Google woos masses with $79 cloth-covered VR headset

NEW YORK—Virtual reality has a new entry-level competitor: a fabric-covered headset from Google that will compete with the mid-market $99 Samsung VR.

Daydream View is a $79 mobile virtual reality headset — with notably, a VR motion controller that is normally in the domain of more expensive VR gear — that will be compatible with the Google's just-announced Pixel smartphones and eventually other Daydream-certified handsets.  Google first announced its Daydream VR platform at its I/O conference last May.

Preorders for Daydream View start later this month, with the product slated to ship in early November. It will be available in slate gray, crimson or snow colors.

Daydream promises to go well beyond Google Cardboard, the company's early entry into VR, and comes at a time of heavy activity in the still-developing alternate reality universe. On Wednesday, Facebook-owned Oculus kicks off its Connect developer event in San Jose, Calif. Sony is poised to bring out its VR offering, PlayStation VR.

As a mobile offering, think of Daydream View more as a direct competitor of Samsung Gear VR (which is powered by Oculus), a similar-looking headset that works with specific high-end Samsung phones. In contrast, PlayStation VR, which plugs into a PlayStation video game console, Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive system all cost hundreds more and are tethered by cables to powerful computers.  The View headset is roughly a third lighter than Gear VR, Google says, and features a stretchy, breathable fabric that is supposed to provide a comfortable fit, which could encourage longer viewing.

View uses an alignment system of conductive knobs that make contact with the front of the phone screen to determine which pixels are aligned with which knobs, which the software then self-corrects as needed, providing, Google claims, a better optic experience. The headset and phone get in sync wirelessly.

The real difference in this segment of the market is the portable palm-sized View controller, which allows you to swipe and click through content that you're watching. The controller provides 3-degrees of freedom and is flexible enough to be used by apps and games that let you draw, paint, swing it like a baseball bat or golf club.

While Google is taking ownership of this initial Daydream View headset, it is also opening up the Daydream specs to other Android hardware partners to modify and add elements to Daydream, and presumably to commercialize their own VR offering as they see fit.

So what exactly will you be able to watch on Daydream? For starters, YouTube has developed a VR app built especially for the platform, with VR, 360, and 2D-content available.

Through Google Street View, you’ll also be able to watch 150 virtual tours of such places as the Taj Mahal or Great Barrier Reef.

You’ll also be able to take in purchased or rented flicks through the Google Play Store—the movies will be in 2D but you’ll be able to watch in an immersive big screen type VR environment.

Third party app contributions will come to Daydream from Electronic Arts, Hulu, Netflix, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other content creators. In all, Google says there’ll be more than 50 Daydream apps by the end of the year, covering news, games, education and the entertainment. 

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