Qualcomm Powers Up Extended Reality

New Snapdragon platform will trigger more immersive content

Qualcomm used its recent Snapdragon Tech Summit to unveil a range of new chipsets, bringing much of the spotlight to its new 5G-capable smartphone platforms. Beyond these, one of the most exciting new developments came in the shape of the new Snapdragon XR2 platform. This succeeds the Snapdragon XR1 and is set to play a pivotal role in the next phase of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality experiences.

The new chipset promises to change the game on standalone extended reality experiences. According to Qualcomm, it delivers double the CPU and GPU performance of the Snapdragon XR1 platform, four times the video bandwidth and six times the video resolution. To put this into perspective, the additional power will enable features such as low-latency camera passthrough, a resolution of up to 3K by 3K pixels per eye at 90 frames per second and 360-degree video in 8K at 60 frames per second.

The Snapdragon XR2 is also the first platform to support seven concurrent cameras, which will bolster efforts to advance tools such as hand-tracking controls. Twinned with capable hardware, these improvements could unlock a range of new capabilities spanning the whole extended reality spectrum and lead to a really impressive new wave of extended reality devices.

The Snapdragon XR2 also introduces a 5G option, which could be hugely significant given that VR is a popular use for next-generation networks. For example, in South Korea, network operators LG Uplus and SK Telecom have both used VR and AR to differentiate their 5G roll-outs, and others are bundling headsets with data plans. We’ve seen similar examples in the UK, where O2 has launched a partnership with MelodyVR, giving its 5G customers access to VR recordings of live music performances as well as an Oculus Go headset with their subscription. The high data demands of VR content paired with the massive speeds of 5G networks could help to propel both technologies forward, and the Snapdragon XR2 is well placed to support this need.

These capabilities should also excite the gaming community, which has arguably been the most enthusiastic adopter of VR so far. At its summit, Qualcomm announced strategic partnerships with Spatial and Niantic (developer of games including Pokemon Go and Harry Potter Wizards Unite) and said that it’s working closely with the latter to create a reference design for smart glasses that combines hardware, software and content.

I’ve written previously about the importance of aligning the entire stack of hardware and software in the extended reality space for the enterprise segment, and this is no different in the consumer space (see Extending the Enterprise Reality). Tight integration between hardware and software can only stand to deliver stronger extended reality experiences and benefit users.

This is especially true considering the limitations of some extended reality devices so far. Take, for example, the Oculus Quest. In my opinion, this is one of the most significant headsets VR on the market as it can bring six-degrees-of-freedom VR experiences to mass audiences (see Six Degrees Hotter). However, it runs on the Snapdragon 835 platform, which was originally designed for smartphones. Although the Oculus Quest does a good job with most VR experiences, there are some games that it can’t support, and more powerful innards designed specifically for standalone headsets will help to unleash the potential of standalone VR content.

The VR and AR journey has met several challenges so far and there’s still work to do to help the technologies become mainstream in the consumer and enterprise spaces. However, Qualcomm has maintained its commitment to the category and played a huge part in building the ecosystem for extended reality experiences on mobile devices. Its new Snapdragon XR2 platform is a clear demonstration of this dedication and will enable a huge leap in device performance, allowing hardware makers and software developers to create new, immersive extended reality experiences. It’s an exciting time for the product category, with another sign that momentum is building.