SAN JOSE, Calif. — I took an extended stroll through Daydream, Google’s low cost, consumer version of virtual reality, and found it by turns exhilarating, inspiring, disorienting and downright painful.
What I saw told me VR is a digital Wild West still being settled. The new headset first announced in May presents both dangers and opportunities today, but I suspect it will be part of a wonderfully fun and useful platform eventually.
Among my highlights, I:
- Rode surfboards down massive waves alongside world champions
- Rose in a weather balloon to 100,000 feet above the Earth
- Watched a prehistoric fish come alive in London’s natural history museum
- Joined a luxury vacation over and under the Great Barrier Reef
- Stood in the African savannah while a herd of elephants approached
- Strolled the old city square in Sienna, Italy
- Climbed to the top of a giant tree in a nature preserve in Australia
- Walked through a lushly animated version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”
All these experiences were in reasonably high quality, 360-degree images or video. Each one was created by producers from whom I’d welcome more content.
Unfortunately, the valleys of my experiences were as deep as the peaks were high.
I got a raging headache that lasted an hour after my first use of Daydream. I bear at least part of the fault. In the 30-minute session, I was so excited I clicked through many demos too quickly including several 360-degree photos that I craned my head left and right to view.
In subsequent viewings I learned to move my head less, limit the amount of time on the device and not move so quickly between scenes or apps. I have not had any more headaches.
The system itself has several shortcomings. As someone who wears glasses, I found I had a fairly narrow window of view to keep images crisply in focus. I typically had to adjust the headset multiple times in a 30-minute session to maintain a crisp focus.
A bigger problem was that images seen in the headset tend to drift to the left or right as you move your head looking at stuff. Google provides guidance on how to grab and drag content back to center or reorient the screen using the small Daydream controller.
It took me multiple sessions to get used to these tricks, and different apps use different techniques. In any case, this feels like something I should not have to do so often. I suspect the issue would be less persistent if Google improved the motion sensors in the controller.
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