Mobile VR With No Smartphone? Qualcomm Making The Move With Snapdragon VR820 Chip

Qualcomm announced a processor designed for standalone mobile VR HMDs as well as a reference design for manufacturers to model their products around. The Snapdragon VR820 is a derivative of the popular Snapdragon 820 mobile SoC with optimizations specifically for virtual reality.

Qualcomm is no stranger to supporting VR. The company’s Snapdragon processors are used by Samsung to provide the power needed for the company’s Gear VR platform. The Snapdragon 820, which powers the American version of the Samsung S7 smartphone among other devices, provides the computing and graphics processing power necessary for premium mobile VR experiences.

Soon, Samsung’s Gear VR platform will have plenty of competition from Google’s upcoming Daydream platform, which opens doors for other smartphone manufacturers to offer a premium VR experience of their own. Widespread support for smartphone-enabled VR devices is going to bring VR to a much wider audience, but that form of VR device may get phased out sooner than later.

Slipping your smartphone into an HMD works well enough, but there are certain downsides to using a smartphone for VR. For example, a standalone device could offer better weight distribution and a more comfortable design, because components could be placed anywhere, not just behind the display. Obviously, you also need a compatible smartphone.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon VR820 is designed to handle all of the processing necessary for VR experiences. It takes care of computing, graphics, and audio processing. It handles the power management and connectivity, and it brings in the information from various sensors. It effectively has all of the capability of the Snapdragon 820, without being tasked with powering the rest of a smartphone.

"The Snapdragon VR820 integrates key technologies and features for an exceptional VR experience and provides a springboard for OEMs and developers to usher in the next generation of truly portable and untethered devices that we think are necessary for mass consumer adoption of VR,” said Anthony Murray, senior VP and general manager, IoT, Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd.

Qualcomm is providing a reference design that it built upon the Snapdragon VR SDK that will enable manufacturers to build their own Snapdragon VR820-based VR HMDs. The specifications include dual integrated eye-tracking cameras to be mounted inside, and dual external cameras to be used for six degrees of freedom (6DoF) tracking and pass-through imagery. The reference platform also includes four microphones and several environmental sensors, including gyro, accelerometer, and magnetometer sensors. The feature set appears to be similar to the capabilities that the Sulon Q is expected to have.

The Snapdragon VR820 includes a Qualcomm Adreno 530 GPU capable of handling stereoscopic 3D to a 70Hz panel delivering 1440x1440 pixel per eye. The GPU also includes an HEVC decoder capable of 360-degree 4K video at up 70 FPS. The GPU also features Qualcomm TruPallette color compression and Qualcomm EcoPix pixel compression to help extend battery life.

The Snapdragon VR820 offers Qualcomm Aqstic stereo, binaural positional audio, and 3D surround sound processing and Fluence HD noise filtering technology to clean up the signal from the four microphones. Dual Qualcomm Spectra camera ISPs and a Qualcomm Hexagon 680 DSP handle image processing, 3D environment reconstruction, eye tracking, and look-through imaging. 6DoF tracking information is retrieved at 800Hz to provide smooth head motion and rotation. A 64-bit Qualcomm Kyro quad-core CPU takes care of the Snapdragon VR820’s computational needs.

Qualcomm’s VR820 processors are expected be available to hardware manufacturers in Q4 2016. The company said that commercial devices built around the VR820 and VR reference platform will surface shortly after manufacturers get their hands on the chips.

 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. 

  • jaber2
    All that is left is to get rid of the bulky HMD
  • bit_user

    They say things like:
    The Snapdragon VR820 includes a Qualcomm Adreno 530 GPU capable of handling stereoscopic 3D to a 70Hz panel delivering 1440x1440 pixel per eye.
    As if it'll be PC-quality. But it won't. If I were in the market for something like this, I'd wait for the next gen, which will surely feature HBM2.
  • computerguy72
    "3D 70Hz panel Delivering 1440x1440 pixels per eye." Yeah - of stick figure line art and simple unshaded polygons. It's neat they are working on it but for a good quality experience the HMD needs to be driven from a PC for quite some time.