After announcing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform yesterday at Snapdragon Summit 2022, Qualcomm announced the augmented reality and audio platforms today. The chipmaker also teased Oryon CPU with a custom architecture for the Snapdragon Compute platform. Below is a summary of all Day 2 announcements from Qualcomm.
Qualcomm Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 platform for thin and light Augmented Reality glasses
The concept of augmented reality glasses in a thin, lightweight, and unobtrusive form factor has been around for a few years now, but there are a lot of challenges in bringing that technology to market. The challenges include having sufficient computational horsepower on the glasses while offboarding other processing to partner devices or the cloud and doing so at low power within a tight thermal envelope. It also means fast connectivity is needed. And doing this while keeping size and weight minimal and enabling ease of use. Qualcomm, with the purpose-built 4nm Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 platform, is addressing many of these challenges. Qualcomm is not addressing the optics part, which will remain a challenge, but the AR2 is a big step in the right direction.
The multi-chip architecture of the Qualcomm Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 platform has three key elements:
- First is an AR processor that manages sensing and tracking of the user and the environment, and also manages the critical task of feeding the visual pipeline.
- Second is an AR co-processor, which takes care of the sensors, AI, and computer vision. The use of a processor and co-processor allows for overall smaller and lighter designs with fewer interconnects between sensors and the processing hubs.
- The third chip is the FastConnect 7800 connectivity module which is the first to bring Wi-Fi 7 connectivity to AR, offering less than 2ms latency, and up to 5.8Gbps peak speeds, while consuming 40% less power.
Single-chip AR solutions have a larger PCB and wires running all around the temples and the nose bridge. This is where Qualcomm’s latest solution with multiple chips will help reduce all the clutter and make way for a thinner form factor. The main processor PCB is now 40% smaller (10mm x 12mm), whereas the co-processor is also small (4.2mm x 6.2mm), both of which help in reducing 45% of wires around the frame.
Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 also focuses on “Distributed Processing”, which, as the name suggests, distributes the processing between the AR glasses and the host (smartphone, a PC, or cloud, or even a mix). It also consumes 50% less power at less than 1W, which is great compared to the Snapdragon XR2 platform.
Qualcomm also says that the Hexagon processor on the new platform offers a 2.5X jump in AI performance for different tasks such as image classification, object recognition, and hand tracking.
But it is not just the hardware, Qualcomm is also helping developers build immersive AR content with the Snapdragon Spaces dev platform and SDK. The software tools include object recognition and tracking, positional tracking, hand tracking, plane detection, scene understanding, and much more. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform is Snapdragon Spaces ready, and OEMs such as HONOR, OnePlus, OPPO, Xiaomi, REDMAGIC, Pico, Nreal, and others are already working on bringing these immersive experiences to their devices.
Qualcomm S5 and S3 Gen 2 Sound platforms
Qualcomm unveiled its second-generation Bluetooth audio platforms, S5 Gen 2 and S3 Gen 2, with support for Snapdragon Sound technology. The new platforms are optimized to work with the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, to deliver premium audio experiences. While the Qualcomm S5 Gen 2 is designed for TWS and over-the-ear headphones, S3 Gen 2 is designed for mainstream accessories such as speakers.
Some key features include:
- Optimization for Bluetooth LE Audio with lossless audio support.
- 48ms latency for lag-free gaming.
- Spatial audio with dynamic head-tracking.
- Enhanced ANC to solve issues such as wind noise, howling, and more.
- Adaptive transparency mode with automatic speech detection.
- AuraCast Broadcast Audio support allows users to share music with family and friends in a personal environment or a public setting.
Commercial devices powered by Qualcomm S5 and S3 Gen 2 platforms are expected in H2 2023.
Custom Oryon CPU, a competitor to Apple Silicon
Besides smartphones, Qualcomm has also been focusing on always-on, always-connected compute platforms. The platform includes features like built-in 5G connectivity and low-power, high-performance CPU to offer long-lasting battery life and powerful productivity in a single package. With the Nuvia acquisition, Qualcomm is taking a big leap to “shape the future of computing” with the next-generation custom Oryon CPU.
Presently, Qualcomm relies on ARM for the CPU core design, but with Oryon, it will own the hardware and software stack, and will no longer need to wait for ARM to release new designs. This means it can operate independently more like Intel, AMD, and even Apple. The Oryon CPU is designed for Windows on ARM but can be extended to mobile also. While Qualcomm did not offer any further details, we may have to wait for a year or more to see the custom CPU in action.
The keynote also saw some announcements from Citibank and Adobe. Citibank announced that it will be transitioning 70% of its global users to Qualcomm-based computers, whereas Adobe said it will be bringing Creative Cloud applications to Snapdragon-based compute platforms in 2023.
Qualcomm also highlighted some of the recent AI advancements in Windows 11 around the mic and camera abilities. When on Teams and Zoom calls, the Neural Processing Unit (NPU) can offer noise-cancellation to focus on the user’s voice while reducing the ambient background noises. The AI camera can also blur the background and auto-track the user to keep them in the frame and in focus. These features can already be found in Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G powered by Microsoft SQ 3 SoC, which is basically a customized Snapdragon 8CX Gen 3 chipset.
The existing Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 platform offers good performance for many of the tasks that users undertake on a daily basis, but it doesn’t have the power to perform heavy computational loads; it was notable that Qualcomm compared the performance of its solutions to Intel Core i5 class of processors rather than an Apple M1 or Core i7, for example – for this level of power, we expect that the new Oryon CPU will be needed. But for many users, the power it offers will be more than sufficient and the benefits offered in core use cases combined with long battery life and fanless designs will mean a step-change in the usability of PCs.