Qualcomm’s AR Smart Viewer Reference Design: Slimmer and Wireless
Qualcomm has unveiled its new wireless reference design for its Augmented Reality Smart Viewer. This is only a reference design, a prototype that manufacturers can adapt to manufacture commercial headsets that use Qualcomm’s XR2 chipset. Consumers might not see the actual hardware as manufacturers will likely tweak the final product designs and, given the dominance of Meta Quest 2 in VR and challenges with AR tech, few manufacturers may actually take the offer to build a device based on the design.
The new Wireless AR Smart Viewer is an update of the company’s previous smart glasses design that ran an XR1 chip and relied on legacy cables. However, it now runs a high-powered chipset and its tethering uses a Wi-Fi 6/6E and Bluetooth rather than a USB-C cable like in the previous design. The tradeoff with this is that you get shorter battery life but Qualcomm has said that a consumer-ready version of this might feature a different design.
It is similar to its predecessor in some ways. It connects to a smartphone or computer and renders mixed reality experiences complete with full head and hand tracking via tracking cameras and projections which are powered by micro-OLED displays. The latest reference design also maintains the resolution of 1920 x 1080 and the 90Hz refresh rate in the previous design. However, its diagonal field of view has narrowed a bit to 40 degrees from 45 degrees in the previous design.
For comparison, Magic Leap 2, a non-consumer-focused AR smart glass, has a field of view of 70 degrees. However, the Smart Viewer gives you a slimmer profile compared to its previous wired counterpart and most competitors currently in the market.
The wireless Smart Viewer frames have a depth of 15.6mm compared to 25mm in the wired Smart Viewer and thinness softens their usual bug-eyed look. The shallower design of the wireless Smart Viewer makes use of freeform optics and this type of design is considerably more difficult to make with a wider field of view.
The wireless Smart Viewer weighs 115 grams which is heavier than the 106-gram Nreal Light smart glasses but considerably lighter than Apple’s AR/VR headset which is rumored to weigh 150 grams. The Meta Quest 2, at 503 grams, feels quite heavy in comparison to these smart glasses.
The biggest take is that it is now unencumbered by lots of legacy cabling. The reference design was developed by the industry-leading manufacturer Goertek and, according to Forbes, it is approximately 40% thinner than Qualcomm’s earlier wired design. They are also more comfortable on the face, well-balanced, and don’t feel or look too awkward.
The glasses’ dual micro-OLED binocular displays were manufactured by SeeYa, a Qualcomm partner. They deliver a resolution of 1920 x 1080 per eye and have a refresh rate of up to 90Hz, with a no-motion-blur technology. The displays are mounted on the eyeglass and render images with reduced eye fatigue.
The glasses also feature a dual monochrome camera as well as a single RGB camera on board with six degrees of freedom (6DoF) head, hand, and eye-tracking functionality with gesture recognition.
Under the hood, the AR smart glass viewer has a 67 her battery which, according to Qualcomm, gives you an uptime of 30 minutes before a recharge. The external hardware is impressive but the device has an equally powerful computational capability to handle its rendering, positional and interaction workloads.
Snapdragon XR2 chipset Splits the Workload and Reduces Latency
The experience in the reference design is powered by the low-latency wireless connection between the headset and a Snapdragon-powered Android smartphone. Some of the processing workload in the augmented experience is handled by the smartphone. These include the XR application, a good chunk of the rendering workload as well as the encoding.
The glass runs the low-power Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1 platform which handles other processing workloads such as video delivery, the tracking functions (head, eye, and hand tracking) as well as a number of other functions such as the decoding of the compressed rendered image frames from the smartphone, which already does the heavy lifting for the graphics engine.
The split processing also makes it possible for users to tap into the phone’s 5G connectivity and can be leveraged to connect to various AR applications in the cloud.
The wired Smart Viewer used the Snapdragon XR1 chip. Qualcomm says the XR2 chip provides additional power for computer vision processing along with other high-powered tasks.
The latency will be good as long the two devices are communicating via the FastConnect 6900. This uses Qualcomm’s FastConnect XR Software as well as Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900 Wi-Fi 6/6E Bluetooth chipset tech for high-speed and low-latency connection over 5GHz and 6Ghz bands. The Fast Connect technology has been built into the AR Smart Viewer reference design as well as in the smartphone and will allow ultra-fast low-latency (less than 3 milliseconds) connection between the glasses and the smartphone. The FastConnect is critical to the successful operation of the reference design as wirelessly transferring all the bits of the experience onto a 1080p display consumes plenty of bandwidth and is a difficult feat to realize.
Qualcomm says the Wireless AR Smart Viewer reference design can also be used with other Wi-Fi solutions but users will get the best experience when they pair it with a FastConnect-enabled device.
It is also likely that wireless technologies will develop to a level whereby the dual 4K resolution will deliver 90Hz and above in these kinds of smart glasses which will require a massive ultra-low latency bandwidth. This is a technology that is still developing.
The new AR Smart Viewer reference design is already available to a few manufacturing partners but plans are underway to get more partners on board in the next months.
Qualcomm has a long -vision to realize a wireless headset but the limitations of its latest reference design highlight the technical challenges that Augmented Reality still faces before a fully consumer-ready headset can be made, especially on battery life. Qualcomm says the most demanding immersive experiences will drain the juice in the Smart Viewer’s 6500mAh battery in just 30 minutes although simpler and lighter virtual overlays will consume less power. The reference design allows users to add an attachable battery with a cable but Qualcomm has said manufacturers can prioritize longer-lasting HMDs in their individual designs.