Google preys on VR leadership – Android should become the VR platform




It has the potential to become one of the most important future industries from Google. That is why it is so witty that Google’s first step originated in the world of virtual reality in a project that two French Googlers had been arrested in addition to their normal work. That project was called Cardboard and has revolutionized the world of VR. Where the real fans will focus on devices like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR, the Cardboard that has caused a huge amount of people without tech interest was first came into contact with virtual reality.

“We believe that the vast majority of people in the coming years with VR in contact, this will be done via a smartphone” Andrew Nartke tells us at Google’s developer conference I / O. As Product Manager at Google’s VR Nartke department has been involved in recent months with the big brother of Cardboard, a system this week at I / O was revealed and answers to the name Daydream. Daydream is not like Cardboard just a way to view VR; The platform includes besides a “viewer” a controller and is highly integrated with the upcoming N-release of Android.

Outside of a brief announcement and what renders Google made yet little is known about the physical appearance of Daydream, but through a number of interviews and developer sessions at I / O, we have got a good idea how Daydream works and what we can expect from it if it later this year true.

A silly glasses

Daydream consists essentially of a viewer, which is the container in which you insert a smart phone, and a controller. That viewer should be a lot more luxurious and comfortable than Cardboard and will in appearance probably look a lot like the Gear VR Samsung. However, where Samsung extra sensors in the glasses has stopped to follow the movements of the user, the Daydream viewer is nothing more than a “dumb” holder. All data collection and calculations will be done on the phone is inserted into the viewer.

daydream headset

And that provides for a couple of challenges. Still no phone is now on the market, has aims to achieve the right combination of sensors, with the required precision, to put on head tracking to the level that Google with Daydream. That’s why Google works closely with various phone manufacturers and has produced a document which established that phones must meet or exceed in order to be compliant Daydream. In those directives not only describes the sensors are all necessary, but also what requirements must meet the screen. VR is important that the screen can change quickly and LCDs therefore actually fall off immediately. The requirements to Google dough you can be assured that every Daydream phone will feature an OLED screen.

A smart controller

The goggles is fairly straightforward and not much more than an evolution of Cardboard. Where it gets really interesting is the Daydream controller equipped with a clickable touchpad, two buttons and a volume control. This will be included with each Daydream headset and is actually the linchpin of the whole system. The people at Google realized early on that VR is many times more impressive when you interact with virtual objects in the game world, something we ourselves recently found out when we got the HTC Vive names under the microscope.

Google put themselves thereby have a major limitation: the company did not need to rely on external sensors to get it working the controller, such as were in use at the Vive, the Oculus Rift and even the Wii. The system that ultimately is therefore not developed as precise and versatile as the controllers of the aforementioned systems, but come a long way.

daydream controller

Through a combination of gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, and a large amount of mathematics on the basis of quaternions , it is possible to determine the movement of the controller over both the x-, y-, and z-axis. Therefore, a user can recognize the Daydream system his or her wrist or turn the controller is moving and it is even possible to identify things in the VR environment, which is very handy when navigating through interfaces. Because there are no external cameras or sensors are used, absolute positioning is not possible, and you will need to calibrate the controller, is often at the beginning of a VR game. That still seems a small sacrifice for the benefits of a system like this offers.

The controller is what distinguishes it from Daydream Cardboard and the many clones thereof, and even of Samsung Gear VR. The demos Google showed was possible inter alia to throw a boomerang, flipping pancakes to eject with a frying pan and a fishing rod. We are very curious to see how it is made with the precision of the controller and how he relates to the Vive controllers that we recently tested.

Optimizations, optimizations, optimizations …

For a good VR experience it is important that images are sent to the eyeglasses as quickly as possible, and movement is processed as quickly as possible. This is also referred to as the motion to photon latency, or the time it takes for a movement of the head is translated into a new frame on the screen. Ideally, this is less than 20ms. Android is at this time there is not yet suitable for, but the upcoming N-version of the operating system or because it is equipped with a range of VR-optimizations.

