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Meta and Qualcomm jointly develop chips for next-gen VR

Meta and Qualcomm jointly develop chips for next-gen VR
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Qualcomm confirmed to CNET that the chips developed jointly with Meta will be available to other manufacturers.

"The VR chipsets that are being designed as part of this collaboration are not exclusive to Meta, but we're excited to work together on a deeper engineering level that's a first for both companies. It's this type of collaboration that's foundational for the metaverse and we can't wait to show you what we'll build together."

Qualcomm also lets slip that the partnership is limited to VR chips. There is no mention of chipsets for AR glasses. Qualcomm and Microsoft announced earlier this year that they would develop a special chip for AR devices.

Meta and Qualcomm will work more closely together to develop dedicated VR chips for upcoming headsets.

Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon and Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement at the opening of IFA 2022 in Berlin.

The strategic partnership is set to last for several years and will focus on further developing the Snapdragon XR platform, an SoC product line specialized for VR and AR applications.

The most powerful version, Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1, is the de facto chip standard for Android-based VR headsets. The SoC works in the million-selling Meta Quest 2 and many other standalone VR devices.

Standalone VR headsets: Qualcomm sets the pace

Qualcomm and Meta have been working together for more than seven years. As the largest chip buyer, Meta will have had a major influence on the development of the Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1. The same is likely to be true for its successor, which will be used in future Quest devices such as the Meta Quest 3.

The new agreement calls for deepening technical collaboration “to deliver next-generation platforms and core technologies.”

“We’re working with Qualcomm Technologies on customized virtual reality chipsets— powered by Snapdragon XR platforms and technology—for our future roadmap of Quest products,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “As we continue to build more advanced capabilities and experiences for virtual and augmented reality, it has become more important to build specialized technologies to power our future VR headsets and other devices.”

Meta’s upcoming Project Cambria premium headset (info) will still rely on a Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1, according to reports, with a modification that could bring a 30 percent performance boost.

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Nevertheless, the chip is a derivative of the Snapdragon 865 smartphone SoC, which was state-of-the-art in 2020. The fact that Meta has to fall back on a relatively old chip in its latest devices shows how dependent the VR industry is on Qualcomm’s chips and development cycles.

Competition looms: Apple’s big chip advantage

The question is how Qualcomm and Meta will react to Apple’s upcoming headset. The company will reportedly soon introduce a mixed reality headset with an M2 processor that offers enough power for desktop applications and could even eclipse the successor of the Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1.

Qualcomm is indeed working on a chip that is supposed to compete with Apple’s M processors. However, the new SoC is not expected before the end of 2023.

Meta is likely to continue pushing its own chip projects in parallel with the Qualcomm partnership, such as for future AR headsets and other wearables. Meta’s longer-term goal will be to reduce its dependence on Qualcomm.

That’s a challenge: In the spring, The Information reported that Meta’s chip development is not going according to plan, and a new version of the Ray-Ban Stories would rely on a Qualcomm chip instead of a Meta chip.