Qualcomm to Launch VR SDK for Snapdragon Chips

The SDK will include features that will make it easier for developers to create virtual reality apps on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor.

Qualcomm SoC

Qualcomm officials want to make it easier for developers to create virtual reality games and applications using the chip maker's Snapdragon platforms.

The company starting in the second quarter will offer a VR software development kit (SDK) that will give programmers the tools they need to more quickly build VR software with the Snapdragon 820 system-on-a-chip (SoC) for smartphones and upcoming VR headsets running Google's Android operating system.

Qualcomm officials pointed to the heterogeneous nature of the ARM-based Snapdragon 820—it not only includes the Kyro CPU and Adreno graphics technology, but also the Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP) and Spectra camera image signal processor (ISP)—as an ideal platform for VR development. At the same time, the SDK will include other advanced VR features, they said.

"VR represents a new paradigm for how we interact with the world," Dave Durnil, senior director of engineering at Qualcomm, said in a statement. "We're providing advanced tools and technologies to help developers significantly improve the virtual reality experience for applications like games, 360 degree VR videos and a variety of interactive education and entertainment applications."

Qualcomm is the world's top mobile chip vendor, but company officials are looking to expand the reach of its products by moving into new growth markets, such as connected cars, consumer drones, the Internet of things and data center servers.

The chip maker will see familiar competitors as it moves into the VR space. Intel also is making a push into VR as well as augmented reality (AR) and 3D video, most recently with its acquisition of Replay Technologies, a 5-year-old Israeli company that the chip vendor has been working with since 2013 to bring its immersive and interactive video capabilities to the Intel Architecture. Advanced Micro Devices earlier this year unveiled its new Polaris GPU architecture, the fourth generation of AMD's Graphics Core Next initiative that is based on the company's 14-nanometer FinFET transistor design and that targets a wide range of use cases, from laptop games to multimedia applications to VR that can run on small-form-factor system designs. It's part of a larger effort at AMD to gain traction in such immersive computing technologies as VR.

At the same time, other chip makers, including Nvidia, also are making moves in the VR space.

Qualcomm officials said the Snapdragon 820 has a broad array of features that can support VR, but that the SDK—which will be available in the second quarter through the Qualcomm Developer Network—gives programmers the tools they need to leverage those features for building VR software.

Among the VR technologies supported by the Snapdragon SoCs is DSP sensor fusion, which enables developers to more easily gain access to the data from gyroscopes and accelerometers in the chip architecture through the Snapdragon Censor Core and processing capabilities of the Hexagon DSP, officials said.

In addition, the SDK supports asynchronous time warp with single buffer rendering. The capability delivers the fast transformation of rendered images in 3D space, which reduces latency by up to 50 percent, they said.

The development kit also includes support for 3D binocular vision with color correction and barrel distortion—which improves the visual quality of graphics and video—VR layering to ensure that menus, texts and other overlays are rendered correctly in a virtual world, and power management through integration with Qualcomm's Symphony System Manager SDK for improved management of CPU, GPU and DSP power and performance.