Those whizz-bang headsets might make one hell of an impression, but only if you’ve got the cash to splash on a monstrous gaming PC to go with them.
Nope, it was the pocket-change Google Cardboard, a DIY viewer that turned your phone into a basic, but tantalising window to the VR future.
That was in 2014, but now Google is looking to take things even further down the rabbit hole. Revealed alongside the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, Daydream View is the funky headset Google hopes will further spread virtual reality to the masses.
I’ve been putting one through its paces to decide if Daydream is the new king of low-cost VR.
Google Daydream View - Soft, fluffy, and functional
OK, so it’s not exactly fluffy, but compared to Gear VR’s harsh plastics and Cardboard’s… well, cardboard, Daydream view is like having your face hugged by a cloud.
The headset is covered in soft fabric, with plush, comfortable innards. It’s up there as one of the most comfortable VR headsets I’ve tried - it’s lighter than either Rift or Vive, and more comfortable than PSVR.
You won’t need to take off glasses to wear one, either - there’s enough room to keep your specs in place and not feel the pinch.
It’s rather handsome, too, beating the Gear VR in the looks department with a fabric finish and choice of three colours. I tested the Slate version, but Snow and Crimson models will be available soon after launch.
I can see that fabric finish picking up all kinds of dust and dirt over time, though - especially if you plan on chucking it into a bag for taking on the move. It’s certainly small enough to do that.
The simple elasticated head strap is easy enough to adjust, and because the headset doesn’t weigh very much, it doesn’t need to be too tight around your bonce, either. It takes seconds to get a comfy fit.
Can you use it for hours without feeling like an Aliens-style facehugger has assaulted your mug? Not quite. It’s light enough, even with a Pixel XL slotted into place at the front, but that soft material stops air from getting to your face. That can leave you a bit hot and bothered after a long session. You’ll be calling it quits after an hour or so - at least until you’ve developed a taste for VR.
GOOGLE DAYDREAM VIEW CONTROLLER: FINGER ON THE BUTTON
Daydream’s secret weapon is its bundled remote control. This is what elevates it over Cardboard and Gear VR, and makes each virtual reality experience that bit more immersive.
Think of it like a mini Wii Remote: it’s packed with motion sensors so you can use it like a motion controller, and has a clickable touchpad for directional control and interaction. Two menu buttons and volume controls complete the set.
You’ll want to attach the wrist strap included in the box, so you don’t accidentally embed it in any furniture or family member’s faces while you’re in VR, but otherwise it’s sturdy enough to survive a drop onto the floor.
It charges over USB C (handy if you’re using a Pixel or Pixel XL, seeing as you’ll already have the right cable for charging your phone) but in the time I’ve spent with it so far, I’ve not manage to completely drain the battery. It’ll easily outlast your phone.
Best of all, it slips into the headset when you’re done, so there’s no chance of losing it between VR adventures.
GOOGLE DAYDREAM VIEW SETUP: IT JUST WORKS
Cardboard was great because you didn’t have to plug your phone into a fiddly port (we’re looking at you, Gear VR).
Google’s taken the same approach here: setup is as simple as slipping your phone into the headset, then closing it up. The elasticated clasp keeps things locked in place, so you don’t have to worry about sending your expensive smartphone flying to the floor.
Once you’ve downloaded it from the Play Store, NFC tech inside the headset instantly activates the Daydream app on your phone. It saves you having to dig around the app drawer to get started.
The remote automatically pairs to your phone when you first enter the app. Get disoriented, or the remote doesn’t point where you expect? Hold down the home button and it’ll automatically recenter everything, so you’re always facing the right direction.
The only thing to keep in mind is that Daydream-ready phones are still in short supply. Google says they need high resolution displays, smooth graphics and uprated motion sensors for precise head tracking, but right now, there are only a handful of phones that tick those boxes: Google’s own Pixel and Pixel XL, and the ZTE Axon 7.
Other manufacturers will support Daydream once they launch Android 7 phones, but that should be next year at the earliest.