Qualcomm Introduces its First Chip Dedicated to AR/VR Headsets

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There are a lot of processes running on a smartphone-optimized chipsets. But to date, none of those chips have been fully dedicated to augmented and virtual reality headsets they’ve just been repurposed phone processors.

Qualcomm just announced that it has built a chipset that is totally dedicated to standalone headsets. Qualcomm’s, Snapdragon XR1 is the first chipset focused exclusively on AR and VR that is collectively referred to as ‘XR’ buy the company.

Users can enjoy and experience streaming 4K 30fps content on XR1-powered devices. This new chip is supposed to make it somewhat cheaper for companies to build entry-level versions of augmented and virtual reality gadgets, the first of which are expected to release at the end of this year or in early 2019. The company had a number of headset manufacturers onstage for the announcement which includes HTC Vive, Vuzix, Meta and Pico. 

Qualcomm describes XR1 gadgets as being made for “lean back and 360 viewing” of videos and equipped with “simple controllers”. The chip is also capable of voice activation and controllers that detect movement with six degrees of freedom. The XR1 chipset is probably a lower-cost option for hardware manufacturers as they don’t want to pay to for an architecture that’s built around handling tasks that their devices won’t tackle.

When compared to the newly released Snapdragon 845 with its own VR reference design, the XR1 is looking at low-cost devices that have a better chance at making it on shelves in the near-term. The XR1 won’t support free-moving 6DoF like the 845, but will support tighter movements like its 835 VR platform did.

Qualcomm XR lead Hiren Bhinde said that the new chipset “will handle fewer workloads as opposed to the 845 for similar power and thermal benchmarks,” while noting that, “[t]here are also some AR customers who don’t need the high graphics or memory bandwidth supported in 845 for their devices, which is what makes the XR1 a perfect fit for them.”

It would be interesting to see whether Qualcomm decides to build higher-end chips in the XR line. With the dedicated hardware, it should be able to support more powerful VR- and AR-specific features than it could with a general purpose chip. The XR1 could give manufacturers in the AR/VR space the added boost they need to start shipping hardware.