Wireless technology company Qualcomm has introduced a reference design for its wireless AR Smart Viewer, a next-gen pair of augmented reality glasses meant to help hardware partners build their commercial headsets with immersive properties. The latest wireless device is an update of Qualcomm’s previous wired smart eyewear design except that it comes with a higher-powered chipset. The latest Smart Viewer design now adds a tethering system to a host PC, a phone, or puck, it uses Wi-Fi 6 / 6E and Bluetooth instead of a USB-C cable. However, the wireless advantages come with the tradeoff of potential short battery life — Qualcomm claims subsequent consumer-ready versions might present different designs with more impressive advantages.
According to reports, Qualcomm’s new Smart Viewer was developed by Goertek, a handful of manufacturers now have access to Qualcomm’s new AR design, and within the coming months, many more should have their turn. Just like its previous version, the Smart Viewer connects to a host PC or phone and delivers mixed reality experiences in full head and hand tracking with gesture recognition using 3 tracking cameras (two monochromes, one color) and projections powered by 90Hz micro-OLED displays. WiFi 6E and Bluetooth help shuffle data quickly while keeping lag under 3ms between the glasses and host device. Qualcomm maintains the previous 1080p resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, but it’s slightly narrowing the field of view, dropping it from 45 degrees to 40 degrees diagonal.
The new Smart Viewer is substantially smaller compared to the non-consumer-focused Magic Leap 2, an AR eyewear recently introduced and offers closer to 70 degrees. But reports say the Smart Viewer comprises a slimmer profile compared to either the previous wired Smart Viewer or most competitors. According to The Verge, its frames are 15.6mm deep unlike the earlier wired version which has frames around 25mm, softening AR glasses’ typical bug-eyed look. At 115 grams, it’s a little heftier than the 106-gram Nreal Light glasses, a bit lighter than the rumored 150 grams of Apple’s AR / VR headset, and far svelter than VR headsets like the 503-gram Meta Quest 2.
The previous wired model was manufactured with the Snapdragon XR1 chipset while the newly improved wireless viewer version uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chipset as seen in the image above. Qualcomm claims the Snapdragon XR2 offers more power for computer vision processing and other tasks. Qualcomm has promised that there would be a brisk 3ms latency between the glasses and the connected phone or PC, so far the phone or PC comprises a Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900 chip. Qualcomm AR / VR head Hugo Swart has revealed that the actual “motion to photon” latency is at about 20ms, just clearing the threshold for a comfortable mixed reality experience.
For years now, manufacturing a wireless headset for the metaverse has been Qualcomm’s objective, but the Smart Viewer still showcases an enduring challenge in AR -making high-powered glasses that eventually don’t run out almost immediately. Swart explains that the most demanding virtual experiences could possibly drain the headset’s 650mAh battery in about 30 minutes. Swart emphasized that light, the simple virtual overlay could use much less power. Users can also have the ability to plug in an attachable battery with the help of a cable. Swart revealed that it is possible for manufacturers or hardware partners to choose to prioritize a longer-lasting headset in subsequent designs. But ideally, the current tech status can’t support some of AR’s most obvious applications, an example of such is creating a set of virtual monitors you can use all day at work.
We weren’t able to try the new Smart Viewer ourselves, and consumers might never buy hardware that looks precisely like the reference design since manufacturers could tweak the system to their own specifications. For now, Qualcomm is working with “at least four” manufacturers but with no idea of how long it might take to commercialize the headset. But Qualcomm’s earlier designs have been reference designs for the like of Nreal Light and Lenovo ThinkReality A3 glasses — so the new AR Smart Viewer is certainly a good example of what future wireless eyewear might possibly look like.