The main one is what Google a “sustained performance mode ‘calls. Smartphones are made at this time with the idea that they need to deliver high performance for short periods. Charge your smartphone for a long time continuously, then the performance will fall back in many cases because the hardware is too hot. This throttling is unacceptable when running VR software because the smallest variation in the frame rate already can ensure that the experience is unpleasant.

motion to photon latency

Phone manufacturers can specify what to do software developers through this new mode to achieve consistent performance. In practice this would mean a VR application example immediately return overclocked the processor so as to guarantee consistent performance. In addition, the system is supported by asynchronous time warp, a system that is also used by the Oculus Rift.

Time Warp ensures that after the rendering of a frame, on the basis of the movements of the head of the user, is immediately made ​​a warped version of that frame. The image then is manipulated on the basis of the sensor data in order to simulate that the perspective is changed. If the phone does not survive well in order to have ready a fresh frame of time, for example because the CPU has to handle notifications that enters or because something happens that requires additional computing power in VR environment, can be used as a stopgap measure the warped frame are displayed .

Along with improvements to the rendering pipeline and support for the new Vulkan-api the combination of Android and N have a Daydream-compatible smartphone to make sure that oh so important 20ms latency photon motion to be achieved.

A real VR-interface

Android N is not only optimized under the hood for VR, Google has also developed a complete user interface for Daydream. Which builds on what we know from other VR systems as the Gear VR, Rift and Vive with a grid of images right in the screen. The rest of Google ecosystem from Android N VR-ready, which means you can use the Play Store to buy apps and games, and for example, can watch via YouTube 360-degree videos. Within this environment, you can use the controller to point to things and selecting.

daydream interface
daydream interfacedaydream interface
What can we expect later this year?

During I / O Google has released the Daydream-SDK so developers can already get started. They can do so on the basis of, inter alia Unity- and Unreal engines, receiving both support Daydream.

This autumn the first phones to come out with Daydream support. so they will have the necessary sensors and are all equipped with an OLED screen. The list of manufacturers which is committed to Daydream is pretty impressive, with names such as Samsung, HTC, ZTE, Huawei, Xiaomi, Alcatel, Asus and LG.

The first batch Daydream phones will all be high-end models. Yet not so much because of the requirement of an OLED screen, but it is mainly the sensors and the rapid soc driving up the price. However, the high-end phones of today are the midrange handsets next year and that is the strategy that Google uses to Daydream slowly expand.

Also coming this fall the first Daydream glasses and controllers out. Google itself will bring a set on the market and in addition, other manufacturers they build, if it is not yet known what they are exactly.

Unreal Engine 4 DaydreamUnreal Engine 4 DaydreamUnreal Engine 4 DaydreamUnreal Engine 4 DaydreamUnreal Engine 4 DaydreamUnreal Engine 4 Daydream
The popular Unreal Engine 4 will support Daydream built

At present, there are still quite a few questions about. Samsung, for example associated with Daydream and what does that mean for Gear VR? The Korean manufacturer has the past two years a lot of money and effort into his VR goggles, but with the advent of Daydream seems the system’s future jeopardized. Daydream provides the controller with more functionality, and because the glasses will not contain any sensors, the system can potentially also be cheaper.

And that brings us to perhaps the biggest question: what will cost a Daydream system? Google sees the platform as the next step after Cardboard and wants to reach the masses. Cardboard what makes it so successful is that you buy a cardboard glasses for an apple and an egg. The glasses are so cheap that many companies give them away for free in combination with a VR application.

Daydream to be a success, the price will have to be sharp. Potentially, that is certainly possible; the glasses contains no electronics and sensors in the controller are free of default. It would therefore greatly surprised us as a Daydream kit will cost more than 100 euros and perhaps the less luxurious versions eventually been able to go on the counter for a few bucks.


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