Google may be getting serious about virtual reality, but it’s not straying too far from its DIY roots. That may be the key to getting VR into everyone’s homes.
The company is going to make and sell its own headset, a sequel to the paper-based Cardboard, Google VR lead Clay Bavor said on Thursday. It’s sticking with the smartphone-based approach to virtual reality, with a headset that turns your existing phone into the screen.
It’s also teaming up with IMAX to make a new camera rig for capturing cinema-quality VR video.
At its annual Google I/O keynote on Wednesday, Google(GOOGL, Tech30) announced a new virtual reality ecosystem called Daydream. A combination of hardware and software, it will add a VR mode to Android N so compatible devices can be used as viewers.
To make sure the next wave of Android phones are optimized for this kind of multitasking, Google is working with manufacturers to make sure they add the right sensors and screens.
The mysterious new headset is also called Daydream, but there’s no final prototype or even a mockup of what it might actually look like. So far, all Google has shown the public is a bland line drawing. The VR team is still working out the final materials and design, but they’re hoping to make something lighter and softer than competing products like Samsung’s Gear VR, possibly using materials like fabric.
Even though Google is making its own Daydreams, it will provide the designs for both bits of hardware to Android phone makers so they can produce and sell their own versions.
Google’s approach focuses on reaching the widest number of people instead of creating the best, most immersive VR experience. Other companies like Oculus, Sony and HTC are working on expensive headsets to deliver mind-blowing VR experiences. Until the prices drop (Oculus is currently $599), they will probably only appeal to gamers and early adopters.
A smartphone-based headset might not blow as many minds, but it can help speed up VR’s adoption.
Google is also focusing on the software and cameras that capture VR video as part of its Jump system. At last year’s Google I/O event, it debuted a custom circular rig that holds 16 GoPro cameras. Now, in addition to action footage, Google is working with IMAX to build a Jump camera that can capture high-end cinema grade video. Google did not say when the camera would be completed.
“[IMAX] is going to be bringing their decades of experience with camera design, optics, sensors and more to JUMP,” said Bavor.
The final piece is more content to actually watch, soon. YouTube announced Thursday that it’s making a VR app, and Google is partnering with Unity and Unreal Engine for gaming content.
Daydream headsets, controllers and compatible phones are expected to be available in the fall.