Months after unveiling the Snapdragon 845-based VR Reference Design, Qualcomm has announced the XR1 SoC meant to power augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices. The new SoC, which can safely consider as an upgrade over the Snapdragon 821 that is powering the affordable Oculus Go headset, is notably the company's first dedicated Extended Reality (XR) platform. It is designed to specifically power standalone VR headsets with artificial intelligence (AI) to enable better interactivity, power consumption, and thermal efficiency over the existing models, including the Oculus Go. Meta, Vive, Vuzix, and Picoare are the first manufacturers who already developing their models based on the XR1 chip. However, the new hardware is not likely to debut until the end of the year or in early 2019.
Qualcomm already has the Snapdragon 845 as the premium solution to bring AR and VR to the masses. The San Diego-based company also highlighted some of the advanced capabilities of its flagship SoC at the time of announcing its first VR Reference Design. These include eye tracking to render VR content in front of users' view and support for 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) and SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) for a roomscale experience. Nonetheless, the XR1 SoC fulfils the requirements of simpler devices. It is also meant majorly for videos instead of delivering a top-notch gaming experience.
Devices featuring the XR1 SoC are touted to offer 4K video content at up to 60fps frame rate. There are also new dedicated hardware and software algorithms that are available within Qualcomm Spectra Image Signal Processor (ISP) to provide fine results. Further, the chip has integrated display processor with a range of display options, dual-display support, 3D overlays, and support various graphics APIs, including OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan. The company has also offered advanced vision processing capabilities that give the base to technologies such as Visual Intertial Odometry (VIO).
On the audio side, the XR1 SoC has Qualcomm Technologies 3D Audio Suite, Qualcomm Aqstic Audio Technologies, and Qualcomm aptX Audio. There is additionally an "always-on, always-listening" voice assistance and support for Bluetooth playback. The new chip also includes head-related transfer functions (HRTF) that enable human ears to synthesize binaural sound that feels just like it comes from a specific point in space.
For XR (Extended Reality) devices, the new Qualcomm SoC has support for three-degrees of freedom (3DoF) and 6DoF head tracking and controller. It also includes an integrated sensor hub and optimised fusion abilities to let users experience rich interactions with motion to photon latencies under the scientifically required 20ms.
Qualcomm hasn't specified the specifications of the XR1 SoC. However, it does mention in the formal release that there will be a heterogeneous compute architecture with an ARM-based multi-core CPU, vector processor, GPU, and Qualcomm AI Engine. The SoC will also come with an advanced XR software service layer, machine learning software, and Snapdragon XR SDK. Moreover, we can safely presume that the block structure of the new model will be similar to the Snapdragon range of SoCs, though there will not be the modems to enable cellular connectivity.
Alongside the hardware to enable enhanced AR and VR experiences, the Qualcomm XR1 SoC will have power consumption and thermal efficiency. These are vital as users will require a long-enough battery life to play content for long hours, and heating issues will directly impact the playback experience.
"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," said Alex Katouzian, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Business Unit, Qualcomm Technologies, in a statement while announcing the new SoC.