Virtual reality hasn’t been the growth engine the tech industry expected yet. The new media field is caught in a typical chicken and egg phase of many early developments: few people have VR gear because there’s not much compelling VR content, but few companies are producing compelling VR content because there are so few users.
But as is also typical, the technology itself is rapidly improving, and getting cheaper, which will eventually kick off a big growth wave. An important development arrived on Wednesday, with Qualcomm showing off how its latest Snapdragon 845 chipset for mobile phones can also be used to power VR headsets.
Dubbed the Snapdragon 845 Xtended Reality platform, Qualcomm’s chips can be used to build virtual or augmented reality goggles with high resolution that don’t require any awkward cabling or even a wireless connection back to a powerful PC. The company will bring a “reference design” headset to next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The black goggles with red striped highlights offer a resolution of 4 million pixels for each eye and use a technique called foveated rendering that saves power by leaving the areas out of the user’s direct field of vision somewhat blurry.
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Of course, Qualcomm won’t be making its own consumer version of the headset. The reference design is just to demonstrate to partners—including Google (GOOGL), Facebook’s (FB) Oculus, and HTC—the capabilities of the newest chips.
“The reference design is a key component that takes our latest chips and enables software features,” Hugo Swart, head of XR at Qualcomm, said in an interview with tech news site GamesBeat. “One of our key goals with VR is to enable good VR for the masses. We know we can’t do that with a $2,000 (PC-focused) setup.”
Qualcomm’s (QCOM) Snapdragon 845 is already being used in some smartphones being introduced later this month and could be integrated in VR headsets later this year.