During the Google I/O keynote, Google and Qualcomm announced a partnership to create a reference design for a standalone Daydream VR headset using Snapdragon 835 to enable the ecosystem of partners to have deliverable hardware in consumers’ hands by the end of 2017. The time line is aggressive, impressively so, thanks in large part to the previous work Qualcomm had done with the Snapdragon-based VR reference design we first saw in September 2016. At the time the Qualcomm platform was powered by the Snapdragon 820. Since then, Qualcomm has updated the design to integrate the Snapdragon 835 processor and platform, improving performance and efficiency along the way.
Google has now taken the reference platform and made some modifications to integrate Daydream support and will offer it to partners to show case what a standalone, untethered VR solution can do. Even though Google Daydream has been shipping in the form of slot-in phones with a “dummy” headset, integrating the whole package into a dedicate device offers several advantages.
First, I expected the free standalone units to have better performance than the phones used as a slot-in solution. With the ability to tune the device to higher thermal limits, Qualcomm and Google will be able to ramp up the clocks on the GPU and SoC to get optimal performance. And, because there is more room for a larger battery on the headset design, there should be an advantage in battery life along with the increase in performance.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR Reference Device
It is also likely that the device will have better thermal properties than those using high smartphones today. In other words, with more space, there should be more area for cooling and thus the unit shouldn’t be as warm on the consumers face.
I would assume as well that the standalone units will have improved hardware over the smartphone iterations. That means better gyros, cameras, sensors, etc. that could lead to improved capability for the hardware in this form. Better hardware, tighter and more focused integration and better software support should mean lower latency and better VR gaming across the board. Assuming everything is implemented as it should.
The only major change that Google has made to this reference platform is the move away from Qualcomm’s 6DOF technology (6 degrees of freedom, allowing you to move in real space and have all necessary tracking done on the headset itself) and to Google calls WorldSense. Based on the Google Project Tango technology, this is the one area I have questions about going forward. I have used three different Tango enabled devices thus far with long-term personal testing and can say that while the possibilities for it were astounding, the implementations had been…slow. For VR that 100% cannot be the case. I don’t yet know how different its integration is from what Qualcomm had done previously, but hopefully Google will leverage the work Qualcomm has already done with its platform.
Google is claiming that consumers will have hardware based on this reference design in 2017 but no pricing has been shared with me yet. I wouldn’t expect it to be inexpensive though – we are talking about all the hardware that goes into a flagship smartphone plus a little extra for the VR goodness. We’ll see how aggressive Google wants its partners to be and if it is willing to absorb any of the upfront costs with subsidy.
Let me know if this is the direction you hope to see VR move – away from tethered PC-based solutions and into the world of standalone units.