Google’s Daydream View feels nothing like other virtual reality headsets I’ve tried. It’s not heavy or plasticky, it doesn’t take an hour to set up, and it doesn’t require a high-end PC. No cables appear to be involved. Really, the only similarity between the View and the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive is that you look silly wearing it.
During its much-hyped hardware event today in San Francisco, Google showed off the first devices in its Daydream VR lineup. All we’d seen before were concepts and line drawings, but now we’ve seen at least Google’s version of what a headset might look like. The $80 Daydream View is light, flexible, and almost plushy. Your smartphone provides the visuals. It slides into the headset and rests in front of your eyes. It comes in three colors: Slate, Snow, and Crimson. It’s meant to make virtual reality, the most sci-fi futuristic of current technologies, feel approachable.
When you slot a “Daydream Ready” phone into the headset’s cradle, the two devices recognize each other through NFC and automatically pair. They also automatically orient to one another, so it won’t matter if you slide the phone in a quarter-inch off to the left. The idea, Google VR chief Clay Bavor told me, is to make the process completely painless. You have a phone and a headset, and they should understand each other.
Daydream interaction occurs through the controller, a pebble of a thing that feels like a mashup of the tiny Apple TV candy bar and the Wiimote you used for dozens of hours of Wii Sports. You’ll mostly swipe, slice, throw, and swing; the controller features a trackpad and two buttons, but the motion sensors inside are what really give it power.
VR’s no good without things to do, so Google announced an app store’s worth of content for Daydream. Many Google services work in VR, like YouTube and Google Play. You can watch VR content in VR, and everything else from the comfort of your personal (virtual) movie theater. Street View works on the platform in similar ways, as does Google Photos. And if Google doesn’t have it, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and others are all Daydream-ready too.
Over the course of a brief demo ahead of today’s event, I tried out YouTube VR, played a mini game in which I used the controller to tilt a virtual table and make a ball move through a course, and fed a terrifying monster in a game based on the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I wore a Snow version of the headset, which felt light and comfortable on my head. The lenses are fixed (which will be a problem for those for whom the default settings don’t work but was OK for me), so there’s no initial process of tweaking the optics for your eyes. All I could do was adjust the single head strap. There was nothing to tinker with or set up, just a phone to drop in and a cute animated Daydream Home scape to explore.
Daydream has games from the creators of Eve, journalism from The New York Times, and a really cool-looking star chart app, among other things. One of the advantages Google found with Cardboard was it got developers thinking about VR, which definitely helped when it came time to filling out the new platform.
To check it all out, you’ll need a Daydream-ready phone and a View headset. Right now, only Google’s new Pixel phones run on the platform, but many more Daydream-ready devices are coming soon. More headsets are sure to follow as well, but I have to say I’m sort of smitten with the View. It’s as goofy as any other VR headset, but it’s lighter and more comfortable, and feels somehow less frighteningly high-tech than the ones that make you wear a braid of HDMI cables out the back of your head. That, of course, is the whole point of Daydream: to make virtual reality easy for everyone. Just drop your phone in, put the headset on, and explore.