Qualcomm's VR developer kit specs blow Vive and Rift out of the water

qualcomm snapdragon 835 vrdk snapdragonvr03
Alongside its debut of the Snapdragon 835 central and graphics processor, Qualcomm has announced a new virtual reality headset developer kit, which has some very impressive specifications and abilities. Not only does it offer higher resolution than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it features wireless, inside-out positional tracking, eye tracking, and hand tracking.

To date, the most impressive mobile virtual reality headset we’ve gotten our hands on is the Samsung Gear VR. It’s a great piece of equipment, but lacks a lot of the features that can be found on higher-end, PC-based VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. That’s not the case with Qualcomm’s dev kit though, which in many ways leapfrogs its competitors to give us a glimpse of the future.

The Qualcomm VRDK comes with a single 2,560 x 1,440 display, split across both eyes and paired up the Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 64GB of onboard flash memory. It also supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB 3.1 Type-C connections and has a built-in trackpad for user inputs.

However, it’s the sensor set-up which is so impressive on the Qualcomm head-mounted display (HMD). It features a pair of front-mounted, monochromatic, one-megapixel cameras with fisheye lenses, which give the headset inside-out tracking. That is, in conjunction with the onboard gyroscope and accelerometer, it can tell where you are in the real world and translate your six degrees of motion into the virtual equivalent.

Taking things a step further, Qualcomm also announced that it had partnered with Leap Motion to integrate its hand-tracking technology into the VRDK. That means that users will be able to see and utilize their hands in VR games and experiences. While it lacks the inputs and tactile feedback of motion controllers, Leap trackers have proved to be an affordable way to add hand-interaction in digital experiences (thanks AndroidCentral).

Qualcomm’s VRDK is capable of tracking your eyes, too, using a pair of monochromatic shutter cameras on the inside of the headset. They let the software adjust what you see based on where you’re looking, which in turn makes foveated rendering possible. Although still a fledgling technology, it has the potential to make massive savings on required power for certain games and experience, which should enable higher-end visuals on the mobile platform.

All of this is backed up by Qualcomm’s own software developer kit, which gives software makers deep access to the CPU, GPU, and power and performance management, making it easier to achieve stable frame rates and comfort for the VR user.

At this point, the only feature holding back Qualcomm’s developer kit from making the Vive and Rift look obsolete is its reliance on the on-board Snapdragon processor. While powerful in its own right, it’s unlikely to be anywhere near as capable as a high-end gaming PC, and so it can’t hope to deliver the same kind of visual experience as PC-based virtual reality.

Everything else though is a generational leap ahead of the mainstream VR headsets revealed in April 2016, and suggests that 2017 and beyond is going to see huge leaps in the functionality and quality of virtual reality hardware.

Unfortunately for those looking for a release date, Qualcomm isn’t planning on selling this developer kit to the public. It’s going out to software developers and hardware partners, the latter of whom will use it as a base to build their own designs upon. The headsets will start shipping out to partners in the second quarter of this year, though visitors to the Games Developer Conference and Mobile World Conference shows will get to see a demonstration of the technology later this month.

Emerging Tech

What’s it like to die? This VR experience puts doctors in a dying man’s shoes

A new VR experience depicts the last days of a lung cancer patient. It is already being used as a teaching tool in hospices and medical schools. But can VR really make us more empathetic?
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Computing

A Google patent shows a way to make VR even more immersive

Virtual reality can be a really immersive experience, but it does sometimes it does have boundaries. Google has addressed this problem by patenting shoes with a flexible region on the bottom.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.
Photography

Intel’s augmented reality brings Red Bull Rampage into your living room

The extreme mountain biking action of Red Bull Rampage is coming to your living room thanks to the power of augmented reality and 360-degree video that lets fans load a scale replica of the course right in their phones.
Mobile

From the road to your wrist, see how Android has evolved over the past 10 years

Android started out as just a mobile operating system, but 10 years in it's pretty much everywhere. Check out our round-up of all the different Android variations that have cropped up so far, and what might be coming in the future.
Photography

With flip-out lenses, the Vuze XR transforms from 2D to 180-degree VR camera

The Vuze XR is a compact, dual-lens camera with an integrated handle and a neat party trick: The back-to-back lenses can flip forward to transition from 360-degree, two-dimensional video to 180-degree, three-dimensional video.
Computing

Following the Portal, augmented reality glasses may be Facebook’s next step

Following the launch of its Portal smart display, Facebook says it is working on AR glasses, possibly in a move at challenging both Apple and Google and perhaps to rise up in the hardware scene. 
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Computing

Oculus VR could upgrade the Rift with a new display in 2019

Oculus could be set to release a new version of its Rift headset in 2019, but it will be more of a modest upgrade than a true sequel. The Rift S, as its purportedly called, will have a new display, and inside-out tracking.
Mobile

Google awarded patent for using eye tracking to detect expressions in VR

Google was awarded a patent that involves using eye tracking to infer facial expressions using machine learning in virtual reality. The tech could help make virtual reality a whole lot more immersive than it already is.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Virtual Reality

Prototype Valve VR headset leaked: HTC Vive challenger confirmed?

Leaked images revealed that a Valve VR headset is in development, even amid Valve's partnership with HTC for the HTC Vive. Sources confirmed the device, which may be bundled with a Half-Life VR game.