No mere Pixel phone accessory, Daydream View has the potential to redefine how we think about VR.
Daydream is a perfect name for Google’s fabric-coated VR headset. If cinemas are dark, lucid spaces for dreaming, then Google’s Daydream View is a place for forays into reverie. Where you forget, if only for a moment, when, where and who you are.
Its main competitor here is the Samsung Gear VR. Like that headset, the Daydream View is essentially a pair of fancy goggles for housing a high-resolution smartphone. No wires, no wall-mounted sensors, just a soft-fabric shell into which you slip your Pixel phone. Or Pixel XL. Or a growing number of other Android handsets.
Positioned correctly, the Daydream View feels comfortable and light. My only irritation was a small gap at the bottom, which allowed light in and occasionally broke the sense of immersion when using the View during the day.
There’s no focus adjustment dial. Configuring your view boils down to fiddling with the headset’s position on your forehead until the image becomes clear. An embedded NFC chip automatically switches the phone to Daydream mode when placed on the headset’s panel, and using Daydream was similarly slick. With a Pixel XL in place, movement was smooth with little motion blur. I shook my head violently to try to make the phone stutter, but didn’t feel motion sick in the slightest when using it. As with the Gear VR, though, following prolonged periods of use, my eyes grew tired.
Unlike the Gear VR, Google includes a separate, movement-sensing controller. This small, pill-shaped device continues Google’s stripped-back approach to VR, with a clickable touchpad and two menu buttons, plus volume controls on its side.
It connects with your phone via Bluetooth, and has internal sensors so it can tell where it’s pointed. There’s no external spatial tracking as there is on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, but the Daydream View controller can pick up directional shifts in movement. The result is a system that’s more about wrist movements than expansive sweeps of the arm, with the controller used to point at menus and objects as opposed to reaching out and interacting with items in the virtual space. The experience is much like using a computer mouse, but for virtual reality, and the directional sensors work well in conjunction with the trackpad.
At launch, Google has only a handful of Daydream games ready for download on Google Play. While these showcase the headset’s coordination with its controller, they lack depth. Wonderglade, for example, is a kid-friendly set of mini-games that involve the player rotating their hand to race a ball around a moveable track. Hunters Gate, meanwhile, is a top-down, Diablo-like RPG, which sees your character movement controlled by trackpad, and your aim controlled by pointing at enemies.
Much more appealing is the Harry Potter tie-in Fantastic Beasts, in which you charm a number of magical creatures using movements of your controller/wand. There isn’t a great variety of actions to perform, but the set design is lush and detailed — and absorbing to explore. Also worth playing is British developer Mike Bithell’s EarthShape, in which you terraform alien planets via a grid-based mini-game.
Aside from games, Daydream is slated to host content from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the BBC and The Guardian. Another thing in its favour is its integration with YouTube, making the Daydream View an easy gateway into a world of user-generated 360-degree films.
More experiences for the Daydream will arrive in the next few months, but Google must encourage games and films that go further than novelty in engaging with idea of immersion. There’s plenty of scope for developers and directors to do interesting things with VR, and Daydream’s accessibility could make it a perfect platform for projects that aim for a wider audience than early adopters of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.
The Daydream is well positioned to seize the ground established by Samsung’s Gear VR. But it could do more than this, potentially redefining what we think of when we talk about smartphone-based virtual reality. Take a handful of partnerships with broadcasters, coupled with YouTube integration, and Google’s affordable, cushioned headset could end up being the go-to piece of kit for day-to-day virtual reality.