The Future of VR Headsets
VR headsets have the ability to take you to another place. AR headsets, however, will create things in real life settings that aren’t really there and make you think they’re right there. They can also track your room and face simultaneously. Some call this mixed reality or XR. Whatever term you use, VR is taking the lead and it’s only going to get cooler. New AR-VR tech from Qualcomm is going to be a huge part of this movement. It’ll be out in 2021 and it differs from anything else out there.
By the end of 2019 we weren’t living in this futuristic ideation we once thought we would. Virtual smart glasses aren’t the norm, yet. But we are getting there. VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest and other AR headsets like the HoloLens 2 are free from smartphones, wireless and both run on Qualcomm chips. Previously, Qualcomm hardware was a sign of where we thought VR and AR tech was headed.
The Snapdragon XR2 chip from Qualcomm is a 5G compatible and might be the processor to unlock future headsets. The company is already working on a VR-based design which utilises the XR2. This is separate, but not dissimilar, from another project they’re also working on with Niantic Labs on some smart glasses.
All in all, it’s looking like the key to unlocking the future of VR headsets lies with 5G compatibility.
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The next wave of 5G VR-AR headsets are free from phones
The next Qualcomm chip is going to be super powerful. It is a VR-AR hybrid development of the latest 865 Snapdragon. Here, we’ll see graphics like never before. Better than the already astonishing Oculus Quest, with better display resolution and much more crisp visuals. You don’t get retina display but definitely close to 3K. This alone is a big leap for the existing VR technology. Qualcomm says it’ll be capable of playing 8K video at 120fps, 60fps or 4k.
With this chip, 5G will be possible too. Head of XR at Qualcomm, Hugo Swart, says it’ll be used for their enterprise (expensive) headsets. 5G will be a huge deal for both VR and AR once it becomes more mainstream. It promises to render graphics remotely from the cloud and decrease load on the actual headset. This is better than any current headset’s capabilities.
Microsoft has been teasing this very remote graphics rendering in their HoloLens 2 but it’s not hit the masses yet. There is plenty of interest, though. 5G developments are happening fast so it’s not rocket science guessing where the market is headed.
Cameras tracking both inner and outer worlds
The most impressive thing about this new chip is that it can support seven cameras simultaneously. Cameras are the essence of both AR and VR. The latter tracks movement like eye tracking and hand or body gestures. Swart said more cameras being used means more tracking for things like facial movements. Cameras will be able to monitor micromovements like lips and other expressions. These enterprise-level headsets might even go beyond the visual – think temperature and depth, maybe.
These seven cameras running simultaneously could potentially go up to 12 in one headset that uses the XR2. The headset itself would cycle between the cameras at a rapid pace. The early prototype has some hand-tracking sensors which are developed by Ultra Leap. The concept being the next wave of headsets will be dotted with sensors that can handle motion, eye and hand movements better. They’ll also be able to avoid collisions with actual objects in the room, too. Handy.
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There is a red flag on privacy here. 7-12 cameras is a lot. Where does that data go? Swart said Qualcomm is dedicated to security, but not a lot else. Begs the question of how the likes of Facebook will respond?
Swart said the chip is already being used by some companies and we can expect the XR2 with the new Snapdragon at the end of this year (2020). There isn’t a final design yet, as far as we know.
A drawback to VR becoming more popular is that we’ve seen a huge rise in cumbersome headsets. A lot of people don’t actually want to put them on their head, or wear them for long. Facebook has spent a gargantuan amount of money trying to make some design improvements. They recently revealed that they have been working on a new project that utilises holographic optics in a virtual reality smart glasses device.
Currently, VR uses little OLED or LCD displays inside the lenses that focus light toward your eyes. This is a tried and tested method but they displays do need to be a certain distance from one another to work properly. This enables the optics to bend the light appropriately. The impact of this is a VR headset that needs to be quite deep to fit this all in.
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Facebook Reality Labs researchers Wang and Maimone will be releasing details of their progress next month (August 2020). We’ll see these holographic optics used, making the device itself much more streamlined. This might be the first successful punt at actual VR glasses rather than a headset.
The Future of VR Headsets: Where we’re at now
It’s in the proof-of-concept stage right now. It has polarization-based opticals that fold to replicate a traditional distance but in reality, is sub-1cm in depth. Excitingly, the team also boast that they’ve got the field of view on their device to match existing VR headsets.
They did this using flat film for optics and then laser illumination. Holographic optics will compel laser light sources and these are hard to ingrate but worthwhile for the richness of colour compared to LEDs of today.
Facebook said in a recent blog that their test device only produces monochrome but there is a full-colour prototype in the making. The aim is to bring a full-colour spectrum into a small unit.
This is very much a trial and error piece, there are lots of variables. It will need a constant power source and a processor; questions revolve around the necessity of this being on-board. Really, these products are a few years away yet, but it’s promising.
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