I love it when a plan comes together. For the past two years, I’ve been a big proponent of mobile virtual reality (VR), which has no wires, and in particular standalone VR HMDs, or head-mounted displays, which are purpose-built for VR.
Mobile VR is the future of VR. Users don’t want cables; they don’t want a complex setup; they don’t want expensive devices; but they do want advanced user experiences with positional tracking, rich graphics, and a wide variety of content.
The mobile industry is poised to bring VR to the masses given its scale to offer affordable solutions, its pace of innovation to enable year-over-year improvement, and its power efficiency to deliver low power and thermal budgets for sleek form factors.
Smartphone VR is already delighting consumers. Just about everyone has a smartphone, and users with premium smartphones can experience high-quality VR by simply sliding their phone into a low-cost HMD accessory. Standalone VR HMDs take the experience to the next level since they are made just for VR. For example, they may include multiple cameras for realistic tracking (head/eye/hand), provide an optimized thermal and power solution, and be designed for comfort (i.e., the weight is evenly distributed across the head). In addition, standalone VR offers the lowest friction to usage since it requires no setup — you simply put it on.
Qualcomm Technologies recently announced a HMD Accelerator Program (HAP) to help VR device manufacturers quickly develop premium standalone VR HMDs. At the core of this program is the standalone VR HMD reference design. It goes beyond a simple prototype device, offering a detailed reference design that allows manufacturers to apply their own customizations while utilizing our engineering, design, and experience in VR. The reference design is engineered to minimize software changes, hardware issues, and key component validation.
Believe me, sourcing the right cutting-edge components, from cameras and sensors to lenses and displays, to create an optimized and holistic solution, is no small task in these early days of VR. We’re excited to have recently added and validated several new hardware components to support more immersive VR experiences.
To interact with the virtual world, we worked with Ximmerse on controllers optimized for Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platforms for high-precision drift-free tracking and low latency. The Ximmerse Flip is a 3 Degrees of Freedom (3 DoF) VR controller that can provide just about any interaction, such as pointing, selecting, grabbing, shooting, and much more. For precise 6 DoF positional tracking of your head, tight integration is required between the sensor fusion processing (Snapdragon) and the data from both the camera and inertial sensors.
We worked closely with Bosch Sensortec to integrate the BMX055 absolute orientation sensor, which includes the accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, for precise and high-frequency inertial measurements.
We also worked closely with OmniVision to integrate the OV9282, a 1-megapixel high-speed global shutter image sensor, for precise feature tracking.
For successful product launches, we also provide best practices to meet key VR quality metrics, such as low motion-to-photon latency, precise 6 DoF head tracking, and optimized system-level power for sustained usage. As a result, VR device manufacturers can create a high-quality VR HMD product, with quick commercialization and low development costs.
To support the development of premium VR content, we also launched the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR Development Kit (VRDK). The VRDK gives developers early access to a Snapdragon 835 VR HMD and an upgraded Snapdragon VR Software Development Kit (SDK). The SDK is designed to provide developers with access to optimized, advanced VR features on Snapdragon VR devices, while abstracting the complexity to create immersive VR experiences. Ultimately, this simplifies development and allows developers to attain improved VR performance and power efficiency.
There’s been great VR industry traction and adoption. For example, we collaborated with Google and ODMs from the HAP — GoerTek in particular — on the Daydream standalone VR headset reference design, powered by the Snapdragon 835 VR platform. At Google IO 2017, Lenovo and HTC announced Daydream standalone VR HMDs based on this reference design.
In China, many different standalone VR HMDs powered by Snapdragon have already launched based on the Snapdragon 820 VR HMD reference design (the precursor of the HAP), including Pico Neo and Goblin, iQiYi Adventure, Baofeng Matrix, and Whaley VR. We expect the momentum to continue with the HAP as the benefits of purpose-built standalone VR HMDs show their merit.
VR isn’t the end of the story. We envision a HMD evolution path where VR and augmented reality (AR) converge into sleek, fashionable extended reality (XR) sunglasses. On the standalone AR front, we’ve seen progress with products like the ODG R8 and R9 that also use our reference design as a starting point.
It may take many years for our XR vision to come to fruition, but we are investing in fundamental XR technologies and continuing to collaborate with the ecosystem to accelerate the timeframe. In fact, we expect up to tens of millions of units (either AR, VR, or XR devices) to ship by early next decade.
XR has a promising future, and I look forward to working with the various players in the ecosystem to make our vision a reality. Stay tuned for more news on our products, ecosystem collaboration, and the evolution of the HMD Accelerator Program.