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What is Google Daydream VR - 'Ready' Smartphones, headsets & controller

Seth Barton
19 May 2016
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Everything you need to know about Google's new Daydream VR platform

The rumours pointed to a new standalone headset but instead Google has doubled-down on smartphone-based VR with a new platform called Daydream. Following on from the success of its makeshift Google Cardboard headsets, Google has decided that standalone headsets aren't for it (yet) and so has produced a series of reference designs and specifications for devices that will make up its new VR platform.

What is Google Daydream VR?

Daydream is an integral part of Android N, the new operating system upcoming later this year. It's a VR platform that will bring together hardware and apps from numerous providers in order to provide a compelling VR experience based around the smartphone in your pocket - though maybe not the smartphone in your pocket today.

Google Daydream interface

What phones will be Daydream Ready?

There will be a whole new set of Android N handsets, which will be Daydream certified to work with the new VR standard, these are called Daydream Ready. To qualify a phone has to have the correct sensors, a fast-responding display and a powerful enough chipset. Google has done a lot of work on Android N to make it more suitable for VR, reducing latency down to a mere 20ms in order to improve responsiveness to your inputs.

Google is promising a lot of Daydream Ready devices will be available. Samsung, HTC, LG and Huawei are all among the manufacturers committed to making compatible handsets, so consumers shouldn't be overly limited in their choice of handsets. The first handsets will appear later this year.

Google Daydream handsets

Will existing phones work with Daydream VR?

Well, that's the big question. Unless we're mistaken the new handsets will simply be using off-the-shelf displays and chipsets with no talk of custom hardware in Google's keynote presentation. It may be that Google is specifying sensors above and beyond those usually contained within standard system-on-chip designs. If so then only new handsets will get the Daydream Ready certification.

However, if that's not the case then you can expect top-end handsets to pick up the certification when they get upgraded to Android N by the manufacturers in due course.

What Daydream headsets will be available?

Headsets for these handsets to plug into will also have to meet certain standards and a reference design will be made available to manufacturers by Google. As with Carboard headsets, you can expect numerous versions and innovations in Daydream headsets and a massive variety in prices.

The sensors for Daydream are contained in the phone, so presumably the headsets will actually be no cleverer than the current Cardboard ones, simply a way to hold the phone and lenses to focus on the screen.

How will the Daydream controller work?

Finally, Google has designed a controller for VR experiences, again a reference design that other manufacturers will produce. A standardised controller is a huge step forward for VR on Android. Cardboard had no controller standard and so was limited to look and tap experiences, thanks to its magnetic controller on the side. Samsung's Gear VR has a controller but as it isn't bundled with the headset developers can't be sure that users will have one to hand - which means they design experiences for the majority without one.

The new controller looks very simple with two buttons, a circular touchpad and motion sensing technology. That should be plenty though to let you navigate around VR space without having to laboriously look at something every time you want to select it.

Google Daydream fishing demo

What Daydream VR apps will be available?

Content will come from a new VR version of Google Play, so you can browse and install apps without leaving VR - much like Samsung's Gear VR Oculus interface. Google has signed up deals with many of the partners you'd expect, with Netflix, HBO, the NBA, alongside game developers such EA, CCP and Ubisoft. Then there's Google's own offerings, including a huge library of 360-degree videos via YouTube.

Google Daydream partners

Is this a big step forward for VR?

So what does this mean for VR as a whole? Well on one front it's great that Google has decided to move on from the Cardboard experiment into a proper commercial product. However, it's decided that from its point-of-view, high-end dedicated headsets aren't the way forward. VR simply doesn't have enough compelling, mass-market, uses at present to persuade people to part with cash for a dedicated headset - or at least not enough people to interest Google, whose number of users dwarfs even a goliath such as Sony PlayStation with its PlayStation VR.

For those wanting high-end gaming experiences and lengthy immersive VR trips, we can't see that Daydream is the answer, but crucially it should provide a big market of potential users for those developing VR content, allowing for more greater experimentation and investment in the new format. This is now looking as the best shot at VR for the masses, if Google can't pull it off, with Apple looking uninterested, then VR may once again not develop beyond its gaming niche.

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