Qualcomm’s latest VRDK headset is a reference design that the company has positioned to act as a foundation for consumer electronics makers to create their own headsets based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon VR hardware. Now with manufacturing partners on board, the first consumer headsets based on the VRDK reference design are expected to launch in the second half of 2017.

Qualcomm’s latest VRDK is built on the company’s new Snapdragon 835 chip. While Snapdragon 835 is suitable for a range of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, the company says that the chip has also been built specifically with VR in mind.

As part of their VR efforts, Qualcomm has formed the ‘HMD Accelerator Program’ which is designed to “commercialize VR HMDs quickly with fewer resource restrains.” Basically, Qualcomm wants to use its expertise to help companies build their own VR headsets based on Qualcomm’s hardware. This is similar to Intel’s play with their Project Alloy reference headset.

qualcomm-reference-design-headsetThe root of the HMD Accelerator Program is the Snapdragon 835-based VRDK reference headset, an all-in-one mobile VR headset with inside-out 6DOF tracking, a 90Hz 2560×1440 AMOLED display, 100 degree field of view, 4GB of RAM, eye-tracking, and hand-tracking (via Leap Motion’s new mobile sensor). It’s a complete package that doesn’t require a host PC or a snap-in smartphone. But the VRDK itself won’t be sold, at least not by Qualcomm.

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Companies can use the VRDK as a starting point for creating their own VR headsets which might not look anything like Qualcomm’s VRDK, but would be built on much of Qualcomm’s hardware and underlying technologies. An Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) would choose which hardware and features to keep from the VRDK, and possibly add some of their own to differentiate the device from headsets built by other companies also based on the VRDK.qualcomm vrdk leap motion hand tracking (1)

Qualcomm says that two Original Device Manufacturers (ODM), Goertek and Thundercomm, are the first to join the company’s HMD Accelerator Program. Both companies will offer manufacturing services for OEMs who want a VRDK-based headset built to sell to consumers.

The first of those consumer-ready devices are expected to launch in the second half of 2017, says Qualcomm.

qualcomm-vrdkThe company also plans to distribute the VRDK to content creators to stimulate an ecosystem of applications which are specially built to take advantage of the Snapdragon 835 platform and VR headsets built upon it. Those headsets are expected to go out to developers in Q2 2017.

All-in-one (AIO) headsets have some clear advantages over mobile shell headsets like Gear VR which require a host smartphone to be snapped into the headset. For one, an AIO headset can be optimally designed for VR, whereas a mobile shell headset is restricted to the limitations of smartphone design (thin, small battery, limited heat dissipation). However, there’s some potential downsides too, the biggest of which is perhaps cost. In order to provide a great VR experience, AIO VR headsets need most of the same hardware that’s already in your smartphone (display, CPU, GPU, sensors, battery etc).  That means they could end up being about as costly as a new smartphone.

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Qualcomm and its partners haven’t yet announced any pricing information, so we’ll still have to wait and see where the price point falls, and how quickly it will be able to come down to mainstream levels.


Disclosure: Qualcomm and Road to VR co-hosted a networking event this month during GDC 2017.

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  • Lucidfer

    ….I guess, it’s a nice gadget for testing eye-tracking, hand-tracking and inside-out tracking but “how quickly it will be able to come down to mainstream levels”…it won’t..

  • Smanny

    I can see why mobile VR has sold a lot more than VR units like the Vive and Rifts. Price naturally the biggest problem with those solutions, the second problem is being locked to a specific location or room. Third would be having wires. Why do you think Google’s Cardboard sold over 10 million with 5 million sold alone in 2016. Nevermind all the Cardboard like VR headsets that are not tracked on Amazon and other sites. Gear VR sold over a million in just over a year. Daydream VR only started back in December 2016. Sure they are missing Vives room scale and spacial awareness. However VR headsets like Daydream VR have recently brought a 9-axis controller that bring some spacial awareness to its platform. Granted it’s only in the form of one controller. With no hands or object tracking and room scale. However that was the only advantage that the Vive and Rift have is their spacial and object awareness, and in the Vives case room scale. But with a device like these VR headsets using Qualcomms solution. Then the Vive and Rift have lost their one great advantage. Because the up and coming mobile solutions will have the that advantage. Plus have all the advantages of being a mobile solution as well. Their one major disadvantage is that these devices are dedicated only for VR. Whereas a smartphone solution can be used for VR as well as being a full fledged smartphone.

    This brings me to why mobile smartphone VR solutions will still dominate. Price, and convenience. Not to mention you can also add on things like AR and MR as well. Look at Google’s Tango smartphones, which can also be used for VR, but is also an AR solution as well. As a matter of fact we are going to see more of leap motions hand and immediate object tracking come to more mobile VR headsets that use smartphones in the very near future. So in the short term and for the next year or two mobile VR platforms will dominate and drive this market segment.

    • user

      the disadvantages that mobile vr has is the termal design and the display.
      i assume that its possible to gain control of these problems.
      im not a fan of leap motion and hope that we will see something better later this year.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Sorry, but saying the cardboard (and their plastic variations) is succesfull compared to vive/rifts because it’s wireless etc. is complete BS.. it’s succesfull because it’s cheap and a way to have some extra fun out of your mobile phone.. Daydream is still in it’s infancy, there are hardly any real daydream phones out.
      I do agree that these new mobile headsets like the one qualcomm is promoting, are a way forward, but still the biggest problem with it will be GPU.. People already bitch about the ‘low’ resolution and crap visuals of the Vive and Rift, this one has the same screens but even with much lower GPU specs, and it’s inside out tracking still has to prove itself, also it still doesn’t track external controllers.
      I think hybrids are what is needed, so these headsets will work on it’s own, but also have the capability to connect to a much more powerfull machine.

    • victor

      You generalize way too much sir!
      Of course everyone wants to have VR without wires AND be cheap. But the tech is not there yet for this acheivement. Still, if we talk about tech we do have today, a smart phone solution is NOT a solution and in no way competes with VIve/Oculus! The phone solution is VERY limited in what program it can run and I must say it is only demos and very light sutff. If you want full complex in-depth full features modern games– you need a PC!!!! A Phone is simply not powerful enough and it gets very hot too for long use.

  • Someday it’ll all be mobile. The question is, will it be 5 years, 10 years, or 20+? I wonder if the graphics will be the biggest hurdle, or just the battery power to keep it all running?

  • CaptainAwesomer

    They’ve got a long way to go. I’m making something to run on a Snapdragon 820 and I have to optimize the hell out of it.

    Want some nice AA? That cuts the frame rate down to 30 fps.

    Ambient Occlusion? That’ll cost 10 fps.

    Soft shadows? Another 10 fps.

    But worst of all are the limits on your level size. Anything more than 100 simple 3d objects and it drops to single digit frames per second. For more complex objects like in a zombie town? You’re asking for trouble if you have more than 6 houses…

    And all the things this processor struggles on, my lowly GTX 970 runs happily at 120-200 fps.