Qualcomm reveals new VR headset and dev tools for Snapdragon 835 chip

Qualcomm wants to see its upcoming Snapdragon 835 processor used in future standalone VR headsets. Today, the company announced that it will give app developers access to a new set of VR tools, and hardware makers will be able to check out a new design for a head-mounted display powered by the chip.

The headset hardware will use a version of the Android operating system, but with a VR interface. It will include a 2560 x 1440 WQHD AMOLED display, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage. It will also have two on-board cameras that will provide the headset with six degrees of freedom for motion tracking, along with an integrated sensor that will contain the device’s gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetic compass. It will also have two monochromatic VGA global shutter cameras inside the headset for eye tracking. Of course, it’ll also support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connections.

Qualcomm hopes that hardware makers will use the headset as a reference design so they can create their own standalone VR products using the new Snapdragon 835 chip. The company says it expects the first products based on the design to be released by OEMs sometime in the second half of 2017. Meanwhile, the new VR app developers tools will be available sometime in the second quarter of this year.

It will be interesting to see how this new effort will be received by hardware makers. Previously, mobile virtual reality depended on connecting a smartphone to a headset, but it looks like Qualcomm sees the future of VR as using standalone devices that don’t need a smartphone, but still use Android as its OS.

In related news, Qualcomm announced a new partnership with Leap Motion, which has developed motion-sensing hardware devices for the PC. Qualcomm will use Leap Motion’s hand tracking technology as part of its user interface for its VR efforts with the Snapdragon 835. The company will be showing off its mobile VR tech at next week’s Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, and also at the 2017 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

This is a pretty big deal for the mobile VR world; not because this technology is absolutely revolutionary, but because hand tracking tech is making its way to mobile VR. This will eliminate one big differentiator between mobile VR and higher-end devices like the Vive or Rift. Basically, if you’ve ever used mobile VR, you’ve probably used a controller to or gamepad to move things around in space. It’s not a horrible solution, but some immersion is definitely lost when using a Bluetooth controller compared to using hand tracking tech with other devices. Thankfully this partnership with Leap Motion will help bridge the gap between mobile and higher-end VR devices.

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