Google Daydream VR: Virtual Reality for Couch Potatoes? Yep.

Google Daydream VR
Written by Gina Smith

Is mainstream America ready for virtual reality? Google’s about to find out. Its new $79 Daydream VR headset is aimed directly at the living room. Here are the specs …

aNewDomainGina-Smith-anewdomain — Want to explore new worlds? Don’t bother getting up. Your couch is going to be just fine.

That was the message from Google VR chief Clay Bavor on Tuesday at the unveiling of Google Daydream, the firm’s new $79 VR headset.

Daydream is a fabric-covered device, soft and woolen. Shipping next month in a variety of colors, its spare design features no on-board controls — and no wires. But is mainstream America ready for virtual reality? We’ll see.

Here’s what we know so far about the specs, functionality and app support for this odd new VR offering.

Google Daydream VRTotally wireless

Unlike Samsung’s $99 Gear VR, which makes users attach their smartphone via its data port, the new Daydream headset connects wirelessly. And it has no embedded sensors, no positional tracking capabilities and no external controls. That kind of simplicity will be a real plus to new VR users hoping to get a taste of what the virtual world can look and feel like on Android.

A bundled remote

But can a low-priced VR offering that is really more viewer than full blown VR headset perform well enough for the home consumer electronics market?

Key to that answer will be the motion-controlled Daydream controller, which will ship with the Daydream headset. On the face of it, Daydream is limited. It supports three degrees of freedom, no match for such full blown sets as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

Then again, the home market won’t have such a comparison in mind. The controller will need to deliver a feeling of precision and smoothness, which is more important than just sheer performance times. And in the demos we saw, it appears to make the grade. The controller’s nine axis inertial sensors are what make that smoothness possible, Google execs said today.

And here’s a nice touch: The controller won’t be too easy to lose in the couch, either. It pops right into a bay in the headset when you’re not using it.

Android Nougat phone support

As you’d expect, Daydream is designed from the get-go to fit neatly into the new Android Nougat ecosystem and its low-latency VR mode. Only problem is, so far there is only one Android phone that will work with it, the newly announced VR-ready Google Pixel phone. More Android phone support is coming, execs said. Who will be first? Our money is on longtime Google hardware partner, HTC, which teamed up with Google for the Pixel effort. After that, expect the usual crowd, and in the usual order.Google Daydream VR

And a long list of home entertainment and educational apps … 

At today’s announcement, Google said there would be 50 Daydream apps available on GooglePlay by the end of the year (read: Christmas) and claimed there are hundreds more coming, with movies, games and entertainment apps in the sweet spot. Google, YouTube, Photos, Street View, Maps and the like are, of course, coming soon to Daydream, as are home entertainment offerings from Hulu, Netflix and HBO, execs said.

Expect some of the producers of a few big holiday movies to debut Daydream VR apps this winter, too. At the announcement today, Google execs played a flashy demo of a Daydream VR app based on the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.” Is this the sort of thing that will lure some segment of Americans intro trying a brand new platform for entertainment consumption? Unclear. But we’ll be watching.

Click here for a preview of other Daydream VR apps in the works. And stay tuned for our hands-on Daydream VR review next month.

For aNewDomain VR, I’m Gina Smith.

Cover and inside image: The Daydream VR home screen and imagery, as presented at Google I/O in MayAndrew Lord, All Rights ReservedAll other images: Google, All Rights Reserved.

Here’s a video of Google’s Daydream VR presentation to developers at Google I/O in May 2016. Check it out.