During the Google I/O conference a couple of months ago one of the biggest – and most surprising announcements – came in the form of a standalone headset that would use Google’s Daydream platform and be made by HTC and Lenovo. Very few details have surfaced regarding what it’ll look like – other than the widely circulated silhouetted image above – and what the actual specifications will be – Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor is the only thing confirmed so far. But there’s the thing, consumer virtual reality (VR) has massively moved forward in the last few years and this new head-mounted display (HMD) will be supplied with a 3DoF controller, the point is, is that going to be good enough?
The 3DoF controller will be very akin to the Daydream View’s own device so that it seamlessly works with the platform. That’s fine if you’re using a cheaper smartphone-based headset but these standalone units are going to cost significantly more. While no prices have been released, HTC’s standalone headset will be in competition with the likes of the Pico Goblin which is currently available for pre-order at $249 USD/ £249 GBP/ €269 EUR. That also has a 3DoF controller which does an amicable job when VRFocus tried the headset out at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2017.
Obviously HTC’s standalone headset won’t be in direct competition with its high-end HTC Vive counterpart and its motion controllers, but if you’ve used them – or Oculus Touch for that matter – using 3DoF seems like a step backwards. While HTC and Google maybe trying to corner a different section of the market with the new HMD, so that users don’t need a PC or restrictive wires, VR is all about immersion and surely not having a wider range of control input restricts that.
And that’s primarily the main point. For VR to truly work it needs to offer that immersive feeling of being in a videogame that standard PC’s and consoles can’t. That’s not just about the visuals and sound, but also how you get to interact with the environment. For navigating through menus or watching a 360-degree video 3DoF is fine, however it’s videogames that are driving adoption of VR to consumers and simply having a point and click device instead of a controller that can allow you bend down a pick items up for example just doesn’t feel like it’s going to push the industry forward.
Of course there are technical reasons to why the HMD would have this kind of input. HTC Vive, Oculus Touch and PlayStation VR all have external cameras/sensors to locate headsets and their controllers in the real world. These means that you’re confined to wherever they’re setup and the amount of space you might have available. Whereas the standalone headset can be portable, so you can play at home, round a friends or anywhere else for that matter.
So could HTC and Google have come up with something more? Bear in mind that these are some of the biggest companies in the world, who spend significant resources on R&D – especially Google – so coming up with a viable solution shouldn’t be that far outside their engineering skills. Inside-out tracking for example, which seemed almost mythical only a short while ago is being solved, and then there’s making tethered headsets wireless. All of these solutions have come from the need to improve VR, eventually they’ll all likely merge a few years from now into one awesome HMD.
At present while the upcoming standalone headset should hopefully garner interest from new VR consumers, it’s not looking like a revolutionary product that’ll entice VR enthusiasts away from the current lineup of higher-end devices. There’s still a lot to learn about the upcoming HMD, but one things for sure, for VR to reach the heady heights of Ready Player One’s imagined levels of immersion, 3DoF input will not suffice.