For a while now we’ve been waiting for the industry to coalesce around a standard VR hardware platform. Now Qualcomm, a leading semiconductor company which regularly releases smartphone ‘reference’ platforms from which companies build their products, aims to fill that gap in the mobile VR space.


Guest Article by Anshel Sag

anshel-sagAnshel is currently Associate Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy where he has multiple areas of coverage including a heavy coverage of VR. His areas of expertise expand outwards towards mobility and client computing which include many of the components inside of modern computers. He has been a believer in VR since the DK1 days but became sold on the current iteration of VR with the HTC Vive prototype.


While Samsung’s Gear VR headset has been leading the way in mobile VR, it’s based on a smartphone inside of an HMD which has limited capability and cannot be implemented by anyone other than Samsung. So, naturally many companies have been waiting for something like Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon VR820 reference headset to become a reality so that they have a firm starting point for creating their own VR headsets.

Photo courtesy Intel
See Also: Intel Reveals Project Alloy, an All-in-one VR Headset With Mobile Positional Tracking

The VR820 is arguably a very high-end mobile VR platform with the features that Qualcomm has included. Obviously, not everyone will utilize all of the features of the VR820’s capabilities, but having them available is ultimately what makes a hardware platform a good one. The VR820 is unsurprisingly powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 SoC which is undoubtedly also the most popular mobile chip for many of the latest Android flagship devices. In addition to having a Snapdragon 820, the VR820 includes a 2880×1440 AMOLED display that supports up to 70Hz refresh rate.

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Companies Can Soon Make Vive Wave Headsets Based on Qualcomm's New VR Reference Design

Additionally, the VR820 has four cameras both inside and outside of the headset that allow it to both do foveated rendering with eye-tracking as well as ‘inside-out’ tracking to allow for positional movement without need for external sensors. Qualcomm claims a 6DOF tracking system with an 800Hz refresh rate using predictive monocular vision to detect head movement and position accurately. In addition to those features, the Snapdragon VR820 also has a claimed motion-to-photon latency of under 18ms which is designed to significantly reduce motion sickness, a major problem in the mobile VR space.

Update (01/09/2016): We’ve learned from a reliable source that the eye-tracking technology present in Qualcomm’s reference VR headset is allegedly provided by german eye-tracking specialists SensoMotronic Instruments (SMI). You may recall our hands-on with their retro-fitted Oculus Rift DK2 gaze detection system at CES this year, and a short time later with Samsung’s Gear VR. The system impressed with its speed and accuracy on both occasions which bodes well for Qualcomm’s system.

Snapdragon_VR820_back

The VR820 is an extremely powerful platform for VR because it can harness many of the technologies traditionally used in smartphones and repurpose them for VR. For example, Qualcomm is repurposing their camera ISPs and DSPs for low power functionalities like eye-tracking, hand gestures, 3D reconstruction and passthrough camera visibility.

The Adreno 530 GPU, which is already part of the Snapdragon 820, is capable of running Vulkan and other APIs that can squeeze the most performance and lowest latency out of the hardware. They also have a diverse connectivity portfolio that they can harness including 802.11AC that can make a Qualcomm-based VR solution more quickly connected than other VR headsets. While there was little talk about LTE capabilities, I could see some OEMs possibly pairing the VR820 with a Qualcomm LTE modem for VR media streaming and possibly even mobile gaming.

SEE ALSO
Qualcomm's 845 VRDK Reference Headset Boasts Eye-tracking, High Res, & High Framerate
daydream-ready-smartphones-android-vr
See Also: Existing Phones Unlikely to Qualify as ‘Daydream Ready’, Says Google, VR Fans Should Wait to Upgrade

The one big question that is still left unanswered about the VR820 is whether or not it will support Google Daydream. Upon asking Qualcomm that question they deferred to Google who has not necessarily been forthcoming about what exactly makes a device Daydream capable or Daydream certified. Considering how big of an SoC vendor Qualcomm is, it would be pretty safe to assume that they’ve built this platform with Daydream in mind and we may very likely see Qualcomm have some of the first Daydream devices on the market.

Qualcomm has said that the VR820 will be available in Q4 of this year with commercial devices following shortly thereafter. Because the VR820 is a reference platform, there is no price for the device, but I would expect that a fully spec’ed version of a device based upon it would cost in the ballpark of $500-$600.


Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and / or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry including NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Samsung referenced in this column. I do not hold an equity position in any of the companies mentioned.

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  • Bryan Ischo

    I don’t actually believe it. This is a description of what they would like the platform to do, not what it does at the moment. They’ve probably spec’d and put together the hardware, but I’ll bet that they don’t have the majority of the big ticket features (6 degrees of freedom inside-out tracking, foveated rendering) working to any appreciable degree.

    I have a feeling that 70 Hz is actually a smart target. I feel like more and more Vive games are failing to make 90 Hz and relying on reprojection, which means that you might as well run at a lower frame rate and hit your frames without reprojection.

    By the way this device has ~50% more pixels than the Vive/Rift, which is certainly appreciated.

