At Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit held this year in Hawaii the company announced their latest Snapdragon chip for smartphones and mobile VR/AR. The Snapdragon 845 represents the pinnacle of Qualcomm’s technology prowess and its ability to deliver a low power system on a chip with lots of performance and minimal heat. The Snapdragon 845 makes notable improvements across the board, but there’s a particular focus on immersive technologies this time around. In fact, according to Qualcomm, Snapdragon is already in 20 different VR or AR devices with another 20 on the way.
Qualcomm uses the term XR to collectively refer to AR and VR together. With such a large difference between those experiences, there are going to be multiple applications of the same technology to deliver different forms of ‘reality.’ Because of this, the processor that runs these applications needs to be flexible and capable of adapting to the needs of the developer and the user running the developer’s application. That’s why the Snapdragon 845 is such a big deal; it isn’t just about improving the GPU, it is also about improving the CPU as well as the digital signal processing and image signal processing to allow for all of the features needed in XR. These improvements are needed for rooms-scale tracking in a standalone headset.
I am very excited to see what Snapdragon 845 will do for the XR industry, especially the standalone VR and AR solutions that are highly dependent on performance, thermals, and latency. So, what are the improvements exactly? The new Snapdragon 845 Kryo 385 features eight new CPU cores with four ARM Cortex A75 cores and four Cortex A55 cores. These CPU cores are the fastest and most efficient cores that ARM has ever produced, and Qualcomm tweaked them to improve performance and latency. This new CPU improves performance by as much as 25-30 percent which is necessary for freeing up compute resources for other tasks and ensuring high frame rates.
All of these improvements lead to Qualcomm being able to claim that the Snapdragon 845 and the associated VR platform are capable of room-scale VR, beyond simple full freedom of movement. Qualcomm is also claiming that the Snapdragon 845 can power VR headsets with 2k x 2k displays at 120 Hz. In addition to the new CPU, Qualcomm also entirely rebuilt their Adreno 630 GPU from the ground up to allow for a new class of performance. The Adreno 630 is capable of improving GPU performance over the Snapdragon 835 by 30 percent as well, and offers the ability to maintain the same level of performance but at a power reduction of 30 percent. This GPU is also capable of enabling tile-based foveation in conjunction with eye-tracking technologies to reduce the rendering workload and improve the user experience. Having support for this at the GPU level is crucial for enabling it at all because it has to work at a very low latency and appear virtually invisible to the user. The Adreno 630 GPU inside of the Snapdragon 845 is also capable of multiview rendering, which once again speeds up rendering times and reduces the overall load on the GPU.
In the demo room, Qualcomm had numerous Snapdragon 835 reference platform headsets running the FAST demo where you have to identify a stroke victim and use hand and voice controls to complete the experience. I was quite impressed with the Snapdragon 835 platform which will be upgraded to 845. The application had hand tracking, and it was smoother than it was in the past. Qualcomm has tightened up the experience with the Snapdragon 835 and is expected to boost performance to levels with the 845 where it may be difficult to tell the difference between a standalone headset and one that’s tethered to a console or PC. I believe that Snapdragon 845 will have a big impact on the overall XR user experience in 2018 and it should allow for immersive experiences with all the right capabilities available to developers and OEMs.
Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry, cited or related to this article. I do not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.