Qualcomm positioned itself early on in the market for virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) devices, which it groups under the name XR for “eXtended Reality.” At the Snapdragon Tech Summit 2019, which ends on December 5, 2019, the company is giving a boost with the announcement of the Snapdragon XR2. As its name suggests, this is Qualcomm’s second chip dedicated to these immersive uses, but its release is a much more significant milestone.
Indeed, the Snapdragon XR1, announced in May 2018, was an entry-level chip designed for devices requiring little computing power. The recommended solution for high-end devices remained the latest smartphone chip (Snapdragon 845). It is quite different for the XR2. It is based on Snapdragon 865, the flagship of Qualcomm’s products, but has additional optimizations and features specific to the needs of virtual and augmented reality.
Eye monitoring, voice recognition, environmental reconstruction…
It has an impact on many aspects of AR/VR headsets, such as tracking, for which more options are available. The Snapdragon 835 could only operate four cameras (and the XR1 only three), but the XR2 manages up to seven at a time (twelve possible in total, seven active simultaneously). It combines monitoring the user’s position and movements with tracking the movements of the eyes, mouth, and hands (with 26 articulation points). A processor dedicated to computer vision has been integrated to obtain better performance and allow the capture and reconstruction of the real environment in 3D.
Also, eye movement tracking means foveal rendering, and this feature is taken into account by the XR2 (with gains of 25%, according to Hiren Bhinde, Head of XR Products at Qualcomm), as well as the variable-rate shading. For augmented reality experiments, hardware optimizations allow reduced latency for some new generation displays (Field Sequential Displays). The use of DSP for AR/VR is particularly complex and different compared to smartphones, so the Hexagon subcomponent is used differently and has 4 vector extensions (HVX) and individual DSPs for audio and sensors. It allows to control the device’s interface by voice without draining the battery, thanks to a low-power listening function. A context automatic detection feature (device wake-up phrase, alert in case of crying baby…) is also present.
5G compatible for cloud gaming
What about connectivity in all this? Neither Qualcomm nor the manufacturers had previously considered it necessary to equip their helmets or glasses with cellular connections. The same is not valid for the Snapdragon XR2, which is naturally 5G compatible thanks to the X55 modem. Two versions of the chip are available at the OEMs: one with Wi-Fi only, the other with the cellular part also. Qualcomm is highlighting its “Boundless XR” program, which allows wireless connections between stand-alone headphones and PCs, or independent headphones to the cloud for remote computing (heavy applications streamed to the device).
More than five manufacturers already have projects underway with this chip for the first devices to be launched in 2020. Among them is the French project Lynx. Qualcomm is pleased to point out, and rightly so that all the autonomous AR/VR devices on the market today use its chips. According to the company, about 30 of them have been put on the market in the last 16 months.