Standalone VR headsets are finally ready to take a big leap

The tech company broadly divides media events into two categories: Apple-style events where new products are completed before they hit the store, and Qualcomm-style events where new technologies actual availability Appears well next to, sometimes without even naming the first products. Innovations will be involved. Rather than calling one type of event “better” than the other, I value both; Apple revealed “what is now” while Qualcomm shows “what if”.

Last December, Qualcomm announced a snapshot for devices with mixed reality, called the Snapdragon XR2, which follows a “look what’s coming” strategy. Built specifically for standalone VR and AR headsets, the XR2 smartphone-ready Snapdragon 835 chips appeared ready to be used in devices such as the consumer Oculus Quest and the enterprise HTC Vive Focus Plus thanks to generation-caliber improvements. A chart promised twice CPU and GPU performance, four times pixel throughput, six times display resolution, and 11 times dedicated AI tops. In short, XR2-based all-in-one VR headsets will perform more like PCs than mobile phones.

Qualcomm’s problem – and by extension, all else – was that it did not have the actual product to announce with the super chip. Pokémon Go developer Niantic said it was planning XR2-powered AR specs, but did not offer timelines or imagery, and Qualcomm suggested that OEM announcements follow its partners’ schedule. Two months later, French startup Lynx promised a summer 2020 release for the XR2-based headset, the $ 1,500 Lynx R-1. As of mid-September, however, the R-1 has not shipped, and Lynx is still guaranteeing “products from the first batch” that people pre-order today.

Above: Lynx R-1.

Picture Sincerely: Links

Although Qualcomm did not respond to the investigation at this point, there are indications that the R-1 will not be the first Snapdragon XR2 headset in the market. This week, the Geekbench 5 result supposedly popped up for an undeclared HTC Vive Focus model with the X2, and matches what is known about the possible configuration of the new chipset: a CPU running at 1.8 GHz. Runs at 1.8 GHz, which is paired with Android 10. Results include single and multi-core scores of 924 and 3415, many times faster than those seen in Snapdragon 835-powered headsets such as the Oculus Quest (267/746). The memory description added reliability to the results, matched with expectations that the XR2 would typically be paired with 6GB of RAM, up from 4GB in pre-generation solutions.

Enterprise users may be interested in the new focus – the Focus Plus costs about half what Lynx plans to charge for the R-1 – but I don’t think these are the only Snapdragon XR2 headsets available in the future . In contrast, I believe the XR2 is being adopted by consumer VR and AR headset manufacturers, which Qualcomm allows Venturebeat Last year, meaning that we are finally ready for standalone mixed reality to take its long-awaited big leap forward.

What would an XR2-powered scene actually look like?

Keep in mind that Qualcomm offers chipsets and reference platforms to developers, but the finished XR2-powered headsets will vary from company to company. For example, the fact that a chipset theoretically displays six times the resolution of a pre-VR screen does not mean that the focus sequence will actually deliver six times the pre-resolution of a given headset. Historically, Qualcomm offers chip-level capability, then it is up to each OEM to select parts that make sense for a particular audience, set of applications, and price points.

I strongly believe that the general trend will be towards higher resolution VR displays, but with multiples in the 1.5-2X range instead of 6X. Several months ago, I discussed the noticeable difference in visual clarity offered by Pico’s Neo 2, which provides 1,920 by 2,160 resolution per eye, roughly 2 times the details given by Oculus Quest’s dual 1,440 by 1,600 screens . Under the right circumstances, a screen of that resolution can be largely free of “screen door effect” that allows users to view individual pixels within the black grid, giving users enough polygon and texture detail to wow users Let’s put the onus on the GPU.

