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Google Daydream VR Ecosystem: Everything You Need to Know

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Google Daydream VR Ecosystem: Everything You Need to Know
Highlights
  • Google's new VR platform is called Daydream
  • Unlike Cardboard, only phones with select hardware will support Daydream
  • The Daydream viewer will also come with a motion sensing Bluetooth remote

Hardware will be at the heart of Google's October 4 event, and in its front and centre will be the Google Daydream virtual reality ecosystem, a much more ambitious version of Cardboard VR headset. Read on if you are not sure about what Google Daydream is, what features it offers, or the impact it may have on the personal technology world.

What is Google Daydream?
Unveiled at I/O 2016 developer conference in May, Google Daydream is essentially a virtual reality headset that - like Cardboard before it - relies on the handset to drive the entire VR experience, as the new headset will not come with any sensors. It will also only work with a select number of Android N smartphones that will have special sensors and screens, supporting refresh rates to minimise latency and allow for a crisp, smooth VR experience.

What makes Google Daydream so important?
Perhaps the most significant part of Google's announcement at I/O 2016 was that Daydream will be more than a standard for hardware - it will also be a software platform, as Daydream compatible phones will come with a feature called Android VR mode. This includes optimisations for better app performance, but more importantly, it is also an ecosystem within which people can navigate inside virtual reality.

That's not all though - the Daydream headset also includes one interesting piece of new hardware. The Daydream viewer itself looks like a sturdier, less DIY version of the Google Cardboard headset - but what's new here is the small Bluetooth remote that is a part of the system. The remote has basic features such as buttons for navigation - a useful feature - but what makes it particularly appealing is that it also includes some motion sensing capabilities.

What else will Google Daydream offer on the software side?
There's going to be a Daydream home screen app that will allow people to access apps and content, much like the Oculus Home screen for the Samsung Gear VR. This solves one of the bigger problems that you have when using Google Cardboard - switching between apps is a jarring, uncomfortable experience where you have to take the headset off, remove the phone, use it normally to get to the next app, and then get back into VR all over again. Also, Google services like YouTube, Street View, Play Movies, Play Store and Google Photos will have VR apps.

No, it's not going to be as fine-tuned as the HTC Vive's motion controllers, but even if it's as reliable as a common air mouse, the new controller will enable a lot more interactivity in mobile VR experiences. In theory, you could play a game of Chess in VR where you reach down and physically pick up the pieces; or defend yourself in a first person lightsaber battle, thanks to this accessory.

How much will Daydream VR headsets cost?
While we will have to wait for tonight's event to find out the official price of Google's upcoming virtual reality headset, a report by Variety pegs the price at a rather economical $79. This makes it a little cheaper than the new version of Samsung's Gear VR headset ($99), but not as cheap as the Huawei model (which is compatible with only the P9 smartphone).

Who is on board the Google Daydream project?
Google said that existing smartphones will not be compatible with Daydream VR headsets. The company has named eight hardware partners who will make Daydream-ready phones - Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus, and Alcatel. Of these, four (Samsung, LG, Huawei, and HTC) have their own VR standards as well, although HTC's is not in the smartphone space.

On the content side, brands like Netflix, HBO, The Wall Street Journal and Electronics Art have committed to join Daydream as well.

What will be the challenges for the Daydream project?
First of all, users will have to buy a new Daydream-compatible smartphone in order to become part of the new virtual reality ecosystem. This may put off many, especially those in price conscious markets, unless the internet giant provides a discount on the Daydream smartphones, at least in the initial rollout stages.

Because these phones don't exist yet, it will take time for Daydream to grow, says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. Furthermore, Daydream won't work with Apple's iPhones, whereas Google Cardboard headsets do.

Another factor that may become an obstacle in Daydream's path is the question whether it will be full VR, i.e. a 360-degree system that changes the perspective as the user moves around a room. Considering the relatively low expected price of the hardware, it is unlikely to offer 360-degree VR.

What will be Google Daydream's impact?
All of the above sounds great, but little else is known about Daydream system right now, but tonight's announcement is expected to bring in a lot more clarity on Google's vision for the future of virtual reality. It's a significant development, and one that's a good step forward from Cardboard but it's too soon to say what the impact of Daydream will actually be - if the device is priced too high for the average user or if the number of phones that support it will be very limited, it may fail to make its mark on the nascent VR market.

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