Variations on the XR2 reference design.

Standalone 5G headsets are coming in 2021

In the XR communities, the hype for the Qualcomm XR2 reference design is high, because it will bring many innovations to standalone XR headsets: better graphics, eye tracking, passthrough vision, AI, and much more. And inside this “much more” there is also 5G connection: headsets won’t depend on Wi-fi anymore and will be able to connect everywhere to a fast mobile network that can also enable cloud rendering. It is a step forward towards the future of XR.

All the main features of the Qualcomm XR2 chipset
All the main features of the Qualcomm XR2 chipset (Image by Qualcomm)

But until now, apart from the announcement of the Lynx R-1, we heard nothing about XR2-powered devices. And even Lynx is now pretty silent, notwithstanding the good interest, it got with its announcement.

I so headed to Qualcomm asking some questions about the upcoming XR2 headsets, and even if they can’t speak of future plans of their partners, I managed to get some tiny bits of interesting info. Let me tell you.

Coronavirus has scrambled all the plans

This is not something that has been told me directly by Qualcomm, but it’s the info I heard from… well, like everywhere

The coronavirus outbreak has created big issues in the supply chain of devices (especially in China) and has also impacted how the employees of the companies work together on projects. Smart working is nice, but there are moments when it is much less efficient than working altogether in the office. The development of many headsets has so been delayed, and the recent rumor of Facebook postponing the announcement of the “Quest S” is another sign of it.

Companies are delaying the developments of their devices and are reorganizing their strategies, so it is no more clear when XR2-powered headsets will launch. Before the COVID, the first XR2 headsets should have come starting from Q3 this year… at this point, I think that hardly we’ll see something before Q4… but this is just a speculation of myself.

XR2 doesn’t mean the only enterprise

When talking about future VR headsets in the communities, the general consensus is that headsets based on the XR2 reference design will be too expensive and only tailored towards the enterprise sector. The Lynx priced at $1500 seems to confirm this hypothesis.

Promotional image of the Lynx R-1, the first revealed headset with the XR2 chipset inside
Promotional image of the Lynx R-1, the first revealed headset with the XR2 chipset inside (Image by Lynx, taken from Upload VR)

Actually, a spokesperson from Qualcomm disagrees with this:

Snapdragon XR2-powered devices will vary in cost, to be determined by the OEM. This is dependent on the type of device (AR, VR, MR) and the component parts like display, lenses, memory configuration and so forth that truly determine the end consumer or enterprise device price point.

Qualcomm

Of course, a device with eye tracking, passthrough vision, 5G, high resolution, etc… can’t cost $400. But it seems that there is the possibility of having headsets that are not crazy expensive. I wanted to go deeper, so I asked what is the cheapest price of an XR2 headset so that to understand if there is a way to make an affordable VR headset for consumers. This is what I got as an answer:

There is no possibility to make a forecast of the minimum or maximum price because it is completely in the hand of the OEM. There will be consumer and enterprise price points, […] but it’s not possible to give a price point because that isn’t in the hands of Qualcomm.

Long story short: it depends on the vendor. But the XR2 doesn’t automatically translate to “enterprise”: considering that Qualcomm knows all the major manufacturers if it stresses that “There will be consumer and enterprise price points”, it means that probably there are some headset manufacturers that are already working on consumer headsets based on this reference design.

Can it be the “Quest S? We have no idea, and of course, this is an industrial secret that no one is going to reveal to us soon. I still think it is improbable because Oculus has always worked on offering low prices products, so a headset using an older chipset like Snapdragon 845 or 855 seems more realistic to me, but I’m always happy to be surprised.

Implementation of a 5G XR solution for retail that Qualcomm has designed together with some partners
Implementation of a 5G XR solution for retail that Qualcomm has designed together with some partners (Image by Qualcomm)

We are all waiting for 5G headsets. 5G is a technology in the middle of the hype, both in a positive sense (5G is going to revolutionize all industries!) and a negative one (5G is killing us all!).

In the XR communities, 5G is considered to be able to empower immersive realities by giving the possibility of offloading some tasks from the headset to the cloud, making headsets lighter and more performant. “Cloud rendering” is a term we all love to hear.

But when is this convergence coming? When can we put a 5G SIM inside our standalone headset and enjoy the future? It seems that the answer is soon, but not so soon:

Qualcomm cannot commit to commercial timeline or launches on behalf of customers, but we do expect XR2 5G standalone devices to be in market sometime in 2021.

Qualcomm

This confirms some rumors I unofficially heard in the last months: basically, we have to wait one year. This is not that bad considering that 5G is rolling out slowly and so even if you had such a headset today, you wouldn’t be able to exploit its functionalities.

Notice that I’m talking about standalone headsets: the Huawei VR viewer that is pluggable into your Huawei smartphone can immediately become 5G-powered if your smartphone is so.

Take in mind these considerations if you are planning a project involving standalone headsets and 5G: 2021 is the year. Just a bit more patience, and you will be able to enjoy 5G-powered XR!

This article was originally published on The Ghost Howls

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