Google Debuts Features to Enable Browsing the Internet in VR

Google has been a significant player in defining and deploying what’s called WebVR, which enables VR websites to provide content directly to virtual reality headsets via standard capabilities. But Google has a much broader vision: it would like users to be able to access all websites in VR including those not created with virtual reality in mind. Currently, a user would have to take the VR headset off and on as she jumped from site to site. Google thinks it’s a better idea to let the user remain in an entirely VR environment.

According to Road to VR, Google is working hard on doing just this, by adding a “fully immersive browsing capability to Chrome.” Helping to make that possible, Google Chrome Beta now offers a “WebVR setting, which enables enhanced VR device compatibility with VR websites built against WebVR standards.” One step behind Beta, Google Chrome Dev also has what the company calls a VR Shell setting.

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The VR Shell, says Chromium executive François Beaufort, “allows users to browse the Web while using Cardboard or Daydream-ready viewers.” Road to VR says, “The VR Shell doesn’t seem to be fully functional yet, but both options are working their way through Chrome’s various development channels with the goal of eventually landing in the stable release that goes wide to all users.”

“Today I can view a WebVR scene on an iOS [device], even if Mobile Safari doesn’t support WebVR API, thanks to a polyfill + device accelerometers,” says WebVR developer Josh Carpenter, explaining how the new WebVR option differs from WebVR functionality “already supported by most modern browsers through existing standards.”

According to Carpenter, “What the WebVR API gives us on top of that is much richer ecosystem support, things like link traversal between WebVR experiences without dropping out of VR mode, and more.”

Today’s Chrome on Android version has been downloaded 1 to 5 billion times; the hope is that the new version will “bring VR Web browsing to a much larger group.” Google is also working on bringing Chrome support to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on desktop. Another VR browser comes from Samsung, which introduced one for its Gear VR headset. Although it “achieves similar functionality,” it’s not “available to the wider Android ecosystem.”