During its media event at IFA in Berlin/Germany, Qualcomm has unveiled a new reference hardware for Virtual Reality (VR) developers called Snapdragon VR 820. It is a self-contained, head mounted, VR system that offers a complete freedom of movement* because there’s no cable connecting it to a computer (*6-degrees of movement = 3 axis rotation and 3 axis translation).
This Snapdragon VR 820 reference design is forward-looking and includes many things that are not present in retail VR headsets at the moment. For example, there are four cameras including a couple for eye-tracking, which is one of the next big things in VR.
VR eye-tracking can enable new in-app features such as highlighting/selecting something. It can also be used to optimize how the graphics are rendered, by reducing the level of detail for pixels in our peripheral vision – it’s called Foveated Rendering, and it can help make huge performance gains.
The two other cameras are there for head tracking, and possibly other applications as well. On PC VR systems, head tracking (knowing your headset’s position in the room) is done by having an external sensor looking inside of the “play area.” The sensor can be one or several cameras or IR projectors.
Since the Snapdragon VR 820 is a self-contained VR system, it has cameras on itself looking outwards, To know where it is, it will search for environmental features it can then track to navigate as it “sees” them come and go as you move your head. This is based on well-known graphics research and has already been successfully applied to apps, or systems like Google’s Tango. The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the first Tango phone, can do exactly hat. We know this works.
I’m not sure that it is as accurate as having a couple of external sensors, but it does have the advantage of simplicity, which is Mobile VR’s best advantage because it does not have the computing power of a PC. With increasingly more accurate cameras and smarter processing, I think that we could get to a point where it works very well enough. This development system will help exactly that.
There are four microphones in the head mounted display. They are positioned at strategic points and can be used for communications and voice commands, but having several of them at different places is required for audio processing such as removing ambient noise, or focusing on a specific direction, or a specific person. Smartphones work exactly like that with 2 or 3 microphones.
The Snapdragon 820 chip is currently the most powerful when it comes to 3D graphics, and VR, so it is particularly suited for this kind of edgy purpose. Snapdragon VR820 will, of course, run on Android, although it is not yet clear if it will feature DayDream VR, Google’s new VR interface. We do know that Snapdragon 821 support DayDream VR…