QUALCOMM VR REVIEW: HANDS-ON WITH QUALCOMM’S VIRTUAL-REALITY HEADSET
First introduced at IFA 2016 in Berlin, Qualcomm VR offers something slightly different from both mobile-powered VR headsets and high-end PC-powered VR headsets too. What might that be? The headset features all the tech it needs to run within the headset, negating the need for a phone or PC. It’s not the only impressive feature of Qualcomm VR either, as we learnt when we went hands-on with the VR headset at IFA 2016.
QUALCOMM VR REVIEW: RELEASE DATE AND PRICING
Before we go any further, let’s discuss when we’re likely to see Qualcomm VR hit the market. While the headset has been announced at IFA 2016, it’s still in prototype stage and as such, we shouldn’t expect it to hit the market anytime soon. Although with that being said, we spoke to Qualcomm at the event and a representative told us that we could possibly see a CES 2017 reveal, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
What about pricing? It’s a similar story, as it’d be pretty silly to price a headset that’s still in prototype stage, although we’ve been told that it’d cost more than Samsung’s Gear VR (minus the cost of the smartphone of course!) but cheaper than the $599 Oculus Rift.
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QUALCOMM VR REVIEW: DESIGN AND BUILD
The first thing you’ll notice about Qualcomm’s VR headset when picking it up for the first time is the weight – but not in a bad way. Despite housing some fairly advanced technology inside the headset, it’s incredibly lightweight – we’d say it’s closer to the weight of the Gear VR rather than the HTC Vive, although exact weight measurements aren’t being provided by the company at this time. Regardless, the lightweight nature of the headset means you can look around without feeling a heavy weight hanging from your face.
Even at prototype stage, the design of the Qualcomm VR headset is sleek – it looks like a finished product complete with touch-sensitive controls on either side, and even ports for various connections hidden away underneath the head mounted display. The current model comes in either black or white, although this could change closer to launch.
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The most impressive design feat of Qualcomm VR isn’t its sleek, sexy nature or even its weight – it’s the lack of cables. Qualcomm VR isn’t tethered to a computer by cables, as all the technology is built right into the headset, allowing complete freedom when in the VR world – but that’s something we’ll come to in more detail below.
Yes, that’s right – there’s no need for a high-end PC, games console or even a smartphone to use Qualcomm VR as all the technology needed is built directly into the headset, an impressive feat at this stage in the VR game we must admit. The headset doesn’t require base stations or beacons like the high-end HTC Vive and Oculus Rift either, as it features Qualcomm’s “6DOF” technology which provides mobile tracking on a mobile HMD.
We’re not talking about just looking around either – the technology, coupled with the two cameras mounted on the front of the headset allows users to physically walk around the virtual environment just like the HTC Vive, a feature that even the Oculus Rift cannot currently offer. Qualcomm told us that the cameras feature technology that allows them to recognise objects in the room around you, map them and then be able to tell if you move closer or further away from them.
While we initially apprehensive about a tracking system that relies only upon cameras and built-in tech, we were pleasantly surprised, which we’ll talk about in more detail below.
The headset itself features Qualcomm’s latest and most powerful processor, the Snapdragon 820, coupled with an Adreno 530 GPU. What does this translate to in the real world? Impressive quality VR for an all-in-one VR headset – sure, it can’t compete with the high-end textures of the HTC Vive being powered by an expensive PC, but we had no real complaints about quality during our time with the headset, especially as it can manage to power VR at 60fps.
The quality of the display is worth noting too, as it’s higher than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – both high end headsets feature two displays split at 1200×1080, while Qualcomm VR features two displays split at 1440×1440, providing a crisp, high resolution VR experience. However while the resolution is higher, the refresh rate (which helps make everything look smooth) is capped at 70Hz, while both high-end headsets offer 90Hz as standard.
QUALCOMM VR REVIEW: THE EXPERIENCE
So, what is Qualcomm VR like to use? Despite still being in prototype stage and one of the first VR headsets to offer standalone tracking technology, we were pretty amazed by what Qualcomm has to offer. The tracking is incredible – as mentioned above, relying on sensors and cameras didn’t seem like a great idea to us but we were wrong as the accuracy of the tracking was similar to the likes of the HTC Vive. In fact, it allows you to walk around the virtual environment, bend down and look up just like you would in real life.
While the demos were basic, they gave us a good idea of what to expect from the headset. The first demo was fairly simple, as we were in an ocean with an octopus floating in front of us. The standalone tracking allowed us to walk up to, and around the octopus to examine it while it watched us move with its beady little eyes (it was an animation, not a real life octopus). The tracking, even when looking around quickly and bending over was instant, and not having to worry about tripping over cables gave us a sense of freedom we didn’t get with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
The second demo was slightly different, as we found ourselves in a cave face-to-face with a dragon that ran past us into the dark. While VR is cool, it’s nothing without decent 3D audio which, unsurprisingly, the Qualcomm VR headset has. For example, at one point during the demo we could hear the soft breathing of a dragon coming from what sounded like behind us, and as we turned (and admittedly jumped) there it was, staring at us.
Essentially, we’re really excited for what Qualcomm has to offer to the world of virtual reality, and cannot wait for a consumer release of the VR headset.
Qualcomm VR: Specs
- 1400×1400 per eye, 70Hz refresh rate
- 60fps playback
- Snapdragon 820 with Adreno 530 GPU standalone tracking technology
- No PC or smartphone required to power it
- Completely wireless
- Two cameras and four microphones
While it’s far too early to give Qualcomm VR a full verdict as it’s still a prototype, based on our experience with the headset during IFA 2016, we’re extremely excited about what Qualcomm has to offer. The fact that you don’t need a smartphone or PC to run the VR applications is amazing, and in our opinion is what the VR industry needs right now – yes, it’s great if you have a high-end PC capable of powering a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but what about everyone else? The standalone tracking technology featured is incredibly impressive too, and is unlike anything else we’ve experienced thus far. Watch this space, Qualcomm is here to disrupt the VR market.
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