Pretty much every mobile VR platform runs on a smartphone SoC in one way or the other. The most popular implementations of Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream platforms strap entire smartphones onto users' faces, and HTC's Vive Focus and Oculus' Go are built around Qualcomm processors. The San Diego-based chipmaker hopes its new XR1 SoC can help it secure its footing as the leader in silicon for mobile VR and AR, a broad product category it calls “XR.”
Qualcomm's press release was pretty short on details, vaguely stating that the new silicon would bring together the company's ARM CPU cores, vector processor, GPU, and AI engine. The company says the XR1's hardware features are backed up by an advanced XR software service layer, an XR-specific SDK, and Qualcomm's security-and-connectivity special sauce. The company's announcement specifically listed support for 4K video playback at up to 60 FPS and the Vulkan, OpenCL, and OpenGL APIs.
The XR1 supports controller-tracking schemes with three or six degrees-of-freedom, depending on the camera and sensor configuration of the surrounding device. As for audio, Qualcomm says the XR1 SoC supports its proprietary Aqstic 3D audio and aptX hi-fi technologies. The platform also has visual inertial odometry features for placing augmented objects into scenes. Qualcomm says its Spectra ISP can reduce noise from incoming camera feeds in order to provide the user a better representation of the outside world in augmented reality applications, too.
Qualcomm didn't provide any information about pricing or availability for the XR1 SoC, but that's not terribly surprising—this is more of a foundation for mobile AR and VR companies to build atop on the way to selling retail hardware. Anandtech says the new platform is designed for a midrange class of mobile headset in between low-cost strap-a-phone-on-your-face systems and premium HMDs based on the latest whiz-bang smartphone tech like HTC's pricey Vive Focus. The most prominent current member of the mobile VR middle class is the Oculus Go, a headset that uses a midrange Snapdragon smartphone chip with more performance-oriented power management to deliver a three-DoF experience for under $200. We'll be keeping an eye out to see where the XR1 shows up.