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Google Pixel XL And Daydream View

Google Daydream View is a solid alternative to Samsung's Gear VR and a major league upgrade over Google Cardboard. While it's appropriate to make comparisons between Gear VR and Daydream View, admittedly I haven't spent as much quality time with Samsung's offering, versus the time I've spent with Daydream View. Regardless, I'll give you my high level take-aways from my time with Daydream thus far, along with some contrast of my experiences with Gear VR.

The first thing you notice with Google's new phone-powered virtual reality system is how very differently it's designed versus Gear VR and other smartphone VR solutions on the market.  

Pixel XL Kit with Daydream View

Daydream View Headset

Daydream View Headset lenses

Right out of the gate, it's easy to see that the ergonomics are very different with Daydream View and Google really took time to think through its mechanical design to maximize comfort and convenience. This headset is sheathed in a soft, microfiber cloth material, giving it a very comfortable feel in the hand and when strapping it to your face. The intent likely was for it to feel like clothing, which makes a lot of sense if you stop to think about it. Also, I personally really like the fact that there is no top strap to hold the headset in place height-wise. Google instead designed a more form-fitted face mask area that has a deeper, more contoured nose socket. This, along with the system's adjustable strap, does a decent job of keeping the goggles in place, without the need for the top mounted strap you see on other products like Samsung's Gear VR.  Again, it's a bit of personal preference but I'd rather put on an HMD with fewer straps to mess up my pompadour. Call me vein if you must.  

Daydream View and controller

Then there's Daydream View's wireless controller, which looks and acts like a laser pointer on steroids. This little device is also well-executed. It tucks away inside the headset for easy storage when not in use, as you can see above. However, once you've calibrated it in the Daydream View app, it comes in really handy (no pun intended). You use it to easily navigate menus in apps, the pointer reticle acting as your point of contact and the buttons on the controller actuating whatever you aim it on. The large, circular indentation area on the top of the controller is a trackpad of sorts for your thumb. In some games and apps, like the game Twilight Pioneer in the screen shot below, you use the thumbpad area to easily move yourself around in the VR world.  

Twilight Pioneers Game1
Twilight Pioneers is trippy, mysterious and fun.

Netflix VR Pixel XL On Daydream View
Netflix VR - If you're watching on your 6-inch phone display, you haven't lived.



Daydream Apps

You also use the pointer and its buttons to pick up items and actuate things in VR worlds, not just menus, so there's better functionality with the device in that respect as well. Regardless, what's impressive here is how well the entire Daydream View setup works. Image quality is about as good as I've ever seen in any VR system setup, including the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. While game engine image quality and title selection is limited to the VR smartphone ecosystem, the Pixel XL's higher resolution 2560x1440 display doesn't have as significant a "screen door" effect where you can see individual pixels, breaking the immersion somewhat. Yes, you're still splitting that resolution over two eye viewports but the Rift's and Vive's displays split a 2160x1200 (1080x1200x2) resolution that is still effectively lower res than the Pixel XL's split 2560x1440 (1280x1440x2) viewports. 

This higher resolution image quality is very apparent in apps like Netflix VR, where movie watching really benefits with less demand on the phone's graphics engine. Obviously, the gaming PC VR platform has a ton more horsepower for graphics and depth of VR worlds, but Daydream View is the best implementation of a smartphone VR system I've seen yet. Its controller alone adds a lot of functionality and flexibility. Even simple things like entering your name or credentials for an app, works well, even easier in some cases than mashing buttons on a standard console game controller, because you just point and click. Google is still working with Daydream developers to flesh out content and the ecosystem, but my opinion is Daydream VR has solid potential moving forward. 

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