Google recently kickstarted an infatuation with mobile virtual reality, thanks to its affordable yet effective Cardboard VR headsets. Now the Daydream VR platform is here to seriously upgrade our virtual reality experiences on our humble smartphones, although the cost has understandably risen. Here's our full guide to Daydream, including how to try it out for yourself.
What is Google Daydream?
Virtual reality has made it into our homes thanks to our trusty mobile phones. Our smartphones can deliver immersive games and experiences to our eyeballs simply by slotting them into a headset and strapping them on.
Google Cardboard was one of the first mainstream solutions to offer VR to the masses, for as little as a tenner. Of course, this was a very basic offering, with limited control over your actions - all you could really do was look around and click the solitary button to interact.
Google’s new Daydream brand is a serious step up from Cardboard, offering a more premium experience, improved control and an exclusive catalogue of games and experiences.
To enjoy Daydream VR content, you'll need a Daydream View headset and controller, as well as a smartphone which actually supports the platform. You can then download apps from the online store, to enjoy right there on your headset.
Several developers have created apps and games specifically for use with Daydream, while smartphone manufacturers are slowly releasing compatible mobiles which can run these games. Google has even created a reference design, so new Daydream compatible VR headsets can be made by any manufacturers looking to grab a slice of this exciting new virtual pie. For now however, only Google's headset will work.
How do I use Google Daydream?
The anatomy of Google Daydream consists of three key parts: the headset and motion controller, a smartphone and the Daydream software.
Google Daydream View
Right now Google’s own £69 Daydream View is the only Daydream-compatible headset/controller combo on the market, although others will no doubt emerge soon. The original Daydream View came out in 2016 and Google followed this up with a new 2017 model, which offered a very similar design that was tweaked to make it even better.
The original headset came in three colours (Slate, Snow and Crimson), and the 2017 updated version also offers three hues, this time a different selection (light grey, dark grey and pink).
That flexible, fabric-covered design is quite unique and attractive, making a nice change from the slew of plastic VR headsets on the market. Meanwhile the small colour-matched motion controller connects wirelessly via Bluetooth and features internal motion sensors, to detect its position in 3D space. The controller also houses volume controls, a clickable touchpad and two navigation buttons.
With the new 2017 model of Daydream View, you get a handy loop in the head strap for storing that controller when not in use. You can also remove the top strap, to accommodate bouffant hair.
Read next: Google Daydream View Review: In Depth
Whilst the Daydream View serves as the means of looking around and interacting with the virtual space, the actual hardware powering the VR experiences is found inside your smartphone.
As with Samsung’s Gear VR, you can’t just use any old handset. The processor, memory, graphics and display all have to be sufficiently powerful to support a VR experience and what’s more, Google has to approve each smartphone that’s been built to work with Daydream.
Thankfully the pool is growing reasonably quick, although you'll need quite a premium device to try out Daydream. Google’s own Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones released at the end of 2016 were the first Daydream-compatible devices on the market. These were followed up in 2017 by the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
Motorola has added Daydream support to both of its Moto Z and Moto Z Force flagships from 2016, while the Asus Zenfone AR offers virtual as well as augmented reality from Google. Finally Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8+, as well as its massive Note 8, also offer Daydream compatibility - a surprise, as Samsung has its own rival platform in the Gear VR.
The most recent phone to arrive in the UK with full Daydream support is the Asus Zenfone AR. Of course, at £800 this handset sure isn't on the 'affordable' side. Likewise, the Pixel and Galaxy S handsets are premium mobiles that'll put a serious dent in your wallet.
Thanks to Google's strict requirements for Daydream accreditation, you can expect only flagship and top-end smartphones to support the platform for the foreseeable future.
Downloading apps and games for Daydream VR
The third fundamental element of Daydream is the software itself. Android Nougat includes all of the technical VR underpinnings to support Daydream natively. However to actually access the virtual world, the first thing you’ll need to do is download the Daydream app from Google’s Play Store.
Once installed, you can use this app to browse through Daydream VR-compatible apps, games and experiences as you would any other app on the standard Play Store. Offerings range from horror games and fast-paced action titles, to 360-degree or 3D videos.
Companies like The Wall Street Journal and the BBC have created immersive experiences using their own original content, Warner Bros. released a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie tie-in experience to coincide with the launch of Google Daydream and you can view the likes of YouTube or Netflix all in VR.
Best Daydream VR games and experiences
Whilst consumers have only been able to get their hands on Daydream as a platform for about a month, there are already a wealth of experiences and games available to try out. Here are a few of our favourites at the time of writing:
- BBC’s The Turning Forest
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Hunters Gate
- Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
- Layers of Fear: Solitude
For a complete list of the best Daydream-compatible games right now, check out our best Google Daydream VR games feature.