Qualcomm is rolling out a dedicated chip targeting virtual reality/augmented reality headsets in hopes of driving the nascent market into the mainstream.
The chip from the smartphone semiconductor maker targets virtual reality/augmented reality gear at affordable prices — in the $200 range (Facebook’s Oculus Go is $199).
By having a dedicated virtual/augmented reality chip, Qualcomm said it hopes to be able to drive a better experience for untethered AR/VR devices — with longer battery life, lower temperatures and better video/audio.
Qualcomm is the first major chip designer to produce a system-on-a-chip specifically for virtual realty/augmented reality. In the past, it has supplied smartphone processors that were sometimes tweaked for VR/AR customers.
But other chipmakers could follow suit. Both Intel and Nvidia have virtual-reality programs that supply headset makers with computer processors and graphics chips.
Qualcomm is calling its AR/VR chip platform the Snapdragon XR1, and it was unveiled last week at the Augmented World Expo in the Bay Area. The chip is tailored for high-definition video, audio, graphics, head tracking, speech recognition, jitter reduction, low latency and controller support, among other features key to virtual reality.
Many virtual-reality headsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR and Google Daydream, are essentially accessories to smartphones. In addition, there are powerful gaming virtual-reality headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR.
They are typically linked via cables to souped-up gaming computers or consoles and cost $400 or more. But the untethered cheaper VR sets are gaining traction this year.
“We strongly believe that XR is the next mobile computing platform,” said Hiren Bhinde, director of XR product management at Qualcomm. “This is going to disrupt all these different verticals, including health care, education, military, retail, marketing and advertising.”
George Jijiashvili, senior analyst with CCS Insights, said, “In the stand-alone VR headset category, pricing will be a crucial determining factor of success.”