Google is working on deploying a framework in its Chrome browser that will allow users to browse the entire catalogue of websites on the Internet in VR.
The search giant played a fundamental role in defining and deploying WebVR, which is a set of standards that allow for VR websites to serve virtual reality content directly to support head units.
This is great for those websites that have been specifically developed for virtual reality and provide a native immersive experience built on the WebVR framework, but there are still a ton of sites that haven’t even considered virtual reality as a viewing medium.
Google is actively working on this exact issue and included in the latest builds of Google Chrome Beta and Google Chrome Dev on Android there is now a WebVR setting. This allows for those websites built on the WebVR standard to be viewed in full virtual reality as intended with a compatible device. However, this is taken one step further in the Chrome Dev build on desktops by building in support for a feature called VR Shell. This is a setting that enables a browser shell for virtual reality that subsequently allows the user to browse the web using Cardboard or Daydream viewers in full VR. The option is available in the browser’s Flags page, accessed by entering chrome://flags in the URL bar and means even if a website isn’t built on the WebVR standard, users can still view it in virtual reality.
Obviously the VR Shell feature is still in very early form so the experience and functionality is somewhat limited, but expect this to make its way to the stable builds of Chrome very soon.
Google WebVR developer Josh Carpenter puts the VR Shell in perspective when compared with where VR viewing on the web currently is:
“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. Which is awesome. The web’s got reach. 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.”
With Daydream VR gaining traction, this is exactly what Google needs to highlight Chrome as the browser of choice for virtual reality. Rather than waiting for web developers to utilise the WebVR standard, Google can allow anyone to view the entire Internet in virtual reality.