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Google and Lenovo’s standalone VR headset will ship by mid-2018

Google and Lenovo’s standalone VR headset will ship by mid-2018

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Lenovo Mirage Solo with Google Daydream
Image: Lenovo

Lenovo has announced the first self-contained VR headset based on Google’s Daydream platform, called the Lenovo Mirage Solo. The Mirage Solo supports the same experiences as existing Daydream headsets, but it’s a standalone piece of hardware, not a shell powered by a mobile phone. Unlike those headsets, it also lets users walk around virtual space using inside-out “WorldSense” tracking. Its price will be under $400, and is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2018, alongside Lenovo’s Mirage VR streaming camera, which is priced under $300.

Google announced standalone Daydream headsets at last year’s I/O conference, and we were able to try an internal prototype. But this announcement gives us a fuller picture of the product. The Mirage Solo is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 VR platform, and has 4GB of RAM, with a promised battery life of seven hours. It weighs 645 grams, which makes it one of the heaviest mainstream VR headsets — the same weight as Samsung’s Odyssey, and more than the combined 404-gram weight of a Daydream View with a Pixel 2. The screen is a 5.5-inch LCD that offers 1280 x 1440 pixels per eye. And there’s 64GB of storage, with a microSD slot for more space.

The Mirage Solo’s black-and-white design looks a little like Samsung’s Gear VR, but with a headband shape that’s similar to the Sony PlayStation VR or Samsung Odyssey. You can see two front-facing cameras that handle tracking, using technology drawn from Google’s now-defunct Tango program. Overall, it’s a pretty stark — and not necessarily positive — change from Google’s fabric-covered Daydream View, but it also seems designed to offer greater stability.

Lenovo Mirage Solo VR headset with Daydream

According to a press release, the Mirage Solo’s play space has a diameter of around 5 feet (1.5 meters). That’s far less space than you’d get on high-end tethered headsets like the HTC Vive, which lets you move up to 16 feet diagonally, but it’s still a reasonable range of motion, if the tracker works as well as the prototype we tried.

The Mirage Solo doesn’t have fully tracked motion controllers, though. As expected, it uses the same motion-sensitive remote as other Daydream headsets. Google’s augmented and virtual reality chief Clay Bavor says full-hand tracking is an intuitive next step after inside-out tracking, but “that will come when the technology is ready, in a form factor that we feel is really ready for consumers.”

“You could do a watered-down version ... on a phone, but it’s important we get the experience right.”

It also doesn’t sound like Google’s close to putting Mirage Solo-style tracking in phone-based Daydream headsets. Tango made this theoretically possible, but Google has backed away from the idea of putting extra cameras in phones. Bavor says that Lenovo’s headset only works with a carefully placed array of sensors. “You could do a watered-down version of that on a phone, but it’s important we get the experience right. So [it’s] not in the cards just yet.”

While the price hasn’t been set, Mirage Solo seems set to be cheaper than the Vive, but roughly similar to the Oculus Rift or Sony PlayStation VR, and a major jump from the upcoming $199 Oculus Go, a similarly self-contained headset. But the Go doesn’t feature inside-out tracking, and tethered headsets like the Rift require an external computer or console, which adds to the cost. “The price point being a bit higher is something that given the technology, the quality of the experience, and so on, we really felt was worth the tradeoff,” says Bavor.

Google describes Daydream as a broad platform for multiple manufacturers, but so far, Lenovo has the only standalone iteration; HTC announced one, then canceled its release. The entire Daydream platform has grown slowly — Google’s Daydream View remains the only phone-based headset — and that trend seems like it’s holding steady. “We’ve gone deep with a small set of partners, and as the content, the technology, [and] the overall market matures, we’ll look at expanding further,” says Bavor. Lenovo has a long history with Google’s AR and VR efforts, and released the first phone with Google Tango in 2016, so it makes sense as an early Daydream partner.

The Mirage Solo is an interesting experiment for Google and Lenovo, but we don’t know exactly how it will change the Daydream landscape. If most Daydream users will still use phone-based hardware, developers (who are already working on a tiny platform) may not take advantage of head tracking. Lenovo is promoting its headset alongside a YouTube-focused camera, and most VR video will look exactly the same with or without inside-out tracking. On the other hand, a new Blade Runner-themed experience (one of multiple VR Blade Runner projects) will benefit from both inside-out tracking and Google’s Seurat optimization system, which renders mobile VR scenes with impressive visual quality.

Self-contained headset designs and inside-out tracking are two of VR’s next big steps — so it’s good to see Google and Lenovo finally show us the date, the price, and the look of one.

Update January 9th, 2:50PM ET: This article was corrected to reflect the price has not yet been specified.