What makes the new headsets unique is that they will take advantage of Google’s Daydream technology, announced just over a year ago, in a unique way. The new headsets will be independent of cables, smartphones, peripheral environment sensors, or a base computer to run from.
So far only stylized concept images are available for Google's standalone VR headsets from HTC and Lenovo. Image courtesy of Google VR.
Accessible, immersive virtual reality did not seem like, well, like a reality until 2012 when Occulus Rift held its successful Kickstarter campaign. Raising nearly $2.5 million (far exceeding the $250,000 goal amount), the Occulus Rift headset went through development, was purchased by Facebook for a cool $2 billion in 2014, went through more development, and finally shipped commercial headsets to customers in mid-2016. However, the initial success of the VR headset’s crowdfunding campaign created a hunger for VR which has continued to resonate over the past several years.
As a result, other major tech companies have jumped into the virtual reality market, making VR more accessible and providing a broader range of experiences. From the $15 Google Cardboard (which is literally constructed from cardboard and relies on a smartphone) to the high-end HTC Vive (which retails for $799) and Samsung and Sony somewhere in between, it's still yet to be determined where Google’s new standalone headset will stand in terms of price and capability.
Google Daydream: Virtual Reality
Google announced its Daydream platform at the Google I/O Developer Conference in tandem with its standalone VR headset announcement. Daydream will be included in the newest Android operating system release, Android Nougat (Android 7.1), with several “Daydream-ready” mobile phones available. Among them are the Google Pixel and Pixel XL, Motorola’s Moto Z, Asus’ Zenfone AR, and ZTE’s Axon 7.
Daydream-ready phones are compatible with the Daydream View headset and controller. Similar to Google Cardboard, compatible phones can be placed into the headset for a VR experience, this time with a controller available for interacting within the VR environment.
Google Daydream with smartphone and controller. Image courtesy of Google VR.
Two standalone headsets are planned, one with HTC and the other with Lenovo. Both headsets will operate independently of a smartphone, PC, or peripheral sensors. The Daydream controller will be compatible, but reportedly not viewable, in the VR environment.
Daydream is based on World Sense, which uses two wide-angle cameras to scan the user’s environment and map it to the VR environment. The advantages include quicker setup and immersion (no need to manually map out your play area and obstacles such as walls) and a self-contained system that is easily portable.
However, since the headset will be lower-powered compared to headsets operating with a base PC, the VR experience will be scaled back to some degree. This will likely impact graphic quality and latency.
In January of this year, Google opened up the Daydream platform to app developers.
Google Tango: Augmented Reality
World Sense, the technology providing Daydream its ability to map a user environment using wide-angle cameras, is based on Google’s Augmented Reality platform, Tango.
Tango is a self-contained system that allows smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices to track its position within its environment. Augmented reality has a variety of applications, including entertainment and gaming, navigation, mapping, and visual measurement.
Two smartphones are currently Tango compatible: the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, and the Asus Zenfone AR.
Google Tango is a self-contained augmented reality platform. Image courtesy of Google Tango.
Featured image courtesy of Google VR.