The Google Pixel event on Tuesday also saw the launch of the company’s Daydream View VR headset. Pixel, Pixel XL are the first Daydream VR ready smartphones, and it was expected that a VR headset would be revealed. After all mobile VR is something everything smartphone manufacturer is taking seriously. Samsung Galaxy S and Note series are now supported by the Gear VR headset which is in partnership with Oculus. We’ve also see some serious VR ambitions from companies like Facebook, Microsoft and HTC Vive.
With Google so far, it was limited to the cardboard VR headset. The Daydream View changes all of that. Think of it as a more grown up version of the cardboard, which incidentally has been copied and sold by many smartphone manufacturers in India.
Watch: Google Pixel XL First Look Video
Virtual Reality on mobile is supposed to be the new way of viewing things. Of course, it is not an entirely comfortable experience all the time. Walking around with a heavy VR headset with your smartphone inside can be dizzying experience for many, including myself. There’s also the danger of bumping into real-life objects while you do this.
Google’s Daydream View headset is supposed to change that. For starters, Google says this one is 30 per cent lighter than similar devices, and you can use it with spectacles as well. Google’s blog post says this on the fabric, “Inspired by the clothes we enjoy wearing, the headset is made with soft, breathable fabric.” Cue the sofa and underwear comparison jokes. When you handle the headset, it does feel cushiony thanks to the foam inside. And yes it is much lighter than any other VR headset.
Daydream View comes with its own Daydream controller powered by Bluetooth. The phone is placed in the front — tends to jut out a little — and you can even use your headphones with the phone while you are in Daydream VR mode. I tried on the headset after the launch event, and it is one of the few VR headsets which didn’t give me a headache.
I actually thought it would be a task figuring out how to use the controller while I explored the VR world, but it was quite easy. The controller has a bit of touchpad space on the front, a home button, a back button. Google says the “phone and headset have an auto-alignment system” so once the device is fitted in the headset, you’re ready to go.
The controller is what is used to interact with the VR world. Google says it is packed with sensors and a user can “swing it like a bat or wave it like a wand,” or even draw with it. I used the controller to explore YouTube, view , “J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,’” and played this game called WonderGlade. Figuring out the game was the hardest; the YouTube VR video content was what really stood out for me.
And that’s what Google intends to focus on. All YouTube content can be viewed in the Daydream View, even non-360 videos. Soon, all Google Play Movies will also be available for viewing in this headset. Google is also bringing its Google Street View to see curated tours of more than 100 places like Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. Google Photos will also be available on the headset soon.
Interestingly, Google is also planning to work with mainstream media houses like New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to bring journalistic stories to the VR. It will be interesting to see how that works how in the long run. For journalism, VR can be a new mode of storytelling. Netflix, Hulu, HBO are also coming to the Daydream platform. The headset is not yet going on sale in India. In the US, it starts at $79, in the UK it is priced at £ 69. Daydream View fits both Pixel and Pixel XL and it is launching in three colours: Slate, Snow and Crimson.
Daydream View VR is a refreshed attempt at mobile VR. Sure Google will encourage other smartphone makers to make Daydream ready headsets, but the emphasis with this is on keeping the viewing experience simple and wire-free. The controller to some extent solves that problem of how you interact with the headset, and it feels more natural that fumbling on the side of the device for the trackpad.
Google will also need to get more developers on board to create content and apps for VR. And it will need to make VR profitable for these developers. For now, there’s no shortage of content, at least from Google’s end. We’ll have to wait and watch if the headset makes it way to India before the clones start launching.