.
Here's everything we know now about the Daydream platform so far.
While it initially felt like Google was going to allow a whole bunch of different manufacturers make Daydream headsets, we haven't really seen aside from the upgraded version of the Daydream View headset. Regardless, we do know that all the Daydream hardware will have to accommodate a wide set of what Google is calling 'Daydream-ready phones.' Basically, powerful phones that have the software and hardware capable of running Daydream.
The View itself is kind of like a comfy pair of sweatpants. There's plastic, sure, but most of that plastic is softened by a nice, comfortable material. That makes it comfy and light, and wearing the device, you'll notice that there's plenty of squishy padding. And oh, your glasses will totally fit inside.
There's also a controller, which is super simple but touted as a powerful little device. The Rift comes with a similar looking remote control but it's not the main source of input. It's been noted that Google's controller is required to "enter VR", so best get used to the idea.
We found performance to be pretty good, but your field of view will depend on what kind of smartphone you're using. The larger the device, like, say, a Pixel 2 XL, the better your experience will be. The View headset can accompany phones up to 5.5 inches.
Daydream: Standalone headsets
The second category of Daydream hardware was announced at Google's 2017 I/O. These are totally standalone headsets. There are no wires, no sensors to install, and no smartphones to insert. Everything, from sensors to processor, is located inside the headset itself, no tethering to anything required.
The headsets will use a new inside-out tracking technology called WorldSense. Basically, WorldSense allows the headset to positionally track your head movements without external sensors lining your room. Google is working with Qualcomm to make a reference headset that other manufactures can use as a blueprint, building off of for their own Daydream standalone headsets. Think of it as a Nexus smartphone, but for VR.
While Google had initially announced two manufacturing partners in the shape of HTC and Lenovo, the former has since aborted plans to make a Daydream headset in favour for its own Vive Focus standalone headset for China. Lenovo has since unveiled the Mirage Solo, which is the very first standalone Daydream headset. You can check out what we made of it in our Lenovo Mirage Solo hands-on.
With the Euphrates 2.0 software update for Daydream, which was released last year, Daydream also got a little more social letting you capture images and videos from your VR experiences and share them with friends. You can also create parties to co-watch 360 and VR videos on YouTube together.
If you're offline with a bunch of friends, and you want them to look at something other than you goofily waving your arms while in a headset, you can now cast your VR experience to a TV via Google's Chromecast technology.
And of course, Google services like YouTube, Street View, Play Movies, Play Store and Google Photos have dedicated VR apps. Chrome will also get a VR version soon, allowing you to browse the web in your headset. We've seen this before on Oculus, but the added benefit here is that all of your Chrome bookmarks and settings will carry over to the VR version.
Oh yeah, all of these apps will also be parallax, which means hovering over them with the controller will cause them to slightly shift. It's a neat little feature that makes things feel like they have some added depth. If you have an iPhone, you've probably seen it on your home screen. The Play Store will also have motion intensity ratings in case there's some VR you can't handle well.
The newest software tool Google is using to create better Daydream experiences is Seurat, which is basically a toolkit that'll allow developers to use neat tricks to get desktop-quality graphics on mobile, making for even better mobile VR experiences. Google even teamed up with ILMxLab to demo the tech.
Daydream: Compatible phones
There are three ingredients required to be a Daydream-ready phone. You need to have a high resolution, crisp display for all that VR goodness, you need a powerful GPU to have as smooth graphics as possible (read: 60fps), and you need high-fidelity sensors to help with all that motion.
When Daydream was announced, the only Daydream-ready phones available were Google's own Pixel and Pixel XL. That has since changed, with the Moto Z, Huawei Mate 9 Pro and ZTE Axon 7 joining the fray. And there's soon to be more.
Google announced at I/O 2017 that Samsung will be bringing Daydream capability to the Galaxy S8 and S8+ via a software update. LG's latest flagship smartphone also has Daydream support.
App partners so far include The New York Times, Wall Street Journal for news while Hulu, Netflix, HBO, IMAX have also hit the platform. USA Today, CNN, MLB, NBA and Lionsgate have also signed up.
Google is also reportedly partnering up with YouTube stars like the Dolan twins and Justine Ezarik, unnamed video game producers, and sports leagues to create 360 degree promotional videos for Daydream and other content.
More Google VR
- The best 360 degree and VR videos to watch on YouTubeFor your phone, desktop or headset viewing consideration
- The best Google Daydream apps and gamesAll the apps and games to check out with Google's virtual reality headset
- The Google Cardboard games and apps to downloadMust-try virtual reality games and apps for Cardboard
Unity and Epic have each announced their support for Daydream, making it simpler for developers to create desktop-like experiences for the mobile platform. Other gaming partners include: Ubisoft, CCP, Netease, Electronic Arts, Otherside Entertainment, Minority VR, Resolution, Turbo Button, nDreams and Climax Entertainment.
Games will be a big deal for the Daydream platform. Jamil Moledina, Google's strategic lead for games, said during the GamesBeat 2016 conference that the company is "aiming to populate our portfolio with games that transcend what came before." In other words, Google wants original titles and not current games remade into a VR experience.
Daydream View costs $100, while the standalone headset from Lenovo is expected to set you back a little bit more. All we have been told is that it will be less than $400, which means it's likely to be significantly more expensive than the View.
The standalone headsets are looking to pack a whole lot of technology into a single package, making it difficult to gauge how much Google and its partners are looking to charge. Google's mission is to make VR affordable for everyone, so it needs to be careful it doesn't overprice these standalone systems.
At the same time, the standalone headsets can't be cheaper than Daydream View or Gear VR's cost of $99. These are merely shells, relying on smartphones to bring the content and power the experience. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to find out more.