Qualcomm’s processors have ended up in plenty of AR and VR devices over the past couple years. But to date, none of those chips have been fully dedicated to augmented and virtual reality — they’ve just been repurposed phone processors.
That changes today with the introduction of the XR1, Qualcomm’s first chip made specifically for AR and VR devices. The chip is supposed to make it somewhat cheaper for companies to build entry-level versions of augmented and virtual reality gadgets, the first of which are expected to start appearing at the end of this year or in early 2019.
Though Qualcomm getting into the AR / VR chip game could be very exciting for the industry, this first chip isn’t all that thrilling on its own. Qualcomm says its current flagship phone processor, the Snapdragon 845, is still a better choice for AR and VR. The XR1 is built for simpler devices, meant more for videos and passive experiences than gaming.
Qualcomm describes XR1 gadgets as being made for “lean back and 360 viewing” of videos, rather than “room scale tracking,” and equipped with “simple controllers,” rather than hand-tracking abilities. That said, the chip is still supposed to be capable of supporting 4K displays at 60 fps, voice activation, and controllers that detect movement with six degrees of freedom.
Where this will really get interesting is if Qualcomm eventually decides to build higher-end chips in the XR line. By using dedicated hardware, it should be able to support more powerful VR- and AR-specific features than it could with a general purpose chip — similar to what it’s doing with camera chips. The XR1 starts it down that path, but Qualcomm seems to be taking a slower start to see if the market is really ready for all these mixed reality headsets.