Daydream, Google’s premium mobile VR system, launched yesterday and I finally got to try it out. Here are my first impressions, in comparison to my Samsung Gear VR, Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
ABOUT GOOGLE DAYDREAM
Google announced the Daydream mobile VR platform early this year at Google I/O to provide high quality “VR for everyone.”
Daydream builds on Google Cardboard, which made a basic form of VR available to almost everyone with a smartphone but which does not have sufficient tracking accuracy to provide a convincing VR experience. Google sought to improve upon that with Daydream, which is designed for a premium mobile VR experience to compete with the Samsung Gear VR, which has until now been accepted as the best mobile VR platform.
Inserting a phone into the Daydream View headset is as simple as unlatching the cover and placing the phone roughly in the middle of the phone holder, then pulling the latch over a hook to close it. An NFC tag embedded on the front cover lets the phone know that it’s been inserted in a Daydream headset, then starts the Daydream software automatically.
I did not see any way to adjust the focus or interpupillary distance of the headset. However, I personally did not experience any difficulty getting a clear view on the headset. (YMMV.) I believe this means the headset has a large sweet spot (unlike the Oculus Rift or PSVR, which must be positioned just so to get a clear image).
The headset is lightweight and unlike most other VR headsets, is flexible and covered with fabric. The Oculus Rift headset (reviewed here) also has a fabric cover (seems to be polyester), but the Daydream seems to use a softer and more comfortable fabric cover (appears to be a cotton fabric with a high thread count). Because the Daydream View headset is lightweight, it uses only one strap (there’s no center strap unlike the Gear VR, Rift and Vive) and I don’t need to wear the stretchable headstrap so tightly against my face. The combination of its light weight and fabric exterior makes the Daydream View very comfortable to wear – probably the most comfortable VR headset I’ve tried (even more comfortable than my Playstation VR).
The View’s facepad is removable and is made of a washable cushion. This is a very convenient feature. On my other headsets (especially the Vive), I can work up a sweat, which gets absorbed by the facepad. It’s hard to keep the facepad clean. With the View’s washable facepad, you can keep it smelling fresh. (However, Google isn’t selling extra facepads yet.)
Here’s what the headset looks like without the facepad. You can see that the construction is quite simple, and there are no electronics. It’s little more than a Google Cardboard viewer.
– Heat: The Pixel phone heats up quickly when used with Daydream. During the relatively short demo, the phone almost immediately became very warm, like the hood of a car. It seemed to heat up faster than my Samsung Galaxy S6 on the Gear VR. Some users have said that the Pixel will overheat after about an hour of gameplay, which if true, is a little better than the Samsung S6 on the Gear VR (mine tends to overheat after about 30-45 minutes on games with a lot of head movement).
TRACKING AND IMMERSION
My biggest question about Daydream was whether the tracking was competent given that it’s only a passive headset. My impression was that the head tracking was similar to that of the Gear VR, which is pretty good. I didn’t notice any lag or delay when I turned my head, and my impression was that the tracking seemed about as accurate as that of the Gear VR.
However, as with the Gear VR, Daydream has no positional tracking and cannot track X, Y or Z movement (vertical or horizontal movement) unlike the Playstation VR, Rift, or Vive. Because the Daydream has no positional tracking, it doesn’t really create a sense of presence (the illusory feeling of being somewhere else). But again, it is no worse than the Gear VR in this respect.
The controller has a trackpad that can also be pressed like a button. Below that is an app button (generally for menus in the app), and a home button. There are volume buttons on the side.
The controller cannot sense its location (only its movement), so there is often a large discrepancy between the controller’s actual location and its virtual representation. The controller can sense movement in any direction, including rotation, although there is a noticeable lag (again, similar to the Wii and Wii Motion Plus). However, it is similar to the Wii Motion Plus in terms of matching the speed and distance of controller movement.
Despite its limitations, I thought that the controller did enhance the VR experience because it is a more natural way to interact with the virtual world. In the Fantastic Beasts app, for example, you used the controller to point at objects of interest and wave the controller like a magic wand. It is more immersive than if you had to use a gamepad to press buttons, or even a trackpad beside the headset like the Gear VR.
No, it’s not a replacement for a full VR system with positional tracking such as the Playstation VR, Oculus Rift or HTC Vive but it’s immersive enough to be legitimately considered ‘true’ VR in my opinion, and I think that for many consumers, that will be enough.
As for the Gear VR, it still has a huge lead over Daydream, with over 1 million active users and far more apps, and Samsung is still the leading Android manufacturer, so I think it will continue to do well. If you have a Gear VR, I don’t think there’s any reason to dump it to switch to Daydream. I think the market for mobile VR is large enough that Gear VR and Daydream can both succeed.