Since the Neo 2 is powered by the Snapdragon 845 – a chip that is nearly half in performance between the 835 and the XR2 – I expect the XR2 headset to surpass the Pico offering. As I mentioned in June, the graphics of the Neo 2 look like high-resolution versions of Quest visuals at a decidedly faster refresh rate (75Hz vs. Quest 72Hz). Based on what Qualcomm has said about the XR2, and what the Lynx has shown for the Lynx-R1, it would be reasonable to assume the new crop of headsets generally, if universally 90 Hz. Refresh rates are not used. This means PC-class display speeds, with less chances of nausea.

Facebook Horizon is a virtual social space.

Above: The Facebook Horizon, which is shown to run on a PC, is a virtual social space for shared conversations and entertainment experiences.

Image courtesy: Facebook

Facebook surprised everyone with the performance of the Quest, more complex scenes than the Snapdragon 835 could have imagined (save John Carmack’s 3D graphics wizard of caliber). Qualcomm suggested that the XR2 has twice as much CPU and GPU power compared to the 835, but if the initial benchmark can be believed, it is outlining the capabilities of the new chipset. Since the graphics in the PlayStation VR titles were not nearly as predictable as they were, it is reasonable to expect that the XR2-powered titles would rival the current-generation console VR, if not the entry-level PC VR. Beyond games, this means that social applications such as Facebook Horizon and productivity / streaming apps such as virtual desktops can look roughly as elaborate, complex, and as an Oculus Rift on an X2-powered headset.

One caveat: “current generation” and “entry level” targets are running. Today, we are only two months away from the console generation transition, and even basic PCs continue to improve graphics performance every day. There is no way in the world that a mobile-class XR2 headset will completely eliminate the need for high-spec dedicated machines, but if the quest continues, the visual delta between tethers and teetherless headsets matters little. Will keep

What about XR2 AI?

While raw numbers came out last December, the Snapdragon XR2’s AI processing capabilities have been underestimated, and may be a major factor in improving the performance of mixed reality headsets. Here, the difference between the Snapdragon 835 and XR2 is an 11X improvement – 15 trillion operations per second (TOPS) vs. approximately 1.3 TOPS 835. That’s two-thirds more than Qualcomm’s laptop-class Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, and on paper, equivalent to what’s in the flagship-class Snapdragon 865 smartphone chipset.

I say “on paper” because the raw number of instructions does not necessarily tell the full story of AI performance; Quantity matters, but so do quality and system-level engineering and software considerations for using capabilities. That said, if you think about the early days of Oculus Quest, the limited computer vision system magically provided room-scale SLAM scanning and 6DoF controller tracking, which Facebook later added impressively to smooth hand tracking Updated for. Imagine what a headset could do with 10 hours of AI horsepower with tracking and cameras – then assume that unloading some AI-related functions from the CPU would also free it up for better general purpose performance.

Virtual hand image from Oculus Quest hand tracking

Above: Oculus Quest Hand Tracking.

Image courtesy: Facebook

There are other ways that AI capabilities can affect the performance of mixed reality headsets, including empowering computer opponents and generating solutions to semi-novel problems. They will also be capable of rich voice control and – augmented reality headsets – help segment live visuals so they can seamlessly blend with digital content.

How soon?

Thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic and general economic uncertainty, plans for several XR developers changed in 2020: Magic leap erupted, HTC CEO resigned, Facebook renamed Oculus Connect and moved it entirely online , And many VR developers sold themselves, and / or shut down. Somewhat the Lynx might have expected to hit their proposed summer date for the R-1 in February, it’s not at all surprising that it didn’t.

Nothing is definitive at this point, but I am confident that we are closer to seeing Snapdragon XR2 headsets in stores – in particular, stronger CPU / GPU / AI horsepower rather than the beginner, more deluxe models without 5G connectivity. Will combine with Freedom of a cellular connection. I will not expect those until next year, and even then, only in regions with a much stronger 5G infrastructure than in the United States. When that happens – and this one when, if not – we’ll start seeing VR and AR everywhere, and it will be another big step forward for a collection of already exciting and rapidly evolving technologies.