Google's VR vision extends beyond Cardboard and Daydream.
The company began embracing virtual reality a few years ago when it launched a Cardboard DIY headset with a viewer certification program. Then, in 2016, it introduced the Daydream VR platform, followed by a Daydream mobile VR headset that uses a smartphone for processing power. While those two projects should be keeping Google plenty busy, it hasn't stopped there.
It is now reportedly working on a headset that doesn't need a smartphone or PC to power it (much like the Oculus Santa Cruz prototype headset teased in October). It's not limited to VR, either. It'll supposedly blend virtual reality with augmented reality, meaning it might function a lot like Microsoft's HoloLens headset. In other words, Google is being very ambitious.
Here's everything we know so far about Google’s standalone headset. Keep in mind we're in early days territory here, so some of the finer details aren't yet known, but we'll continue to update this piece over time as more information about the headset surfaces.
Google's VR/AR headset: What's it called?
We currently don't know what Google's upcoming AR/VR headset will be called. A codename hasn't even popped up yet.
Google's VR/AR headset: How will it work?
First of all, Google's virtual-reality headset will be more legit than Cardboard. The Wall Street Journal said Google is developing an "all-in-one virtual-reality headset". It doesn't require a secondary device, such as a smartphone, computer, or even a game console, meaning it would be one of the first headsets in recent history to power and display a VR experience all on its own. Even the $599 Oculus Rift relies on a PC.
Keep in mind, Facebook-owned Oculus VR recently demoed a standalone prototype it's working on, which you can read all about here. Santa Cruz is basically a cable-free version of the Rift. From what we can tell, the form factor of the Santa Cruz looks nearly identical to the Rift, though it appears to have a motherboard/computer on board, which is roughly the size of a deck of cards, attached to the rear head strap.
Like the Santa Cruz, Google's planned standalone headset should deliver a quality experience. It will feature a screen, high-powered chips, and outward-facing cameras. Google plans to use chips from Movidius, and the cameras will be able to track the motion of the user's head. It's worth noting this WSJ report from February 2016 followed news that Google named Clay Bavor as its VR chief.
However, in July 2016, Recode claimed Google decided not to take on Oculus, HTC, and PlayStation. The company was said to prefer the mobile VR route instead and actually ditched its more ambitious plans for VR. Scrapping the standalone headset came at some cost, the report claimed, because around 50 employees were reportedly working on it as well as a VR operating system separate to Android.
As of October 2016, Google might be working on a standalone headset that's part virtual reality and part augmented reality. According to Engadget, the device will use sensors and feature integrated eye-tracking technologies and algorithms that let it "map out the real-world space in front of a user", essentially blurring the lines between VR and AR (which sounds a lot like Project Tango technology).
Engadget said Google's upcoming VR/AR headset will work without a smartphone and offer an experience that's not as closed off as current VR headsets. It therefore might function like Microsoft HoloLens. Movidius, the computer vision company that Intel is acquiring, is once again rumoured to be supplying some of the components powering the headset.
In October 2016, new documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission revealed Google is testing a prototype wireless virtual reality device. The documents asked for permission to conduct testing on the device with its employees, contractors, and developers. They also stated the new device would transmit across a very broad range of frequencies, from 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz.
The Drum said this suggested Google's VR headset has a built-in radio similar to the Google Glass augmented reality headset that was discontinued in 2015. The documents also listed Mike Jazayeri as one of the contacts on the fillings. He joined Google in 2005 and previously worked on Google's Cardboard headset. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now the director of product management for Google's VR group.
Google's VR/AR headset: Is it a Daydream headset?
No. The headset is being described as "high end" and will reportedly be separate from Google's Daydream mobile VR platform.
Google's VR/AR headset: When will it be available?
We currently don't know when Google's VR/AR headset will be available, but Daydream will start shipping in November in the UK and US.
Google's VR/AR headset: How much will it cost?
We currently don't know how much Google's VR/AR headset will cost if and when it launches for consumers.