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Google’s new Daydream View: Another step on the long road toward VR adoption
Virtual reality, which is battling general consumer indifference, is also competing with augmented reality for the hearts and minds of marketers.
Virtual reality (VR) is a powerful medium that has numerous use cases beyond gaming and entertainment, including industrial design, training, education, healthcare, shopping, enterprise sales and more. But while enterprise VR scenarios are starting to take off, it will probably be years before VR goes mainstream — if ever.
When I first experienced the Oculus Rift headset at Facebook’s developer conference a few years ago, I was giddy about VR’s potential. However, I now have a more sober view of the market and its limitations. The biggest issue is the headset itself.
Both Google and Facebook are competing to make better, lighter and cheaper VR headsets. And there are now a wide range of manufacturers and price points in the market. Some are likely to exit the business over the next couple of years as winners (and losers) emerge.
Google’s Cardboard VR and the new Daydream View headsets offer very affordable options. The new Oculus Go announced by Facebook last week, which doesn’t require a PC or smartphone, will cost $199. The Daydream View, however, is $99 and comes in three colors (pictured above).
If you’ve used the previous generation Daydream View, you’ll find the new model an upgrade. While there are many great things about the unit and the Google VR platform, ultimately VR remains a frustrating experience. Indeed, there are a number of basic problems that the industry must solve to mainstream VR:
- The discomfort of wearing the headset for more than limited periods of time
- Unsatisfying picture quality and resolution, except in CGI environments or on high-end units with expensive companion PCs
- A still awkward and not fully intuitive user experience
- Limited available content (although this is improving)
Google’s Daydream View was announced at the October 4 hardware event in San Francisco with the promise that it’s “the best virtual reality headset on the market.” It offers a number of incremental improvements over its predecessor. The headset is also compatible with numerous Android handsets.
Like its predecessor, it has a controller that makes selecting and playing content, as well as navigating through videos, movies and games, relatively easy. However, it still takes a bit of getting used to and can be slightly awkward to operate (e.g., inadvertent back clicks). Users of the previous Daydream headset and controller will welcome the changes, including an over-the-head strap for stability, but they’re still not enough to make this a must-have holiday gift in 2017.
I experienced fatigue and eyestrain using the headset for extended periods of time. But this is true of all VR units. I watched multiple 360 videos and short films designed for VR. The ability to “look around” and the feeling of being present in a scene is an amazing part of the experience. But unsatisfying resolution can destroy the illusion. CGI environments and games are typically better.
The VR experience is still mostly a novelty. But it can be extremely intimate and also operate on a massive or cosmic scale, depending on the content and subject matter (being in someone’s living room versus touring the Milky Way). And while it’s immersive, watching conventional movies and TV shows on a VR headset is mostly unsatisfying. This is partly about image quality and partly about the discomfort of wearing a face-hugger for the duration of a two-hour movie. Generally, I found after about 20 minutes I wanted to take the unit off.
Over the coming two or three years, we’re going to see more VR headsets that are even lighter and more comfortable and don’t require a smartphone (e.g., Oculus Go). The expansion of content created for VR and better headsets with improved picture quality will tempt more consumers to buy VR. (Gamers and gaming is a completely different discussion.)
Yet before that happens, VR’s first cousin, augmented reality (AR), may block its entry into the mainstream. Though very different in some respects, AR is also muscling in and grabbing mindshare among marketers. And a global, installed base of smartphone owners already exists.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple are all making major AR investments, in addition to VR. Beyond this, Pokémon Go and Snapchat have already given millions of users around the world a basic education in AR. The same cannot be said of VR.