Standalone VR headsets are starting to take off now. The most prominent device is the Oculus Go. These headsets are self-contained. They don’t need a smartphone or a tethered computer in order to work. Since they are purpose built for VR and do nothing else, the hardware is optimized. The screens, power profile, batteries and everything else are built to do VR as well as possible. Even the most expensive smartphones won’t do as well when shoved into a mobile HMD case. These headsets might represent the mainstream face of VR and AR. While most people will balk at shelling out $2000 or more for a VR rig, $199 for an Oculus Go is perfectly reasonable.
Hard for the Wares
Although the Oculus Go has only been out for a month as I write this, the hardware that drives standalone HMDs is evolving in interesting ways. Apart from the fact that these HMDs have special low-persistence screens, it’s the processors that are of real interest. The Go makes use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 system-on-a-chip. It’s a pretty powerful piece of hardware. It powered several 2017 flagship phones such as the Google Pixel, Mi Note 2 and Zenfone 3. It was however not purpose-built for VR. The Snapdragon 835, on the other hand, has VR-specific features built in. Qualcomm have even gone further and released the 835 VR variant, which powers the new Lenovo Mirage Solo.
These are all great chips, but now Qualcomm have announced the their first hardware that’s been built with the sole purpose of powering standalone AR and VR headsets. It’s called the XR1 and is the harbinger of big things in small packages.
If you’re wondering why why it’s called the “XR” that’s because Qualcomm have decided to muddle the jargon a bit more. They are calling this an “Extended Reality” platform which I guess is a catchall for AR/VR/MR and everything in between.
The company explicitly targets mainstream consumer devices with the XR1. The idea is to optimize from the ground up for XR experiences on all fronts: audio, video, motion and everything else you need. It includes a dedicated multi-core CPU. a vector processor, a GPU and a dedicated AI engine.
Qualcomm says the XR1 can handle 4K video at 60FPS. So if anyone is bringing a 4K standalone HMD to market they are already sorted. It supports up to 6DoF, hardware spatial audio processing. There’s bound to be more features, but that’s about as specific as they are getting at the moment.
We also know which product is likely to feature the XR1 first. The upcoming new version of the Vuzix Blade AR smart glasses will have an XR1 nestled in its innards. It’s not a full HMD though and that’s where the XR1 will have a real chance to shine. So hopefully one will be announced by someone soon.