Qualcomm announced the new Snapdragon 865 flagship processor this week. This processor promises significant capabilities compared to the previous generation Snapdragon 855 processor announced last year — a chipset which is present in nearly all of this year’s Android flagship phones.
The fastest system on a chip in an XR headset to date is the Snapdragon 850 inside the Microsoft Hololens 2. That said, the Qualcomm powers dozens of the latest AR/VR devices with the majority of current XR headsets running either a Snapdragon 835 or XR1, which are at least three generations behind the newly announced Snapdragon 865. The XR2 is a derivative of the Snapdragon 865 with modifications and additions relevant to XR.
While the actual performance of the CPU and GPU are not yet known exactly, Qualcomm is claiming an improvement of 2x performance on both going from the Snapdragon 835 to the XR2. Qualcomm also claims 4x more video bandwidth, 6x higher native resolution support and 11x better AI performance. Qualcomm is also pairing the XR2 5G with its latest Snapdragon X55 modem, so it may bring cellular connectivity to some VR and AR gadgets — though of course the 5G element of the platform is optional.
The Snapdragon XR2 5G platform is not designed to replace the XR1, but rather complement it as a higher tier product. That said, it will introduce an new set of capabilities to both VR and AR. One of those is the improved video capabilities including decoding 8K 60 FPS content as well as 4K 120 FPS content, which means supporting display refresh rates up to 120 Hz. The XR2 5G will also support up to 3K x 3K per eye, which isn’t quite 4K per eye, but getting very close. Additionally, it will support HDR color spaces including HDR10 and HDR10+ for improved dynamic range and colors.
The Snapdragon XR2 5G is also designed to support 7 concurrent cameras. This is an industry first, and why many OEMs may adopt the XR2 in their next generation of headsets. The ability to have 7 concurrent cameras is something that may improve user interaction and immersion to levels simply unseen before in mobile XR. With 7 cameras, headset makers will no longer have to choose between features like inside-out positional tracking, eye tracking, hand tracking, facial tracking, body tracking, camera passthrough or controller tracking. Manufacturers could theoretically do all of these things simultaneously powered by this chipset.
AI-accelerated features and 5G
While the cloud is gaining increasing amounts of relevance in both VR and AR, local processing will still be important in order to ensure the proper amount of low latency responsiveness. Features like object detection, occlusion and recognition will be heavily dependent on the AI capabilities of the chip inside the headset. Other features like controller and hand tracking are already leveraging AI to infer where controllers might be or where they could be going without breaking immersion for the user. Even features like object occlusion and 3D reconstruction are likely dependent on AI performance improving this performance may give XR2 an edge over other platforms.
Current XR headsets typically have not connectivity other than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which gears them toward uses cases at home or in the office. The ability to connect an XR headset to a 5G network should give operators more flexibility in how they offer XR devices, and give headset manufacturers alternative sales channels.
Disclosure: Anshel Sag is an analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy and, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry including AMD, Microsoft, Intel, and Qualcomm. The author does not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.