Qualcomm is looking to make Extended Reality (XR) the next big thing in mobile computing. XR is the term that Qualcomm has coined to describe the full gamut of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR) experiences. With XR, Qualcomm is looking to provide a single platform that developers will be able to leverage for an array of different devices.
This is how Qualcomm describes XR:
At some point in the future, we envision the convergence of the smartphone, mobile VR headset, and AR glasses into a single XR wearable. In this scenario, a single pair of XR glasses will primarily be used for AR, but will also occasionally be used for VR. XR could replace all the other screens in your life, like that big TV in your living room.
To power these XR experiences, Qualcomm is announcing a dedicated XR Platform, aptly dubbed Snapdragon XR1. According to the company, Snapdragon XR1 has been specifically optimized for AR and includes artificial intelligence (AI) hardware to improve overall efficiency and deliver a high quality experience.
At the heart of the Snapdragon XR1 is a multi-core, Kyro-based CPU. Although Qualcomm is being coy about the SoC it is based on and hasn’t revealed many details, we’re told that it sits below the Snapdragon 845 VR Platform. However, we should note that there are numerous design changes to the CPU cores, GPU, and memory architecture specifically designed to enhanced the user experience, so a true direct comparison can’t be made.
What Qualcomm does say, however, is that the platform will be capable of delivering UHD 4K video at up to 60 frames per second (i.e. for movies, TV shows, and sports programming) and that new algorithms – both software and hardware – have been incorporated into the Spectra ISP. Snapdragon XR1 will also support Qualcomm’s full suite of audio technologies including Aqstic Audio and aptX Audio.
For total immersion in VR and AR, Qualcomm has enabled both three- and six-degrees of freedom head-tracking and incorporated controller support into Snapdragon XR1. And as you might expect, Qualcomm has a number of players currently developing for the XR1 platform including HTC/VIVE, Meta, Vuzix and Picoare.
All of this sounds great, but what can we expect in the real word with headsets that support Snapdragon XR1? For starters, Qualcomm is dividing the segment into two categories: High Quality and Premium Quality. The former will support 3DoF, 360-degree viewing angles when lounging around on your couch, and more simplistic controllers. The latter, however, will support 6DoF, room-scale tracking and positioning, and will incorporate more sophisticated controllers with hand-tracking support.
With these XR headsets, Qualcomm says you’ll be able to watch your favorite content (like movies and sports programming), play interactive games, automatically capture what’s happening in front of you in the real world without missing a beat (i.e. recording your child’s little league baseball game through your XR specs), and share what you’re seeing (and working on) with colleagues around the globe.
“As technology evolves and consumer demand grows, we envision XR devices playing a wider variety of roles in consumers’ and workers’ daily lives,” said Alex Katouzian, SVP and GM of Qualcomm’s Mobile Business Unit. “By integrating powerful visuals, high-fidelity audio, and rich interactive experiences, XR1 will help create a new era of high-quality, mainstream XR devices for consumers.”
According to Qualcomm, 45 percent of people think that current AR and VR devices are too expensive, and 46 percent of people prefer standalone devices that allow them to be untethered from a computer. Snapdragon XR1 is Qualcomm’s attempt to answer those demands. Should things go to plan, the company expects that the install base for AR + VR will reach 186 million by the year 2023.
As for when we’ll see the fruits of Qualcomm’s (and its OEM partners’) labor, all the company is saying now is that the Snapdragon XR1 platform is “coming soon”.