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Qualcomm announces new VR headset, Leap Motion partnership, and accelerator program

Qualcomm is launching an accelerator program for VR headset manufacturers, releasing a new headset reference design, and partnering with hand tracking company Leap Motion. The company is looking to kickstart production of headsets with features not found in the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, including an all-in-one wireless design that removes the need for wires or external tracking devices. This continues a mission it first announced last year, but with updated hardware and a goal of making it easier to build off Qualcomm’s work.

The virtual reality development kit, as Qualcomm calls it, is a self-contained design built on the company’s Snapdragon 835 chip. It has a 2560 x 1440 screen (equivalent to the Gear VR), 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash memory. There are also cameras both inside and outside the headset. On the inside, they enable eye tracking, a sometimes-gimmicky feature that can also make it easier to push high-quality graphics inside a headset. On the outside, they allow for inside-out (or “six degree of freedom”) tracking, which means people can experience moving around in VR without needing a specially assembled “VR room.” The deal with Leap Motion, probably the most advanced independent hand tracking company, also puts an exciting new interface on the table.

Qualcomm isn’t planning on selling this reference design to consumers; instead, manufacturers are supposed to create their own products based on it. Qualcomm was already touting partnerships when it released its first version of the headset. The accelerator program, though, is meant to streamline the process. It creates a standard for hardware, including a set of pre-approved components. The accelerator program is open today, while the headset will start shipping in the second quarter of 2017 for an unannounced price.

We tried one of Qualcomm’s VR reference designs, seen above, at CES earlier this year. While the idea is exciting, we were underwhelmed with the results, particularly the inside-out tracking. But Qualcomm is in a good position to push VR forward this year, if it can present hardware that’s attractive enough to inspire other manufacturers.