Qualcomm Announces XR2 Reference Designs And New Partnerships

By Patrick Moorhead - March 14, 2020
Qualcomm's newly announced XR2 reference design.

Qualcomm leads the charge when it comes to XR chipsets, and the XR2 is the company’s latest. We covered the XR2 announcement back at Qualcomm Tech Summit in December and mentioned how important it would be for the industry to have access to all these new capabilities and technologies. Now, we’re starting to enter the next phase of development. Today Qualcomm’s announced a new set of reference designs and partnerships for the chipset, including, surprisingly, a long time competitor in the mobile space. Let’s take a closer look.

The reference design’s capabilities

Qualcomm’s first announcement was the finalization of its XR2 reference design for OEMs building their own XR2-based headsets. The XR2 reference design is designed to help developers get access to XR2 hardware before it comes to market so that they can optimize their applications and experiences for the chipset before headsets commercialize. The XR2 is also the first XR chipset from Qualcomm to include 5G support (thanks to its optional X55 5G modem). This will enable OEMs to build 5G connectivity, mmWave and Sub-6, into their headsets. In fact, Qualcomm already tested and validated the reference design with the world leader in 5G infrastructure, Ericsson, with both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity and end-to-end boundless XR. Boundless XR is a terminology Qualcomm uses to describe XR experiences that utilize 5G to take advantage of additional computing in the Edge cloud with MEC (Multi-Access Edge Computing). The result is low latency, high performance computing.

XR Car Customization Over 5G

Building on this partnership with Ericsson, Qualcomm also announced a complete 5G and XR retail experience powered by ZeroLight, with help from NVIDIA. This boundless XR experience utilizes 6-DoF VR to allow consumers to customize and configure their own Pagani vehicles. Users can explore the full range of Pagani vehicles and customize the paint colors, alloys and interior trims to their own liking—walking around the virtual car as they customize it. This experience is powered by the XR2 reference design, with advanced reprojection augmented with NVIDIA-powered CloudXR edge compute servers (sent back over a 5G network). The ZeroLight XR configurator is streamed in real-time using NVIDIA’s CloudXR edge compute server, through a 5G network powered by Ericsson, to the XR2 headset. The headset then processes and displays the high-quality imagery, reporting user inputs and movement back at a very low latency. To further improve the experience, the headset utilizes an enhanced re-projection technique that utilizes the cloud-rendered experience data within the headset to ensure it matches the user’s current position. This is one of the ways of dealing with the fact that it takes time (milliseconds) to send and receive user input data. The difference needs to imperceptible between running on the headset or through the cloud compute.

Cloud-rendered VR over 5G

XR Event Planning With IHG and Accenture

The company has also announced a partnership with Accenture to help InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) pilot an XR solution to help with event planning at its InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. The XR Event Planner will allow IHG to plan event layouts and see how they look without moving a single thing. This means being able to change the layout, lighting, carpet design, table settings and even fabric patterns before a single thing is ordered by the customer. The interesting angle is that IHG utilizes both Nreal AR glasses and HTC Vive Focus Plus VR headsets. We have seen other companies use VR in event planning—BMW uses it to help plan out its booth space at major industry events. This is only a natural evolution of that idea. While this announcement doesn’t explicitly mention the XR2, one can assume that the XR2 reference headset is included in this partnership.

More XR2 Features

The XR2 reference design also includes an IR emitter for hand tracking. Companies like TrinamiX, which just recently announced a partnership with Qualcomm, are helping to enable this with their Beam Profile Analysis algorithms. The inclusion of an IR emitter and the world-facing cameras for SLAM[WP1]  (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) allows for both SLAM and hand-tracking to coexist on the same device without significantly increased cost or computational load. The XR2 reference design headset features 2K x 2K per-eye resolution LCD displays, which should significantly reduce the SDE (screen door effect), when pixels are visible to the user. Additionally, the design’s embedded support for Atraxa electromagnetic tracking technology from Northern Digital Inc. enables a low-latency 6-DoF controller—something that didn’t quite make it into the last generation. The headset will also come with Tobii eye-tracking compatibility, including its Spotlight Technology for foveating rendering. This technology can help developers and OEMs deliver higher quality experiences without taking the performance penalty.

Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 5G reference design.

Wrapping Up

In addition to helping build Qualcomm’s own design, GoerTek, one of the leading VR headset ODMs in the world, designed two of its own reference prototype XR headsets that leverage the Snapdragon XR2. In addition to the main Qualcomm reference design, GoerTek has an ID prototype for VR and another for VR that OEMs can leverage to their liking. GoerTek is not one to release designs of things that it cannot manufacture for its customers with its many years of manufacturing headsets for many big names in the industry. I am excited by some of these sleek design prototypes and I hope to see more headsets like them in the future.

The XR2 reference design is not meant to be a consumer or commercial product, but rather a guide and an early access platform for OEMs and developers. It’s a good thing that Qualcomm made it available this early in the year—many XR2 headsets are expected to come to market later in the year so the timing is just right. I’ll continue to watch with interest.

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.