Qualcomm built a chip to power AR and VR headsets

Companies like Vive, Vuzix and Meta are already working on devices using the Snapdragon XR1.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips have powered devices from smartphones and laptops to VR headsets, but the company is doing away with repurposing mobile processors for mixed reality devices. The company just released the Snapdragon XR1 -- its first "dedicated Extended Reality (XR) platform," and it's a chipset designed specifically for AR and VR headsets. XR1 is meant to offer better experiences on mainstream devices by enabling high-quality visual and audio playback, as well as 3-DoF and 6-DoF interactive controls. Qualcomm also announced that companies like Meta, Vive, Vuzix and Pico are already working on devices using the XR1 chip, and those products could potentially be ready as early as this year, depending on each partner.

The XR1 will support 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, 3D overlays, dual displays and popular graphics APIs OpenGL, OpenCL and Vulkan. With the chipset's Spectra image signal processor, it can also reduce noise for clearer image quality.

Meanwhile, the XR1 uses Qualcomm's audio technologies like 3D Audio Suite, Aqstic and aptX to enable high-fi sound, as well as "always on, always-listening" assistance. It'll also feature a system known as Head Related Transfer Functions to give the impression that sounds are coming from a specific point in space, which should create a more realistic experience.

To make it easier for users to interact with their augmented or virtual worlds, the XR1 also supports 3-DoF and 6-DoF for head- and controller-tracking, and the manufacturer can decide which degree (three or six) to use.

Like Qualcomm's newer high-end Snapdragon 800 series products, the XR1 uses heterogeneous computing, meaning it will delegate tasks to various different cores for more efficient performance. It has an ARM-based CPU, a GPU, a vector processor and an AI engine. That last component will help optimize on-device AI functions like object recognition and pose prediction.

The XR1 platform comes with an SDK to make it easier for manufacturers to implement some of these features, as well as Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities.

As AR and VR technologies continue to improve slowly but surely, a dedicated processor is a timely and welcome development that will hopefully speed up XR/MR's march towards mainstream acceptance.