Metaverse “Core Matters”

When the “core” components start to depart from the mobile phone, VR/AR hardware is really promising.

“When will VR/AR come up?” At a time when Metaverse is being hailed, this old-fashioned question has once again become a hot spot of people’s attention.

Five years ago, at the time when the last wave of VR craze was on the rise, someone asked Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney the same question. At that time, Epic Gmaes’ main product was its game engine—Unreal Engine. At that time, the team hadn’t made a $1 billion hit game Fortnite Fortinite. Although Tim is a big game player, he has not yet challenged Apple’s request for reduction. Capital of “Apple Tax”.

However, since Unreal Engine is the only professional tool for VR content production (the other is Unity), Tim Sweeney’s judgment is still very weighty.

Regarding the question at the beginning, Tim Sweeney told a story: when Apple produced the first generation of iPhone, the engineers of the traditional mobile phone manufacturer (probably Motorola) were surprised when they opened the back cover of the iPhone-I have never seen such a cable and Assembled, “Why would anyone make a mobile phone like this?” No wonder the boss of BlackBerry later gave everyone a relief: “We will have nothing to do.”

In fact, Tim Sweeney meant that if you want to produce a truly innovative product, you must have a supporting core supply chain, and training the supply chain to produce core components for yourself is one of Apple’s stunts. The subsequent success of the iPhone is an example.

In the same way, if VR/AR is to truly become a revolutionary product, there must be a corresponding supply chain dedicated to producing core components for it, and the “meta universe” may come sooner.

As the most core component, the development of chips has undoubtedly played a decisive role in the rise of VR/AR products. “Benefiting” from the maturity of the mobile phone industry, VR/AR chips have now emerged from the mobile phone, towards independence and customization.

After cutting off the “braid”

Before Facebook bought Oculus VR for US$2 billion in 2014, the latter had just brought out the second-generation developer kit model Oculus Rift DK2. The iFixit website disassembled the machine and found that the screen used by the machine was a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 screen. In addition to praising Oculus for its DIY spirit back then, it also explained from the side that as early as the PC VR era, the mobile phone supply chain The importance of VR hardware.

Metaverse "Core Matters"

Oculus Rift DK2 directly uses the screen of Samsung Galaxy Note 3|iFixit

Since the computing power of the PC VR era comes from the PC, the first task of the VR headset at that time was to get the display, that is, the OLED screen. Due to different materials and display principles, OLED screens have the advantages of low latency and no smear compared to traditional LCD screens. Especially Samsung’s AMOLED screen is the first choice for VR products.

However, given the fierce competition in the mobile phone market at the time, Xiaomi wanted to get Samsung’s screen and even had to drink “loyal wine” with Koreans. Oculus, which has shipped thousands of shipments, directly stuffed Samsung’s mobile phone screens into VR headsets. Way thing.

After going through the “detours” of the “mobile VR” era represented by Google Cardboard carton glasses and Samsung Gear VR, the “braid” of the PC VR headset is cut, and it has the functions of computing, display, positioning, and battery life. “Opportunity” is the future, and it is already the consensus of the industry.

In 2018, Oculus and Xiaomi jointly launched the VR all-in-one product Oculus Go (called Xiaomi VR all-in-one in China). This machine only supports 3 degrees of freedom, which means that it supports more “viewing” experience rather than the PC VR era. Positioning and “walking” experience.

This machine uses Qualcomm’s flagship chip Snapdragon 821 two years ago. Oculus and Xiaomi did not use the latest Snapdragon 845 that year. There are estimated to be three reasons. First, Go was developed two years ago, and 821 was the flagship chip at that time. ; The second is Go’s positioning of the three-degree-of-freedom camera, the 821 chip fully meets the demand; third, from a cost perspective, Oculus Go is priced at 1499 yuan, which is obviously more convenient to control the budget with new and old chips.

Metaverse "Core Matters"

Qualcomm’s XR1 chip and platform launched in 2018|Qualcomm

It is worth mentioning that also in 2018, in addition to the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm also released the XR 1 (Extended Reality) chip and platform. This mobile chip giant has already seen the future of VR/AR. And began to take action. However, although the XR 1 chip supports VR devices from 3 DOF to 6 DOF, it is mainly aimed at 3 DOF viewers like Oculus Go.

Because in terms of chip capabilities, Qualcomm XR 1 is close to Snapdragon 600 (or 760). Qualcomm’s official statement is that the XR1 can provide a “High Quality” VR experience, while the flagship Snapdragon 845 in the same period can provide the space positioning and handle recognition required for a 6-degree-of-freedom experience (Premium Quality).

