Daydream VR is Google's new headset -- and it's not what you expected
Google wants to create the Android of VR, by encouraging phonemakers to build around its new hardware and software platform.
Sean HollisterSenior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
The formula: a high-end smartphone, a new version of Android with a dedicated VR mode, and a lightweight headset and accompanying motion controller designed by Google itself. Much like with Google's Cardboard, a cheap VR viewer literally made out of cardboard, you'll stick your smartphone inside the headset before you attempt to step into another world.
But with Daydream, Google believes a more comfortable viewer, intuitive controller, a set of rigid requirements for the smartphone and new optimizations in the Android N software will help manufacturers deliver "the best smartphone-based mobile VR experience" on the market.
Aside from adding a strap to keep a Daydream headset on your head -- Cardboard had none -- the primary hardware and software improvements are about addressing what's known as the "motion-to-photon latency," the delay that can keep VR images from properly lining up with your head as you move and turn.
Google will enforce performance requirements for Daydream phones: if they don't provide what Google considers to be a comfortable experience, the new VR mode in Android N won't even turn on.
Similarly, manufacturers will need to bundle the Daydream controller with every headset sold. While that controller won't let users reach out and grab things like they can with the wands included with the $800 HTC Vive, Google mockups show it working as a pointer, a fishing rod, and a wand to cast spells.
Daydream-ready phones, including the $499 (£449, AU$899) Nexus 6P smartphone, will run Google's own applications dressed up for VR, including Google Photos, Google Street View, Google Play Movies, and a version of YouTube.
But Google isn't dreaming alone. Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, Alcatel, ZTE, Xiaomi and Asus have all signed up to produce Daydream-ready phones. An initial list of software partners includes Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Imax, MLB, the NBA, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and a list of 10 game developers includes two big names: Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.
Clay Bavor, the leader of Google's VR division, believes a full Daydream kit will cost somewhere around the same amount as a Samsung Gear VR setup -- currently the benchmark for mobile VR experiences -- which retails for $800 (roughly £550 or AU$1,100) including a headset and recent Samsung Galaxy S7 phone.
Google I/O 2016: Daydream, Home and other big takeaways (pictures)