Ahead of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco – which both begin at the end of this week – Qualcomm has announced plans to help software developers and hardware manufacturers utilize its products to power cutting-edge VR experiences.
These efforts suggest that we could see compelling new VR developments and products in the near future, and that we may even see some notable product launches at MWC. After all, the Snapdragon 835 chipset Qualcomm revealed last November has been optimized for VR, the company says, and it has worked with other software and hardware companies to generate representative applications of its capabilities.
Snapdragon 835 Virtual Reality Software Development Kit (VRSDK)
For one, Qualcomm has developed a mobile virtual reality head mounted display (HMD) and accompanying VRSDK (virtual reality software development kit). The company says the HMD includes several features that haven't yet made it to market in rival headsets.
These features include camera-based inside-out tracking – that is, there are no additional external sensors or beacons that reign in the user in and prevent them from getting tangled up in real-world surroundings.
According to Qualcomm, its representative HMD also enables foveated rendering, an eye graphics rendering method that takes the position of the users' eyes into account. Foveated rendering, done properly, could make the VR experience more immersive and realistic as well as alleviate some of graphics rendering burden.
The VRSDK will be available in the second quarter of the year through the Qualcomm Developer Network. Qualcomm says the VRSDK is designed to help developers achieve performance and power efficiency for yet-to-be-named devices that are expected to ship in the latter half of 2017.
Accelerator program for VR hardware manufacturers
On the hardware side of things, Qualcomm announced its accelerator program to help VR manufacturers develop new Snapdragon-sporting HMDs.
Qualcomm will provide reference designs, pre-qualified components, software, testing and metrics recommendations, as well as assistance in building the device. These efforts are meant to help makers bring their products to market more quickly.
Leap Motion hand tracking integration
Qualcomm has also paired its Snapdragon 835 platform with low latency hand-tracking technology developed by Leap Motion Inc. Qualcomm product management VP Tim Leland says that Leap Motion provides greater immersion by allowing the user to make natural hand movements in VR.
"The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 was designed to combine six degrees of positional hand tracking, high VR frame rates, immersive audio and enhanced 3D graphics with real-time rendering in a compact, stand-alone headset for the ultimate VR experience," says Leland.
Those are impressive claims that could be interpreted as indicating significant developments over leading PC-based VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. They're promising, but it's also wise to wonder if some of those capabilities are compromised in some way. Visitors to the MWC or GDC will be able to try it out for themselves starting this weekend.