Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 VRDK Details Emerge, Kits Expected Q218

In February, Qualcomm revealed the existence of the Snapdragon 845 VR developer kit, which includes the company’s latest mobile SoC, room-scale 6DoF tracking, and Tobii eye-tracking technology. At the time, Qualcomm wasn’t talking about the specifics of the new reference headset. Today, the details emerged.

Qualcomm first introduced the Snapdragon VR developer kit in February 2017, which offered software developers early access to a standalone VR reference headset before any consumer devices hit the market. The Snapdragon 835 VRDK featured Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 SoC, which powered many VR-ready mobile devices in 2017. The Snapdragon 835 VRDK headset also included 6DoF visual inertial odometry (VIO) motion tracking and SMI eye tracking technology, but Qualcomm supplanted both technologies in the updated Snapdragon 845 VRDK headset.

The company explained its intentions for the Snapdragon 845 VRDK headset in a press release:

“In virtual reality, content is important to an immersive experience, so we’re excited to grant developers access to our new Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Platform through development kits that will help them create truly immersive experiences,” said Hiren Bhinde, Director, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “We built the new Snapdragon 845 Virtual Reality Development Kit with application developers in mind, designed to abate some of the hassles of optimizing virtual reality content for mobile deployment, as well as to support easier access to several innovations and technology advancements of Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Platform.”

In December, when Qualcomm revealed the Snapdragon 845 SoC, the company also revealed Adreno Foveation technology, which is a tile-based foveation technique that reduces the rendering workload imposed on the Adreno 630 GPU. In February, Qualcomm revealed the existence of the Snapdragon 845 VRDK and confirmed that it would support Adreno Foveation, but it didn’t reveal the eye-tracking hardware partner that would provide the technology to capture your gaze.

Hint: It’s Not SMI

You may recall that last year a little company called Apple snatched up SMI and its eye-tracking technology. Qualcomm was working with SMI, and it even regarded it as “the leader in the space.” However, Apple and Qualcomm aren’t interested in sharing the same sandbox these days.

Last year, Qualcomm and Apple got into a legal spat over royalty fees. Apple sued Qualcomm for $1 billion in San Diego and 1 billion Yuan in Beijing, and later halted payments for royalties. Qualcomm, for its part, was accused of withholding $1 billion in payments from Apple. Regardless of the outcome the of these legal battles, it’s clear that Apple and Qualcomm won’t be on good terms for a while, and with SMI under Apple’s control, Qualcomm had to look elsewhere in the market for an eye-tracking partner.

Enter Tobii

In January, we had the chance to get eyes-on with Tobii’s latest eye tracking hardware embedded in a Vive headset, and to say we were sufficiently impressed would be an understatement. Tobii’s recent technological progress puts it at the top of the VR eye-tracking game. Following our demo, we posited that Tobii would partner with Qualcomm because the market appeared to be aligning that way. Earlier this month news broke that the two companies are newfound bedfellows and Tobii’s EyeCore technology would be embedded in the new VRDK headset.

SLAM That Headset

Qualcomm’s former VRDK reference headset featured VIO tracking, which compares sequences of images to estimate your 6-degrees of freedom (6DoF) movement in a 3D space. Qualcomm’s new reference platform replaces VIO tracking with SLAM technology to provide accurate room-scale 6DoF tracking. The VRDK captures stereo images of the environment at 30 fps and Qualcomm combines that data with accelerometer and gyroscope data, which Qualcomm samples at 800Hz and 1,000Hz, respectively. The VRDK feeds the sensor and camera information into the Hexagon 685 DSP to process the information and calculate your movements.

The new VRDK’s room-scale tracking system also enables the use of a room boundary system, like HTC’s Chaperone or Oculus’ Guardian system, which is surely important when you don’t have a tether cable keeping you within your safe play space.

Ride The Wave

Qualcomm also revealed that the new Snapdragon 845 VRDK is compatible with HTC’s Vive Wave SDK. Software developed with HTC’s tools and that runs on Qualcomm’s VRDK headset should work on any device that is compatible with HTC’s Vive Wave platform.

Qualcomm didn’t provide a specific release date for the Snapdragon 845 VRDK headset, but the company said that it expects to release the device and the accompanying software developer kit in Q2 2018.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Snapdragon 835 VRDK HMDSnapdragon 845 VRDK HMD
Display4MP (2560x1440) WQHD AMOLED display (2MP per eye, 60Hz4MP (2560x1440) WQHD AMOLED display (2MP per eye), 60Hz
ProcessingSoC: Sanpdragon 835 CPU: Kyro 280 8-core 2.45GHz GPU: Adreno 540 DSP: Hexagon 682SoC Sanpdragon 845 CPU Kyro 385 8-core 2.8GHz GPU Adreno 630 Visual Processing Subsystem DSP Hexagon 685
6DoF Motion TrackingTwo monochromatic, stereo 1MP (1280x800) cameras with fish-eye lenses  Integrated sensor IMU (gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetic compass), with fast interface to the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform sensor coreTwo monochromatic, stereo 1MP (1280x800) cameras with fish-eye lenses  Integrated sensor IMU (gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetic compass), with fast interface to the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform sensor core
Eye TrackingTwo monochromatic VGA global shutter cameras with active depth sensingTwo monochromatic VGA global shutter cameras with active depth sensing Tobii EyeCore Eye Tracking technology
Storage64GB flash UFS64GB flash UFS
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.1 Type-C with Power DeliveryWi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.1 Type-C with Power Delivery
AudioIntegrated Qualcomm Aqstic audio codec (WCD9335)Integrated Qualcomm Aqstic audio codec (WCD9335)
I/OTrackpad on right side of HMD3DoF motion controller

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years.