Now Qualcomm's Getting in on this VR Malarky

By Tom Pritchard on at

These days it seems like everybody and their uncle is getting involved in VR. Microsoft and Intel, Sony, LG, Google, HTC and Valve, Oculus, Samsung... The list goes on. Now even Qualcomm is dipping its toes into the water of virtual reality.

The company, probably best known for making the chips inside smartphones, has teamed up with Chinese company Goertek to create the new standalone Snapdragon VR820 headset. Standalone is key there, because this isn't just another example of mobile-powered VR. It's a proper headset that you wear and only take apart if you decide you want to break it.

Standalone also means that the headset is completely self-contained, and doesn't need any external cameras or sensors to determine the wearer's location. All of that tech has (somehow) been squeezed inside the headset.

The VR820 is based on the Snapdragon 820 processor, and according to Qualcomm it can easily be adapted by other companies. So it sounds like Qualcomm is dealing with all the hardware, while letting other companies deal things like controllers and software. That'll be handy for any smaller companies who want to do some significant VR work, but can't develop any of their own hardware for whatever reason.

In fact Qualcomm revealed that the first VR820 headset was announced earlier this year in the form of the Android-powered Pico Neo. The only difference is that the Neo's processing power is stored in a controller, while the newly announced VR820 is 100% self-contained.

Specs-wise, the VR820 is fairly impressive. The display offers 1440 x 1440 resolution for each eye, which is higher than the 1080 x 1200 in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Unfortunately the refresh rate is only 70Hz, compared the other headsets' 90Hz. It also has two cameras for eye-tracking, a feature that has yet to make it to a commercial VR headset.

The VR820 is supposed to be available by the end of this year, with commercial devices hitting shop shelves "shortly thereafter". Unfortunately the only confirmed release region is China. Hugo Swart, Qualcomm's product management senior director, said that there's currently a lot of demand in China but that doesn't mean they'll be made available elsewhere (*groan*).

The company also didn't divulge any information about pricing, saying that it wouldn't be the company setting the prices on commercial units. However, it told The Verge that the price range could be similar to "higher-performance tablets."

There are a lot of big promises there, along with what sounds like a very big price tag. We'll just have to see whether Qualcomm is able to live up to the claims. Hopefully it's not all just hype, and we'll see a nice jump in VR innovation before the year is up. [The Verge]