MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—The first standalone virtual reality headsets based on Google's Daydream design go on sale later this year, Google announced at its I/O developers conference here on Wednesday.
The new headsets, from HTC and Lenovo, will come with the built-in positional tracking that smartphone-based models currently lack, and Google promised simplicity: just pick them up and put them on.
Qualcomm and Intel have been working on their own reference designs for standalone headsets. Intel teased its Project Alloy set last year, and Qualcomm showed off a model based on the Snapdragon 835 processor at CES in January. The Snapdragon 835 platform apparently impressed Google, and the standalone Daydream headsets will feature Qualcomm processors alongside Google's own tracking technology, which is also found in the Tango augmented reality smartphone platform, first seen on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
In the race to broaden virtual reality's appeal beyond hardcore video gamers, it is standalone designs that recently emerged as frontrunners, because they can deliver immersive VR experiences complete with motion tracking without being attached to a high-end gaming PC or laptop.
Google's current VR headset, the $79 Daydream View, is one of several affordable sets on the market that rely on smartphones to function. It went on sale last fall, and competes against the second-generation Samsung Gear VR, a collaboration between the Korean tech giant and Facebook-owned Oculus.
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Both headsets require special apps and a narrow range of compatible smartphones to function, however, limiting their appeal among the everyday users their makers keenly want to attract. The Daydream and Gear VR also can't track their wearers' positions relative to the room in which they're standing, a key requirement for immersive VR games and other experiences.
Their alternatives are expensive headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, which cost several hundred dollars and require both external tracking sensors and a cable connection to a PC with a powerful dedicated graphics card. A standalone set like the Daydream reference design announced today combines the best of both worlds: untethered from a computer but with all the tracking and other sensors required to run the most immersive apps.
Oculus is working on a standalone headset, too. Its Santa Cruz prototype made a brief debut last fall, but appears to be far from ready to hit store shelves and online shopping carts.
If you prefer smartphone-based AR, Google said Lenovo's next flagship smartphone, expected later this year, will support the Daydream platform. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ will also get Daydream support this summer.
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