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Expanded Vision with the XR1 Smart Viewer

Qualcomm has introduced a new reference design for augmented reality glasses this year: an AR “smart viewer” you can tether to a phone or PC via USB-C. Called the XR1 Smart Viewer, the system is meant to be lightweight and look (sort of) like sunglasses, while also enabling features like hand tracking and spatial awareness. Let's take a look, shall we?

The XR1 is designed as a consumer-friendly “must-have accessory” for phones and computers, rather than a self-contained product. Does it succeed? It uses two 1920 x 1080 OLED displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, plus an array of cameras, to add a virtual overlay to the real world which is not bad for a pair of sunglasses. The camera array can also support hand tracking as a control scheme, and it can detect planes in the environment, so you can do things like pin a virtual window to a wall for multiple PC displays — or place a virtual object on a table and interact with it through gesture controls. Like most AR glasses of 2021, however, they have a relatively limited field of view of 45 degrees, which is roughly similar to the Microsoft HoloLens 2. The XR1 Smart Viewer is distinct from the Snapdragon XR1 or XR2 platforms — a pair of chipsets that are optimized for virtual and augmented reality glasses, including last year’s XR2-based Oculus Quest 2. It’s designed to perform some tasks using built-in electronics, but it offloads other tasks to an external computing device, allowing for a more lightweight design.

The AR smart viewer reference design packs significant performance features and premium use cases for both the enterprise and consumers, including:

  • Split-processing that enables the AR smart viewer’s on-device optimizations to deliver a 30% reduction in overall power consumption on the system.

  • The 2D app framework provides a systems-level feature that helps launch smartphone applications into multiple virtual displays that can be anchored within the user’s environment. The framework also supports protected content viewing to watch premium movies and streaming services with the smart viewer.

  • Tethering to a PC, the smart viewer combines plane detection and the ability to render multiple virtual displays to allow virtual PC windows to be anchored to planes in the real world.

  • Support for an 8MB RGB camera with image stabilization on the AR smart viewer delivers hands-free, “See What I See” use cases like remote assistance.

  • Dual monochrome cameras on the smart viewer enable six- degrees of freedom (6DoF) head tracking and hand tracking with gesture recognition.

So far, AR glasses have struggled to reach the mainstream but the XR1's are getting close. Recently, Facebook has announced its impending entry into AR hardware last year, and it’s planning to release a set of Ray-Ban smart glasses with limited AR-like features later in 2021. Apple is also rumored to be making a high-end AR / VR headset aimed at building a developer ecosystem. The competition is rising by the day as more projects join the race in creating the world's greatest AR-glasses. The XR1 project is a long term bet on Qualcomm’s part, and an effort to capture (and enable) a market which the company believes will comprise 186 million mobile XR devices by 2023.


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