Daydream View: An encounter of the first kind
How is it like to experience a virtual reality? Can it diminish the line between what's virtual and what's real? These were some of the questions I always had in mind before having my first experience with the medium through the recently launched Daydream View headset by Google. Virtual reality has come a long way, from being just another gimmick to providing an immersive environment for users to interact with. Today, there are a lot of virtual reality HMD's (Head Mounted Display) available to consumers such as the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive which offer users, a dive into an artificial world where they can experience things they normally couldn't.

Google's Daydream VR platform was announced last year with the first Daydream VR headset launched by the company in November. The Daydream View, according to Google is the first of many VR headsets to be made available to consumers which use the company's virtual reality platform. The Daydream View builds on the success of Google's Cardboard and makes for a much better way to enter the world of mobile VR. Google's Daydream View headset requires one of the Daydream compatible smartphones which are pretty scarce at the moment. There's the Pixel and Pixel XL followed by Moto Z, Moto Z Force, ZTE Axon 7 and Huawei Mate 9 Pro with support for Samsung Galaxy S8 and Asus Zenfone AR rolling out soon.

The Good

The Daydream View headset comes with a comfortable vibe to it because it's well built. The headset is crafted out of lightweight fabric which is soft and has a familiar feel. The cloth liner can be removed for occasional washes which is again, a good and well-thought out move. The plastic plate on the front is held down by an elastic band and houses the Daydream controller. This is the place where you will place your Daydream-ready smartphone aligning with the six contact points and facing the two lenses. The whole setup is essentially a do-it-yourself project, to set up the device without any buttons and keys on the headset itself. At first, I was sceptical about the workings of the VR headset because of zero technicalities involved in the process, but this little thing works like a charm. The whole setup is held down by an elastic band that goes over the head of the wearer which is adjustable via plastic sliders. While putting on the headset, I had to struggle with adjusting the size a bit to get the perfect cosy fit. A velcro strap would have had minimised that effort but, when you think of it, would have gathered lint.

Once I finished setting up the Daydream App on the Pixel, wearing the headset for a longer period of time wasn't a problem. For a perfect fit, the headset feels real comfy I was easily able to put it on for a couple of hours in a go. However, if the headset isn't put on properly, wearing it for a long time may prove to be a struggle as it leaves pressure marks around the eyes.

For using the Daydream headset, one has to download the Daydream app from the Play Store which after installing would ask you to place the smartphone on the face plate followed by a sync with the controller. This is achieved by the NFC chip that tells the app when to begin the VR segment. The app then gives a quick rundown of the things such as the controller and the functionalities that come with it along with providing a quick walkthrough of the whole interface of Daydream.

After the setup, the app takes you in the midst of a forest with a stream flowing in front and a waterfall on the right side, if you move your head towards it. This is the Daydream homescreen which will display the VR apps you have installed on the smartphone. It is an interactive window where one can use the controller's swipe actions to swipe through the catalogue of apps in Play Store or Library. Selecting an app would require the user to click the touchpad button on the controller.

Coming to the unsung hero of the whole Daydream VR setup, the controller is essentially a pointer which connects with your smartphone using Bluetooth. In VR, the remote takes the form of a VR pointer, an efficient one at that but not limited to it. The controller can act as a wand in the Fantastic Beasts app, or a golf club and even a stick, which makes it a pretty neat companion when interacting with the artificial world. The clickable touchpad requires getting used to as there were instances when I would press the home button instead of clicking the touchpad. On the whole, the Daydream controller works very efficiently, in tandem with the platform and brings in a lot of immersiveness to the whole experience.

The main highlight of the Daydream platform is the YouTube VR and Street View apps. Google has created a repository of good quality VR videos, both 360 and 180 degrees which enhance a user's experience by multitudes. Just like a person who watched television for the first time, I was blown away by the visuals some of these VR videos offered, be it skydiving, accompanying a weather balloon to the stratosphere, trailing the Khumbu Icefalls which eventually lead to the Mount Everest or swimming with dolphins around. The experience was a surreal mix of joy being to these places and the fact that it wasn't real but still felt like one. There was a moment in between while watching the snowfall, where I actually reached out to feel the snow on my hand.

While the View may not be outfitted with the latest VR technology, it offers a simple but efficient dive into the world of virtual reality.

The Bad

One of the issues that bugged me throughout my usage of the Daydream View was that I could actually see individual pixels on the Google Pixel. To clarify my doubts, I did use it for a while with the Pixel XL which proved my point that it was because of the full HD display of the pixel that users can identify each pixel separately. While on the Pixel XL which has a quad HD display and a higher pixel density per inch, the clarity was amazing.

In my usage, the smartphone heated up very quickly and though that is because of the continuous usage of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and a bunch of sensors, Google should optimise the Daydream platform for smartphones. Plus, some people could have serious issues with using a boiling smartphone in front of their eyes. So there's that. If Google optimises the platform in such a way that there is a lesser loss of battery on the smartphone while it maintains an optimal temperature, it could score brownie points.

Talking about the content, there's still a long way to go for VR to catch up with the content. With a bunch of apps, Daydream is on the right path but Google should take it up a notch and look towards making it synonymous with Android and not just use it for entertainment. So for example. during your VR session, a notification pops up and you want to reply, you will have to stop and take out the phone from the cradle to do so. I think that sorts of defeats the purpose of having that awesome controller which can be utilised in a much more efficient way.

Also, there's the fact that Daydream is compatible with only six smartphones, out of which only four are available in India.

There's no denying that Daydream as a platform and virtual reality content has a long road ahead if it wants to become a medium that people would actually spend money on.

Should you buy it?

Before trying out the Daydream View, I haven't had the chance to use any other existing HMDs. It would be safe to say that I'm pretty much impressed with the Daydream View because it is simple and efficient at what it does- introducing you to the world of virtual reality. Sure, the content is in its infancy and we have a long way to go, but the first step, the dive into the world of VR has been made accurately. The Daydream View comes with a no expectations tag and builds on the legacy of YouTube videos and ever expanding catalogue of VR apps.

Then there's the price of Daydream View. At Rs 6,499 I don't think there is any better way to experience virtual reality right now. From a novel idea to a reality, the Daydream View is no gimmick.