Qualcomm's XR1 platform could usher in a new era of standalone VR and AR headsets

Qualcomm XR1

Qualcomm is going all in on what it's dubbed extended reality (XR), an umbrella term that encompasses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). 

To that end, Qualcomm Technologies, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, is rolling out what it claims is the first dedicated XR platform, fittingly named Snapdragon XR1. 

XR1 has everything manufacturers need to build next-gen AR and VR devices, says Qualcomm, including a heterogeneous compute architecture, an AI engine, and support for 4K video playback at up to 60 frames per second.

But it doesn't stop there. To bring further immersion and higher-quality experiences, XR1 taps into a number of Qualcomm audio technologies, supports voice assistant interaction, and allows for 3DoF and 6DoF head and controller tracking. 

From a consumer perspective, XR1 should usher in a new batch of high- and premium-quality standalone VR and AR devices, Qualcomm says.

"With XR1, we expect it to be a catalyst to help drive this high-quality tier within standalones," Hugo Swart, Senior Director, Head of XR Business Management at Qualcomm, tells TechRadar.

Standalone devices, by the way, are headsets that don't require a PC or smartphone to run. Recently released standalone headsets include the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo.

Qualcomm already has some manufacturers signed up to use the XR1 platform in future headsets, namely Meta, Vuzix, Pico and HTC's Vive.

AR + VR = the future

While XR1 will likely see implementation in headsets that are dedicated to either VR or AR at the outset, one product category Qualcomm is looking ahead to are headsets that are capable of supporting VR and AR. 

Though the XR1 platform could accommodate both technologies on one device, it's not a development Qualcomm expects to see in the near term.

"We foresee that these will be converged," Swart says, referring to headsets that support VR and AR. "It's premature to say exactly when, but that’s the vision. That’s where we see where things are moving towards."

The key to this convergence is the display, Swart says, as displays will need to be able to switch from opaque to transparent to support VR and AR experiences, respectively. 

For now, these kinds of devices will be a rarity, or are still a long ways off.

"In particular, in the high-quality segment, we still expect to see a VR or AR tailored device," says Swart. "We do expect this to converge, but not in the short term."

Examples of dual-use devices rumored to be in development include an Apple VR headset that has AR capabilities, and a Samsung AR/VR headset that reportedly works in a similar way. 

Samsung's headset could debut as early as IFA 2018 in September, though when it goes on sale is another matter.