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Qualcomm pushing mobile VR: Lighthouse-free 6DOF and exclusive Q&A

Ahead of the 2018 Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm is pulling out the big guns with the announcement of their Snapdragon 845 chipset and its VR-centric features. They’re pushing these features under the wider “Xtended Reality (XR)” umbrella, which includes AR as well.

With the Snapdragon 845 reference design, Qualcomm is bringing a number of features to the table. Foveated rendering, for instance, uses eye-tracking to render what you’re not looking at in low-res to save on performance.

Most interestingly, Qualcomm is also hoping to provide a full, roomscale 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) VR experience. 6DOF tracks full head-and-body movements, while 3DOF only tracks the direction you’re looking in (most smartphone VR experiences). While headsets like the HTC Vive achieve 6DOF by using external “Lighthouse” sensors, Qualcomm is trying to make this all possible without the need for external sensors.

Using Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO), a dedicated compute DSP and a set of cameras, Qualcomm hopes to achieve full 6DOF with no add-ons required. Done properly, this will make full VR experiences more portable and less expensive. If this implementation of 6DOF works as advertised, it spells great things for the industry. Being limited to 3DOF is the biggest weakness of current mobile/standalone VR headsets, but being able to have full 6DOF will improve user experience significantly.

Prior to this announcement, we at VR World were able to ask Qualcomm employees, Hugo Schwartz and Bernard Fernandes, a few questions about Qualcomm’s plans for VR. The answers below are summaries based on notes taken during the call.

VR: Does Qualcomm plan on getting into the hardware space?

The short answer is probably not. As they explained to us in the call, they’re focused on providing their partners with reference designs that can be quickly changed, branded as necessary and taken to market.

VR: What efforts are being made to lower costs for the consumer?

The biggest is the removal of external Lighthouse sensors and expensive gaming PCs as a requirement for good VR experiences. By providing 6DOF with cameras and foveated rendering to reduce performance requirements, Qualcomm is hoping to lower costs for the consumer.

VR: What do you think is the biggest roadblock to widespread VR adoption right now?

Qualcomm’s goals here are to push more, better devices to market. This will spur more content creation, and in turn more users to consume that content. Qualcomm believes that we’re in a transitionary phase to widespread VR adaption, that these numbers will increase over a long-term period.

Overall, we at VR World believe that the Snapdragon 845 reference design has great potential to improve the VR space. But what do you think?