Report: Oculus Prepping Qualcomm SoC-Based Standalone VR HMD

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Oculus and its parent company Facebook plan to launch a standalone VR HMD in 2018, according to a report from Bloomberg. In response to our request for a statement on the issue, Oculus did not deny the report. Oculus stated only that it’s investing heavily in standalone VR.

This we already knew. Last year at Oculus Connect 3 (OC3), the company revealed a prototype standalone headset called Project Santa Cruz that featured the processing power built into the headset and inside-out spatial tracking. However, the fact that Oculus stated that it’s currently still putting resources behind standalone VR indicates that Project Santa Cruz, or at least a version of it, is alive and well.

Oculus provided the following statement when pressed about the report:

“We don’t have a product to unveil at this time, however we can confirm that we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category. This is in addition to our commitment to high-end VR products like Oculus Rift and mobile phone products like Gear VR.”

Tera Randall, Director of Communications for Oculus / Facebook, added:

“We don’t have any additional details on a future product. Santa Cruz is a great example of the investment we’re making in the standalone category and there’s more to come.”

Aside from the above, Oculus has remained silent about the development of Project Santa Cruz or any standalone VR HMD, but if Bloomberg’s unnamed sources are to be believed, we should start to see more information in the coming months. Bloomberg’s source suggested that Oculus is gearing up to reveal the standalone headset, code-named “Pacific,” to developers “by October” with plans to launch the hardware in 2018 for roughly $200. (That timeline jibes with possible announcements at Oculus Connect 4, which will take place on October 11-12.)

Bloomberg reported that the upcoming device would include a Snapdragon mobile processor and a remote control (probably similar to the ones that accompany the Gear VR and Daydream HMDs) and that Xiaomi is set to manufacture the headset for Oculus.

We are presently unable to confirm the Xiaomi part of the report, but it’s worth noting that Hugo Barra, Facebook’s new-ish VP of VR, left Xiaomi in January. It’s not unlikely, then, that Barra may have worked to develop a hardware partnership between the two companies.

Our sources familiar with the project led us to believe that the Qualcomm part of Bloomberg’s story is true. This also matches up with what we saw last year at OC3, during which Oculus’ John Carmack talked from the event stage about dedicating a smartphone SoC–like a high-end Snapdragon chip–to a wireless VR headset.

The idea is that a high-end smartphone SoC is powerful enough (and small enough) to provide reasonably high-quality VR experiences on standalone HMDs, particularly if they aren’t also responsible for telephony. This is a departure from the Samsung Gear VR and (old) Google Cardboard/Daydream paradigms that required you to place a smartphone into a “dumb” HMD. Instead, the SoC is inside the HMD itself; it’s an entire closed system, and the “monitor” is the HMD’s own display and optics.

That’s precisely the new paradigm that Google is offering with the next generation of its Daydream VR platform. They’re untethered, standalone, mobile VR headsets. Google is providing the reference platform. So far, two major companies have signed on to build their own headsets based on Google’s new platform: Lenovo and, far more notably in the context of today’s report, HTC.

Because we’re now certain that this Oculus HMD will use a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC, we can confidently infer that the exact SoC is the Snapdragon 835, which is the foundation for Qualcomm’s entire mobile VR platform.

Therefore, the part of the Bloomberg report that stated there would be no positional tracking on this unnamed Oculus device is incorrect, because positional tracking (SLAM technology) is part the Snapdragon VR platform.

Taking all of the above into consideration, it appears that Oculus may simply be building its own Daydream-based standalone HMD, just like Lenovo and HTC. The reported price ($200) would certainly indicate as such, and it also leads us to believe that this is a simple, fully occluded VR HMD, and not some version of a mixed reality or augmented reality headset, which would (like Microsoft’s HoloLens) be many times more expensive.

It’s also possible that Oculus has gone a bit rogue, eschewing the standalone Daydream reference design in favor of its own version of a standalone Snapdragon-based VR HMD. We believe that the former is far more likely, though. Last year, Oculus demonstrated that it knew it needed and wanted to get to untethered, standalone VR. It showed us a prototype that was functional but incredibly rough, and then Google and Qualcomm produced a more polished version upon which it could build. It bears repeating that its main VR competitor, HTC, is doing that very thing.

In any case, we expect to learn full details at OC4 in October.


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