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Qualcomm shows off inside-out VR tracking in a Power Rangers-themed headset

Qualcomm shows off inside-out VR tracking in a Power Rangers-themed headset

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Qualcomm sold its Snapdragon 835 mobile processor as a virtual and augmented reality powerhouse earlier this week, but it’s been light on examples — at least, until now. As part of a partnership with Lionsgate and production company Reel FX, it’s showing off a VR tie-in to the upcoming Power Rangers movie, complete with a multi-colored set of Power Rangers-themed mobile headsets.

In principle, these reference designs are like the Gear VR, Daydream View, or other smartphone-powered products. But they feature something that’s practically brand-new for mobile headsets: inside-out tracking, thanks to depth-sensing cameras on the front of the Qualcomm phone prototype inside. This means that you can walk around — not just look around — inside the virtual world of Zordon’s cave, for the roughly five minutes the experience lasts.

Unfortunately, you can’t always walk very well. When I first tried it, the headset only seemed to register movement once I’d gone a foot or two, so it felt more like slowly swimming around. Qualcomm said that the relative darkness of the event may have hurt performance, so I tried it again on the show floor, where this feeling was distinctly reduced — but didn’t go away.

Qualcomm has a second design, seen below, that works a bit better. It’s self-contained, not based on a mobile phone — essentially, an updated version of the VR820 we wrote about last year. This headset still feels a bit swimmy, which may be why its demo is set underwater. It doesn’t seem on par with Oculus’ Santa Cruz prototype, although both show off roughly similar (simple) levels of graphical prowess. But it’s got more of a sense of real motion than its mobile counterpart.

As mentioned before, these are reference designs, not commercial products. But Qualcomm has promised it’s got partners working on headsets that could go on sale later this year. Hopefully the tracking will improve by the time that happens.

Update January 7th, 9:30PM ET Updated with more impressions from Qualcomm booth.

January 9th, 7:20PM ET: Updated with production company name.