Aug 4, 2020
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
With more VR and AR headsets launching, mainstream consumers now have access to worlds beyond, well, reality. These standalone devices provide a glimpse of XR’s potential, but haven’t tapped into 5G experiences yet.
XR viewers, however, are lighter-weight alternatives that can look and feel more like typical glasses while offering more enhanced experiences, too. They tether to 5G smartphones, which enables higher data rates, lower latency, and edge processing for more immersive XR use cases. They can also provide high resolution displays and Six Degrees of Freedom (6DoF), so you can actually walk around inside photorealistic virtual worlds.
A variety of XR viewers from more companies will be available later this year. To learn more, we spoke with Sajith Balraj, director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, about their benefits of the Qualcomm XR Optimized Program.
Q: What are XR viewers, and how do they work?
A: An XR viewer is essentially an AR or VR headset that is connected to a smartphone through a USB cable, though in the future, it could wirelessly connect over Wi-Fi 6E. The viewer includes a display, camera sensors for head tracking, and smaller processors. Information collected by the sensors is sent to the smartphone, where almost all of the XR processing occurs, including graphics processing.
Q: What are a few pain points for XR, and how do XR viewers address them?
A: Latency is the first thing that comes to mind. Lag can instantly pull you out of an immersive virtual experience, especially in gaming. Because XR viewers are connected to 5G smartphones, however, you can stay engaged. This also opens the door to new use cases where latency is crucial, like in gaming, virtual collaboration, and immersive education.
There’s also cost. If I already have a 5G smartphone, an XR viewer can be less expensive than standalone headsets and can be sold as a bundle.
Q: What role does 5G play in the XR viewer experience?
A: With 5G connectivity, XR viewers can download VR and AR content and updates almost instantly because of 5G’s high-speed download rates. 5G’s ultra-low latency rates also provide a smooth, lag-free experience.
In future 5G can enable multi-user immersive XR experience with multiple users and extremely photorealistic graphics. In order to deliver the higher frame rates, display resolution, lighting effects like shadows and object occlusion, processing can be split: compute-intensive processing would be done on the edge and compute and latency-sensitive processing done on the viewer/smartphone.
All in all, XR viewers provide a similar XR experience as standalone XR headsets, thanks to 5G.
Q: What kinds of use cases can XR viewers make possible?
A: The larger display enabled by XR viewers will change everything for users. Imagine connecting your XR viewer to your 5G smartphone and streaming movies or gaming with friends on an 80-inch screen in front of you. And because of the XR viewer’s portability, you can work and play anywhere!
XR viewers aren’t only used for entertainment. As people continue to social-distance and work from home, they can further enhance their existing collaboration tools with XR Viewers. Users will be able to work with colleagues in a 3D virtual environment, making the experience feel closer to in-person interaction than typical video calls.
And when it comes to enterprise, XR viewers support remote assistance, which can help guide technicians working in the field by streaming images and instructions through the viewer.
Q: What role does Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform play in the inner workings of XR viewers?
A: Currently, we come in on the smartphone side, since many 5G smartphones are powered by Snapdragon. Within the smartphone, our mobile platforms process algorithms, such as compute-intensive head-tracking algorithms, and optimize them in our hardware for cutting-edge battery life.
Q: What is the Qualcomm XR Optimized Certification Program?
A: The program determines whether certain XR viewers and smartphones are optimized for XR, such that any XR Optimized viewer can work with any XR Optimized smartphone. Without the certification, XR viewer OEMs would have to go through different integration cycles with each smartphone OEM. It’s a bottlenecked process that requires a lot of work.
We recognized these issues of bespoke integration and fragmentation, so we wanted to create a way to simplify the process while driving adoption. Through the program, we deliver XR Optimized software to smartphone OEMs as part of their standard software delivery package. We also work with XR viewer OEMs to define and implement a protocol that’s compatible with participating smartphone OEMs, making it easier for users to connect their XR viewers to their smartphones and go.
In order to get their devices certified, XR viewer OEMs submit their devices to a verification process to help ensure that their commercial viewers are compatible with the established protocol, specs, camera placement, and performance criteria. Smartphone OEMs go through a similar certification process for their 5G smartphones.
We certify both XR viewers and smartphones OEMs independently, so once the devices complete their respective processes, consumers can easily plug their XR viewer into a smartphone and both devices can work together.
Q: How does certification benefit XR viewer OEMs, smartphone OEMs, and consumers?
A: There’s a lot of interest in XR and enabling XR on smartphones. Once XR viewer OEMs achieve certification, they’re able to expand their addressable opportunity to all of the users that have XR Optimized smartphones. That’s a huge benefit. And for smartphone OEMs, certification could drive adoption of their smartphones and reduce the amount of work needed to enable different XR viewers. Because the program includes XR optimization for both devices, consumers can then buy XR Optimized viewers with confidence, knowing they are designed to be compatible with their XR Optimized smartphones and can deliver the XR experiences they crave.
Q: How do you envision the future of XR?
A: The current version of XR viewers are known as “simple viewers,” but eventually, we’ll see more processing move toward the headset while connecting to 6-GHz spectrum, bringing us to “smart viewers.” Smart viewers will have some more processing on the viewer, as well as utilize Wi-Fi 6E for connectivity.
What excites me in terms of witnessing the potential of XR viewers is that they’re a consumer device that will become part and parcel of everything that we do. It’s an indication of the potential of the technology that will fundamentally enable different and better user experiences than we have today. There’s huge promise for XR viewer technology.
XR viewers are proof that XR and 5G naturally go hand-in-hand. At Qualcomm Technologies, we’re enabling XR viewer OEMs and smartphone OEMs to compete, innovate, and grow globally through the Qualcomm XR Optimized Certification Program. And soon, we’ll all be able to experience wireless and boundless XR — powered by 5G.