Snapdragon 845 VR reference headset stretches its wings

Most would agree that a high-end PC with a fast CPU and a discrete video card can deliver better graphics to a VR headset than a smartphone SoC, and with better frame rates and lower latency to boot. However, the issues of a fractured developer community, device drivers, sensors, and a potential tangled mess of cords could make standalone VR headsets more attractive and immersive. Qualcomm is hoping for increased adoption of standalone VR headsets with its SoCs inside, and it's unveiled its latest Snapdragon 845 mobile VR reference platform in an effort to guide the company's hardware partners on the way forward.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile VR platform mockup

The Snapdragon 845 SoC has shown itself to be faster than its Snapdragon 835 forebear in most tests, particularly those that let the new chip's Adreno 630 IGP flex its muscles. Qualcomm says the new chip has 30% faster graphics performance and 30% better power efficiency than the Snapdragon 835. That should let the 845 deliver higher-fidelity visuals than its predecessor. The company says that eye-tracking features and Adreno Foveation technology can help the headset save processing power by only rendering the area where the user is looking at maximum fidelity. The faster Wi-Fi and 4G LTE capabilities in the 845 SoC could allow streaming of VR content from more powerful systems that those currently in use, too.

According to The Verge, Qualcomm's platform can update its pair of 1024x1152 screens 120 times per second. For comparison's sake, HTC's premium Vive Pro headset uses two 1440x1600 displays capable of a 90-Hz refresh rate. The outlet reports that Qualcomm's platform has two outward-facing cameras and two more snappers facing inward to monitor eye movement. Google's Amit Singh says the Snapdragon 845's integrated Hexagon DSP allows the search giant's Daydream team to "achieve significant power improvements and optimizations we aren't able to reach on other platforms."

Qualcomm developed the Snapdragon 845 VR reference platform in conjunction with Chinese electronics developer GoerTek, continuing a relationship it established with 2016's Snapdragon VR820 mobile headset and the Snapdragon 835 VR reference platform. The company says its six degrees of freedom (6DoF) and simultaneous localization and mapping technologies can work together to deliver room-scale VR experiences without any extra hardware. The previous-gen Snapdragon 835 already powers HTC's Vive Focus mobile VR headset, which started shipping to Chinese customers earlier this year.

Qualcomm didn't say anything about the price or availability of headsets using its Snapdragon 845 mobile VR platform, but it did name-drop Google Daydream, HTC, and Oculus as partners in the first wave of standalone VR devices. It seems more likely than not that we'll see Snapdragon 845 guts in retail-ready standalone headsets reasonably soon.

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