Google’s VR efforts have come a long way since two years ago when Google introduced its inexpensive phone-base VR viewer, Cardboard. Today, as part of the IO Keynote, Google’s Clay Bavor previewed Google Daydream — the company’s upcoming VR platform. Bavor stressed the need for a systems approach to VR, especially as it relates to reducing latency — often called the Motion to Photon time. Daydream isn’t a specific piece of hardware or software, but a set of reference designs and Android enhancements that are aimed at creating a vibrant VR ecosystem on Android devices.
Look for Daydream-Ready Smartphones, with support in Android N
Gogle will be publishing the specs for smartphones that it believes are sufficient for a good Daydream VR experience. Those include requirements on the sensors, display, and compute power of the SoC. Most of the major phone vendors are already working with Google on Daydream-Ready devices, and Google expects them to start coming to market this fall. One interesting note, though, is that Daydream is designed to achieve a latency of under 20ms. That is much slower than desktop VR companies consider acceptable for either comfortable viewing of interactive content or action gaming. HTC and Oculus both push for 11ms (providing a 90fps frame rate). Obviously, they also require a lot more GPU horsepower, but it will be interesting to see how many experiences will work in the slower 50fps world of Daydream, and how much discomfort may result.
Android N will include system support for low-latency, as well as a VR system UI, which will help avoid the problem with smartphone-based VR today, where you need to keep going back and forth between VR apps and the Android UI on the phone screen.
Headset & Controller
Google isn’t announcing a headset, but is making available a reference design for headsets. The sketch they showed (included to the right) looks a lot like Gear VR. Some Daydream-capable headsets are expected to be in the market by Fall. The controller reference design looks like a typical Bluetooth remote, but in addition to a button and a touch-sensitive pad also has an orientation sensor like a Wiimote. As you’d expect, you can therefore use it a bit like a magic wand to control your VR experience.
VR Apps & Ecosystem
Google Play for VR will allow users to find, install, and launch VR apps. Your VR apps will then be incorporated into a Daydream Home screen, that looks very much like the one Oculus uses. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Oculus meets Google on Android phones — will we have both an Oculus Home and a Daydream Home?
Google is also making a major push to add VR support to its core media offerings. Google Play Movies will allow you to view your Play video content in a Virtual Movie Theater, and Google StreetView will be fully VR-ready — you can already use Gear VR and Cardboard with 360-degree photos in Maps through the StreetView app. YouTube is being rebuilt with VR support, including discovery & playlists in VR, with support for spatial audio.
For those hoping Google would upset the apple cart with a stunning new piece of hardware that would bridge the performance, price and complexity gap between Gear VR and the dedicated headsets like Rift and Vive (like me), that didn’t happen. But Google is certainly making the right moves to provide a vibrant ecosystem for VR content creators and users on the Android platform.
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