In 2014, Google quickly realized that cost of entry to virtual reality was one of the more significant barriers in users’ minds. With the launch of Cardboard, Google attempted to push VR to a much larger audience. It quickly garnered praise for being a low-cost method of engagement and it is heavily attributed to pushing the development of VR applications forward. It’s also known for being, quite literally, made of cardboard.
Consider Google’s new Daydream View the next iteration of Cardboard. On a basic level, the cloth-wrapped headset serves as nothing more than a holster for your device with optics that allow your eyes to focus on an object two inches from your face. Included in the box is the headset itself, a wireless controller, a safety and warranty information booklet and a rather flimsy wrist strap.
Build quality is surprisingly great for such an inexpensive unit. The cloth finish is a luxurious touch and the washable foam padding around the device’s interior sits firmly against the face. Adjusting tension is simple when not wearing the Daydream View, but almost impossible when the device is on the users’ head, so a little trial and error is necessary here. The headset feels comfortable and snug initially. Discomfort started to set in after about an hour of use, particularly on the bridge of my nose. This seems to be primarily due to the front-loaded weight of the device when a phone is attached, although I have read that wearing the strap on the upper-back part of your head can alleviate the tension significantly.
The real star of the show is the aforementioned controller. This is without question, one of the key differentiators between the Daydream View and it’s primary competitor, the Samsung Gear VR. Instead of awkwardly trying to navigate menus or adjust the viewport using a head mounted touchpad, control is given directly by clicking, swiping and “pointing” the included controller as you would a laser pointer. Interestingly, no USB-C charge cable for the controller or headphones are provided.
Set up was a breeze. Upon opening the Daydream application, the user is taken through a series of basic steps required for first-time use. This includes updating Bluetooth drivers and key applications, pairing the included controller with the phone and it also gives instructions on how best to insert the phone in the Daydream View. It should be noted that a credit card is required for access to the Play Store before wearing the headset since purchases can be made from within the application.
When a phone is inserted in to the Daydream View, the Daydream application is launched automatically in VR mode, thanks to communication with an NFC chip located inside the headset’s tray. Much like Oculus Home, all of the experiences you are to have with Daydream are launched from within this application. At present there are approximately 50 titles currently available, including Daydream flavored Google stock apps, third-party interactive entertainment apps and games.
In most applications, the controller behaves much like a pointing device. With no fixed frame of reference (i.e. No cameras connected for spacial awareness,) the controller can often drift out of frame and it’s up to the user to reset the view by holding the controller in front of you and pressing down the Home button for a few seconds. This not only returns the controller to the correct position, but also centers the view on where your head is currently facing.
Some of the most enjoyment I’ve personally experienced while using VR comes in the form of consuming media — a quiet place I can just get away from it all. Oculus Cinema is a perfect example, where you are transported inside a virtual movie theater and can watch trailers, movies or streaming services like Twitch. It’s eerily immersive and the responsive ambient lighting effects add a whole new level of realism. On the Daydream View side of things, Google Play Movies and TV isn’t quite capable of delivering a similar experience, especially since the outdoor environment that you’re in feels far too bright and there are no other scenarios presently available.
Unlike Google Play, YouTube VR seems to be on the right track. There is a good collection of 360° videos, that allow you to look around during playback as though you are actually in the video and other videos handpicked to showcase the virtual environment of YouTube VR. I personally enjoyed watching my regular subscriptions within this world. When wearing a pair of nice headphones, it really does make you feel like you’re not simply sitting on your own couch.
All of the applications I used required the headset to be horizontal in your real-world environment. The image stops moving as your head moves backwards, which means you’re unable to lie down during most sessions. The YouTube VR app does enable you to literally click-and-drag non-VR videos around the viewport as a workaround. I’m unsure if this is a software or hardware limitation, but I can see myself using the Daydream View more often if it allowed for any use in any orientation.
During almost every use of the device, I found the phone to heat up significantly. Other noticeable issues that occurred include artifacting when streaming The Lord of the Rings in Google Play and severe input delay/jittering of the cursor at several points throughout my experience. These are possibly due to the fact that both front and back of the device have restricted airflow, or due in part to the sheer computational stress put on the device associated with rendering two separate images on-screen simultaneously. Either way, Google has promised that Daydream is going to be heavily supported and expanded. I’m confident any teething issues will be resolved in future updates.
It’s clear from what’s currently on offer, and from what Google have stated that the Daydream platform is here to stay. It’s one of the core features of Android 7.0 Nougat and we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be achieved. It’s not hard to see that Google are investing a lot of resources to ensure the success of the product. I for one am highly interested to see where the platform takes us and especially what killer apps and games are announced.
Be sure to stay tuned to Game Mob in the coming weeks as we get our hands on some hotly anticipated titles for the Google Daydream View.
Included controller: A defining addition to the package. The controller is accurate, lightweight and comfortable. Negates the need to purchase additional hardware.
Price: If you already own a Google Pixel, Pixel XL, Motorola Moto Z or Moto Z Force smartphone, and are looking to try your hand at VR for the first time, definitely pick one of these up.
Portability: The unit is extremely compact and light compared to other solutions on the market. Other than your cellphone, there is no need for additional hardware. The controller tucks nicely inside the headset tray and the ease at which you can be up and running makes the whole thing so incredibly easy to use.
Light leakage: The one-size-fits-all headset doesn’t sit as flush against the face as others available which can cause a distracting amount of light to seep through. The Google Daydream View is best used in a reasonably dark environment.
Extreme slowdown under load: Using the device for any amount of time will see the phone heat up significantly, and occasionally the viewport and controller input will stutter.
Battery drain: Expect to be recharging frequently when using the Daydream View.
The Google Daydream View is currently priced at just $79, and is available from the Google Store in “slate” (grey) color. “Snow” (white) and “crimson” (red) will be available later this week.
Google Daydream headset and Google Pixel XL 128GB smartphone graciously provided by Google, Inc.