There’s not really been a massive amount of new virtual reality (VR) hardware on show at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2018 when it comes to head-mounted displays (HMD). Oculus had its standalone device, the Oculus Go on demonstration for the first time and Qualcomm decided to showcase its vision of the future, the Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Reference Design.
As the name implies, Qualcomm’s standalone headset isn’t designed to be a consumer offering from the company. Rather a design that OEM’s can utilise to create their own headsets, much in the same way Microsoft did with Windows Mixed Reality headsets.
So while Oculus Go was a clean, fully finished product, the Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR was a far more rough and ready device, designed to highlight some of the features Qualcomm has been touting. There were three main features that were easily testable, the eye tracking – provided through a partnership with Tobii – inside-out tracking and the controller.
The eye tracking demo was incredibly basic. Standing in front of a virtual mirror a reflection of a digital character was portrayed. The two internal VGA cameras then detected motions such as blinking, winking, or looking in different directions – its quite difficult looking to one side then trying to see in your peripheral vision if it’s actually working. All the actions were mirrored exactly, not particularly overwhelming but it does help to highlight how emotive a digital character can be with eye tracking, ideal for social experiences.
With a dual camera system on the front, the inside-out tracking seemed to work reasonably well. It was a shame there wasn’t a massive amount of space to wander around in, yet stepping backwards and forwards was completed without any latency and thankfully no walls were bumped into. To test this and the controller an on-rails demo took place inside a space ship manned by robots. After a quick sweep around the hanger it was time to shoot some bugs. This proved to be somewhat haphazard as the controller was fairly compact, so the headset cameras tended to lose sight of the device. This is the reason Windows Mixed Reality headset controllers have such a big ring, helping keep the controllers in view.
Graphically the space demo was very good, with the kind of visuals you’d expect from a mobile device. It certainly wasn’t as crisp and clear as Oculus Go but that’s a finalised product.
Its too early to judge the Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Reference Design on areas like build quality and comfort as this was still a prototype essentially. What the headset did show however is that tech like inside-out tracking and eye tracking are important steps in VR’s journey. The ability to move in a virtual space cannot be underestimated, and that need for more natural human interaction in videogame worlds could prove pivotal – and that’s before even mentioning foveated rendering to help improve processing efficiency. If Qualcomm can get enough interest from OEM’s to get several of these on the market within the next year or so then consumers are going to be spoiled for choice.