Chipmaker Qualcomm has introduced a new benchmark design for augmented reality glasses: an AR “smart viewer” that can connect to a phone or PC via USB-C. Called the XR1 Smart Viewer, the system is designed to be lightweight and look like sunglasses, while also enabling features like manual tracking and spatial awareness. The first glasses based on his design will be launched in mid-2021.
The XR1 is designed as a consumer-focused “must have accessory” for phones and computers, rather than a stand-alone product. It uses two 1920 x 1080 OLED displays with a 90 Hz refresh rate, plus a series of cameras, to add a virtual overlay to the real world. The camera set can also support manual tracking as a control scheme, and it can detect planes in the environment, so you can do things like fix a virtual window to a wall for multiple PC displays, or place a virtual object on a table and interact with it through gesture controls. However, like most AR glasses, they have a relatively limited 45-degree field of view, which is more or less similar to the Microsoft HoloLens 2.
Lenovo has already announced a product based on the XR1 smart viewfinder reference design: the ThinkReality A3 glasses, which it unveiled at CES earlier this year. The ThinkReality A3 glasses are scheduled to launch in mid-2021 at a price not currently listed, as a continuation of Lenovo’s 2019 business-focused A6 headphones.
The XR1 smart viewer is distinct from the Snapdragon XR1 or XR2 platforms: a pair of chipsets optimized for virtual and augmented reality glasses, including last year’s XR2-based Oculus Quest 2. It is designed to perform some tasks using embedded electronics, but offloads other tasks to an external computing device, allowing for a lighter design.
Qualcomm has spent the last few years pushing for the adoption of AR glasses, which it believes could stimulate the nascent 5G cellular market by popularizing high-bandwidth mixed reality applications. It previously partnered with the Chinese company Nreal on Nreal Light, one of the only consumer-focused AR viewers, which connects to a phone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 or 865. The Nreal Light was launched late last year in Korea and Japan, and yesterday, Nreal announced that it will arrive in the European Union and the United States later this year.
Until now, AR glasses have struggled to reach the mainstream. However, the ThinkReality A3 and any other XR1 smart viewer-based product may end up competing with a couple of major companies. Facebook announced its imminent entry into AR hardware last year, and it plans to release a Ray-Ban smart glasses set with limited AR-like features later in 2021. Apple is also rumored to be making a high-end AR / VR headset. targeted range in building a developer ecosystem.