Google Daydream VR vs. "old" mobile VR: What's the difference?
First announced back at I/O 2016, Google's virtual reality platform, dubbed Daydream VR, is fast upon us. Still, a month or so away from its expected launch, and fresh after Google's big Oct. 4 event, we wouldn't blame you if you were a bit confused over what Daydream is exactly. What makes it different from the “old” platform? Is your phone ready for it? What are the requirements? We will try to answer all these questions, and more, in this article.
Simply put, Daydream is just the next step in the Big G's master plan to bring virtual reality to the masses. With Cardboard, the company gave everyone with a smartphone and a couple of bucks to spare a VR taster on the cheap, but with Daydream, it has taken a more serious approach. Now, with that said, the main difference between old and new in this case, apart from the more powerful hardware required for Daydream apps, is the input method. While Cardboard was a streamlined, phone + headset-only affair that didn't require any input device, Daydream headsets will apparently come with a controller out of the box. Building on gaming trends from the last decade, it is a Wiimote-like device with motion-sensing capabilities, a clickable touchpad, and only two buttons. Its simplistic nature aside, this controller is proof enough that Google is looking at a bigger picture, one that is not contained to the input capabilities and hardware of a single device.
What do you need to Daydream?
A Daydream-ready device. What exactly are the requirements for such a device, however, remains unknown at this point. All we can do for now, is use the ZTE Axon 7 as a baseline for our assumptions, as it was the first official Daydream-ready device to hit the market. Long story short – an AMOLED display, backed with a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and all needed sensors. Contrary to earlier rumors pointing to QHD (1440 x 2560) as being the minimum requirement for Daydream, however, the leaked specs for the Google Pixel suggest that a 1080p would suffice. Another requirement on the display front, is for the panel to have low persistence, which is essential for the reduction of motion blur when panning. Since VR necessitates that the device renders each scene twice — separately for each eye — a higher overall resolution also means higher resolution per eye, but also means that the device will have a harder time rendering more complex scenes twice. This, perhaps, is the reason why Google has been demoing primarily highly-stylized 3D demos set in deliberately low polygon environments. However, since Epic Games went on record to back the platform at I/O 2016, announcing support for Unreal Engine 4, it would be a relatively safe bet that even first-gen Daydream games won't look half bad. Lastly, in order to be Daydream-ready, a smartphone must be running Android 7.0 Nougat or higher, as it has the so-called "VR mode" baked into its core. Interestingly enough, Google is now calling the Pixel and Pixel XL the “first Daydream-ready phones.” Hmm.
How much does it cost?
Google unveiled its own VR headset, called the Daydream View, which will retail for $79 and go on sale in November. The headset is made out of soft, breathable materials, and features a snug slot for the remote controller on the back of its lid. Daydream View will be available in three colors — Snow, Slate, and Crimson — and would blend nicely with your couch or sofa. Okay, okay, we are joking, sheesh! Go here to get more info on Google's brand VR new headset.
Since compatible phones are at the core of Daydream VR, Google is obviously expecting that most, if not all, smartphones in the top-end of the market will be able to meet at least the aforementioned baseline requirements for supporting the platform starting from this year onwards. Seeing as how more and more manufacturers are releasing Android phones with beefier and beefier specs, it seems like Google may have timed this undertaking quite well. Still, you should keep your expectations in check, as Daydream VR won't be able to hold a candle to the big players in the VR game (read: Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive), and is not directly competing with them in any way, shape or form. Just saying. At first, Daydream may be primarily used for media consumption — YouTube, Netflix, and other streaming services — but as mobile hardware progresses, software developers will be able to do more and more impressive things on ubiquitous pocket devices that everyone uses around daily.