    I really hope they can make this device work, but I’m not holding my breath. Also I hope the lenses are decent unlike the incredibly bad lenses in the Vive and Rift.

    • Jim Cherry

      qualcomm tends to do things like this to show off what their s.o.c’s can do. So this will never actually be a product not even the since of it being rebranded. Its more likely that in late 2017 we’ll see a qualcomm powered device with fewer features from an oem or 2 at ifa next year.

      • Tommy

        You are right. I did try a headset similar to this at Qualcomm’s SIGGRAPH booth and it worked great.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Yeah – Qualcomm likes to pump up and under deliver….

      On the point of the lenses in the Vive/Rift, do you feel the lenses are appropriate quality for the final price or not?

      • Gerald Terveen

        The problem with the lenses is that they are prone to god rays and that annoys a lot of people – me included. The Oculus Rift DK2 used different lenses with a different set of trade-offs.
        Most people complaining, including me, likely just do not really understand what it means to go back to the old lenses that remove the god rays but bring back a less favorable pixel distribution.
        And I am also not sure if the brighter screens have also an impact on the god-rays that we now tend to blame the lenses for exclusively.

      • Bryan Ischo

        Not. The DK2 was cheaper and the lenses were better in most ways. I do not like the fresnel ‘smearing’ in the Vive and the noticeably worse contrast (for example, I played Lucky’s Tale all the way through in my DK2 and it looked beautiful; I fired it up in the Vive soon after it became available there and it looked noticeably worse; contrast was worse, and there was a visible haze when I looked upwards, something that wasn’t present at all on the DK2).

        Both the DK2 and the Vive suffer from a small sweet spot; sure you can move your pupils to the left and right and up and down, but you generally do not want to go far from center because one eye or the other or both will experience significant blurriness.

        I don’t really know how much more really good lenses would cost, but the DK2 lenses were something like 50 cents when someone did a cost breakdown, if I recall correctly, so surely 20x that for $10 lenses would produce something much better? If significantly better lenses added $50 to the overall price of the headset, leaving room for everyone in the chain to make a profit, I’d happily pay it.

        • yag

          DK2 lenses were blurry as hell… Worst in every ways for me (but I’m lucky to not be bothered by god rays).

          • Bryan Ischo

            Worse except for the several ways in which I already mentioned they were better.

            The DK2 lenses might have been slightly blurrier away from the sweet spot, I don’t recall exactly. But the Vive and Rift lenses, even if better, leave alot to be desired.

    • JKay6969

      “By the way this device has ~50% more pixels than the Vive/Rift, which is certainly appreciated.”

      No it doesn’t. The Vive/Rift has 2 x 1920×1200 screens giving an effective resolution of 3840×1200 while the VR820 includes a 2880×1440 AMOLED display . The Vive/Rift have more pixels to push and at a higher 90Hz. Don’t get me wrong, the VR820 screen should be nice, just not as crisp as the Vive/Rift.

      • Yeray

        You are wrong.
        “The Oculus Rift headset uses an OLED panel for each eye, each having a resolution of 1080×1200. “.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculus_Rift#Consumer_version

        So Rift CV1/Vive effectively 2160×1200, which is lower than this Qualcomm HMD, so probably Qualcomm might offer less SDE.

      • Bryan Ischo

        The Vive is 2160×1200, not 3840×1200. So is the Rift. Look it up.

        2880×1440 is about 50% more pixels than the Vive or Rift.

        • JKay6969

          My bad. Sorry

  • DonGateley

    VR is the wave of the future and it looks as if, like fusion power, it always will be.

    • Smokey_the_Bear

      Last time I checked, my Vive is in my living room…fusion reactor… not so much.

      • DonGateley

        Point taken. :-)

    • yag

      Seems like AR is the real next big thing (VR is just a sub-part).

  • Nigerian Wizard

    Does it come with the stupid dragon sticker on the front?

  • imacrazyperson

    I really hope it “could the”. :D

  • Buddydudeguy

    “Could the Reference Platform We’ve Been Waiting For”….wut? And this is still mobile “VR” which is crap vs a PC HMD.

  • Michigan Jay Sunde

    $500 to $600 is a very low estimate. They’ve only said that its price would be comparable to a performance tablet. I take that to mean iPad, which can cost up to $1000. A top-of-the-line smartphone, without carrier subsidies, can be $900. Consumers / futurists should think of a self-contained HMD as a computer replacement. They’re not as good or as useful as a computer yet, but they will be. It’s their damn destiny.

    • brandon9271

      Ipads are overpriced though if you look at high performance Android tablets like the Shield Tablet or Galaxy Tab S2 which can be had for $250-350.

      • yag

        Still too expensive when you look at high-end Chinese tablets.

  • JustNiz

    There’s no way a phone chip can even come close to competing with a top-end nvidia GPU like you get in a gaming PC, so this is clearly not for gamers, so I can’t imagine who/what market space they think they’re targeting, especially at $500-600.

  • Marco –

    It would be nice if such a device could also be plugged into a pc, out of the box, to get the best of both worlds.

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