VR is often regarded as a solitary experience, but with Google’s Pixel 2 and the new Daydream View it might be hard for anyone in the room to not become curious or even involved in what someone is experiencing in a virtual world.
That’s because of the almost overpowering loudness of the stereo front-facing speakers with Google’s new phone. The sound system on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL standout as an innovation all its own. The audio impressively enhances immersion, providing a directional audio effect similar to wearing headphones. But the absence of those buds in your ears enhances immersion in a virtual world because it is just one less reminder there’s technology transporting you somewhere else. Simultaneously, my unobstructed ears allowed me to hear what people are saying outside VR as well — if they aren’t drowned out by the overwhelming speaker volume of course.
This might seem generally pretty minor but it’s a big step forward. The upcoming Oculus Go headset from Facebook looks like it will include integrated audio situated at the sides of your head that might leave your ears similarly unobstructed.
This audio effect, combined with general improvements to the weight, comfort, fitting, and optics of the new Daydream View means Google has done an excellent job matching or in some ways exceeding the capabilities of its direct rival — Gear VR. There’s even a heat sink built into the phone’s cradle helping to keep you inside VR for longer as it keeps the device cool. All of the issues with fitting that plagued the first version of the fabric-laden headset are gone. There’s now a top strap that balances out weight well and it fits more head shapes and sizes. When I offered the original Daydream View to some members of my family they found the system didn’t fit well — it needed to be supported by hand in some cases. The new system, however, fit snug.
There still appears to be light leakage from the outside depending whether you’re using the Pixel 2 or the Pixel 2 XL and how the phone is situated inside the cradle. This issue seemed to be less of a problem with the larger Pixel 2 XL. In some cases it was possible to put my hands to the sides of the phone and the light leaking in from the outside disappeared.
As my family gathered on the couch we enjoyed one of the best times together using VR that we’ve ever had. My TV has a built-in Chromecast and Daydream now supports this streaming functionality at the system level (this feature is also included in the Gear VR). On Daydream, Google has made great strides to smooth out the process of entering VR and sharing with friends. So you just place the phone easily in the cradle, turn on Chromecast streaming and you’ve transformed VR from a solitary experience to a social one. We took turns wearing the headset and watching on TV what the person in VR was seeing.
At the Oculus Connect developers conference last week executives discussed how important it is to decrease friction for diving into a VR experience. Right now, I believe Daydream View represents the quickest way to enter VR and see what your friends and family are seeing. The headset could sit next to our couch and in just a matter of seconds we can enter VR and broadcast what we’re seeing to everyone else. While Gear VR remains close to Daydream View when it comes to this functionality, this ease of use absolutely blows away any wired system. I find myself kept out of VR on numerous occasions because it’s a pain to setup. Daydream View erases those hangups well.
Many of my favorite VR experiences inside Gear VR were absent inside Daydream View. So although Google has made great strides with the comfort and quality of its VR experience, there are still reasons to consider a phone like the Samsung Note 8 for VR since it can access content from both Google Play and the Oculus Store. Of course, people are likely to pick the Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL for its incredible camera, thus tying you into the Daydream ecosystem.
Google has made the easiest way to enter into high-quality VR, for the time being at least. The presence of Google’s apps like Google Photos, Street View and Google Play movies offers access to a lot of great content too. The whole package is quite expensive, though, and with Oculus just a few months away from shipping the $200 Oculus Go it is something to consider if you don’t really need to upgrade your phone right now.