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Media & Entertainment

Qualcomm envisions fully standalone 5G slim glasses in 10 years

(Image by Qualcomm)
Skarredghost 27/05/2020 00:00:00

At AWE, Hugo Swart from Qualcomm has announced some interesting news about the XR Viewers, defining the timeline for the AR/VR headsets of the future.

What are the XR Viewers?
XR Viewers are the trend of the moment for 3DOF AR/VR.
It is a new way of designing XR headsets, thanks to a new reference design by Qualcomm. It lets the glasses manufacturers create lightweight glasses that connect to the phone via an USB cable. This way, all the computation happens on the phone, that also provides connectivity and the battery, and the XR headset can be lightweight and trendy. The phone must be a new one running a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 or 865 chipset. Nreal glasses can be so cool thanks to this reference design.

As always, Qualcomm just cares about the reference design, and then there are partner companies that are creating products using it: Pico, Panasonic, Shadow Creator are some names relevant in the field.

People on the web are divided into two groups: who (like me) thinks that this is a very interesting trend because it finally lets people wear headsets that are good to be shown in public; and who thinks that VR with smartphones has died with GearVR, that has shown that people don’t want to waste smartphone battery for XR viewers. In the end, only time (and the reaction of the market) will tell who is right.

When will they be released?
Talking about time, we are all curious to get our hands on this kind of headsets. I asked Qualcomm what is the ETA for these devices, and they answered that some of the partners think about releasing in 2020, while others, like Panasonic target 2021 for a release date. In any case, all the partners announced until now should release their glasses in the next 12-months time window. So… get ready to buy one of these devices!

Are they only 3DOF?
The VR headsets following this standard that have been announced until now are just 3 DOF viewers, with just a remote as the controller. I know that many of you love to say “3DOF is not VR”, so I specifically asked if the XR Viewer format, given also its name, is only related to 3 degrees of freedom.

Surprisingly, Qualcomm said “no”. The headsets can be 3DOF or 6DOF, and can be paired with 3DOF and 6DOF controllers. If you wonder how is it possible to mount tracking cameras on a so small headset… well, Nreal did it. Maybe its tracking is not the fluidest on the market, but that little glass has support for “room-scale” tracking. So with some miniaturizing skills, it is possible to use tracking cameras also on a lightweight glass.

What is Qualcomm XR Optimized program?

Qualcomm is creating a complete ecosystem around the XR Viewer reference design. As of today, nine XR companies are making compatible viewers (3Glasses, iQIYI, Nreal, OPPO, Panasonic, Pico, Shadow Creator, etc…), in an ecosystem backed by seven smartphone OEMs (ASUS, Black Shark, OnePlus, OPPO, Smartisan, Vivo, ZTE, etc…) and 15 telco operators (Deutsche Telekom, China Mobile, China Unicom, Vodafone, etc…).

To support further developments, Qualcomm has created the XR Optimized program, with which it will offer hardware manufacturers precise specifications, and support for the creation of devices that will be optimal for use with XR Viewers. There will also be a badge certifying what piece of hardware respects these specifications, so you can make an informed purchase.

Let me quote Qualcomm on this:

Through the Qualcomm® XR Optimized Certification Program, Qualcomm Technologies tests the performance and validates compatibility between the XR viewer and smartphones to help ensure a seamless user experience. There are two certifications, one for smartphone and one for the XR viewer to allow the OEMs (both smartphone and viewers) to verify optimization between multiple phones and multiple viewers without requiring them to conduct one-on-one optimization. The Qualcomm XR Optimized Certification Program includes:
• Six Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) headtracking performance on the viewer and smartphone
• Display calibration validation on the viewer
UNTIL 5/26 @ 6AM PST
• Motion to photon latency validation on the viewer and smartphone
• Power and thermal test on the viewer and smartphone
• Interoperability between the viewer and smartphone

What is the timeline for future XR headsets?

This is one of the most interesting parts of the presentation by Qualcomm. We all know that in the beginning, AR headsets will be wired to the phone to use its computational power, but when will we be able to have a 5G glass that looks like normal frames and that provides AR and VR? And what is the roadmap?

Qualcomm has a long-term vision for this, that mostly agrees with what Michael Abrash stated some months ago. It is composed of three steps.

In the first step, we have XR Viewers that are connected to the phone via an USB Cable. Very soon, these phones will have 5G capabilities, so the viewers will be able to exploit XR content via 5G in the next months. This system is reliable, it works, but it also has the nuisance of the cable.

That’s why in the second step, happening in the next five years, the cable will be removed, and the glasses and the phone will communicate via Wi-fi 6 SE, for a high-speed wireless connection. Take in mind that this is a big shift: detaching the cable means that the viewer must host the battery itself, so Qualcomm hopes that battery miniaturization will be a thing soon. In the same timeframe (1-4 years) Qualcomm sees the arrival on the market of standalone VR headsets connected by 5G.

The last step, the one of our dreams, sees a super-slick glass that is completely independent and features 5G connection to outsource some of the computational needs to the cloud. This step is very far away, and don’t expect it to happen before 5 years have passed, but more realistically we are towards 10 years (Abrash says that they can even be 20, it depends on the evolutoin of the technology).

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