Metaverse "Core Matters"

The big-selling Oculus Quest 2 all-in-one uses Qualcomm XR2 chip|Qualcomm

This is probably why when Oculus launched the Oculus Quest that supports 6 degrees of freedom in 2019, the chip used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 instead of XR1.

However, in 2020, with the global sales of the Oculus Quest 2 equipped with the XR2 chip, it shows that Qualcomm has begun to make a real effort in VR. This XR 2 chip, which is said to be modified from the Snapdragon 865 chip, not only supports 8K 360-degree video, but also supports 7 concurrent cameras to achieve precise motion and gesture tracking. At the same time, the addition of 5G and AI has improved network speed and efficiency.

The high-quality performance of Quest 2 proves the success of Qualcomm’s XR2 chip abandoning the low-end and taking the high-end route.

AR that pays more attention to the scene

Compared with VR, which has a relatively clear route and an earlier development, when Qualcomm began to “trim” the Snapdragon on the mobile phone to create XR chips, AR hardware companies showed their magical powers in chip selection due to different usage scenarios.

In the high-end market, the two pioneers, Magic Leap and Microsoft, played high, aiming at the “endgame” from the beginning. However, due to the high definition of AR (or MR) by the two companies, and AR itself is more demanding than VR in terms of rendering, spatial positioning, and virtual-real combination, it was difficult to find a suitable chip at the time, at least Qualcomm Snapdragon or XR cannot meet the requirements of AR glasses.

Therefore, Magic Leap One uses a split design, and its computing unit Light Pack uses Nvidia’s Tegra X2 multi-core processor. It turns out that this may not be a particularly ideal design.

Metaverse "Core Matters"

Magic Leap One used Nvidia’s chips in the computing unit at the time, and it became “moving”.|Magic Leap

Those who have used the Magic Leap One headset should know that after a period of use, the heat and power consumption of the Light Pack are very touching. However, this form of split design set a precedent for the subsequent AR glasses.

Microsoft HoloLens takes the firm all-in-one form. It is said that the first-generation HoloLens headset uses the chip of the old partner Intel, modified based on the Cherry Trail Atom architecture, which is used in smart devices such as tablet computers. In addition to Intel’s CPU and GPU, one of them is the holographic processing unit (HPU) developed by the Microsoft team. This customized ASIC chip is mainly used to process data such as 3D images and gestures.

Microsoft’s second-generation HoloLens uses Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 as the main processor, and is equipped with an upgraded version of HPU 2.0 to achieve more comprehensive hand motion tracking and better visual performance.

Metaverse "Core Matters"

Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 chip is used in Microsoft HoloLens2|Microsoft

However, the two generations of products from Magic Leap One to HoloLens, due to the high cost, mainly focus on the B-end market, and miss the C-end market.

On the other hand, in some specific industrial and commercial fields, AR glasses may use more sophisticated chips to achieve specific functions due to more vertical usage scenarios, and maintain the lightness and endurance of the product.

Liang Xianglong, head of hardware research and development of Bright Vision, told Geek Park that one of the important scenarios of the company’s previous products was to achieve rapid face recognition on the glasses side, so the AI ​​image processing requirements are higher. The team uses the Myriad of the Intel Movidius VPU platform. Series processors, its specialty is deep neural network and computer vision applications. Compared with platforms such as Snapdragons of the same level, the Myriad platform is more ideal in terms of AI performance and power consumption. Under the split design, the weight of the glasses can be maintained at 30-40 grams and can be worn for a long time.

Of course, using a relatively niche technology platform also has a corresponding price. Compared with the Qualcomm platform, many of Myriad’s low-level programs have to be written by themselves, which is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and it is a great challenge for startups. The advantage is that if this difficulty can be overcome, it will form a product moat for a period of time.

VR and AR finally “begin independent”?

The success of XR2 allowed Qualcomm to see the potential of “Meta Universe”. According to industry insiders, in fact, it was not until after XR2 that Qualcomm had a dedicated team to design chips specifically for VR and AR devices, instead of using off-the-shelf Snapdragon chips for “magic modification.”

Liang Xianglong believes that in order to meet the requirements of future VR/AR equipment, its core chip development trend is high manufacturing process, low power consumption, and high integration: As VR/AR glasses will inevitably become thinner and lighter, when there is no breakthrough in the development of battery technology, The power consumption of the chip needs to be reduced; general functions such as spatial positioning and gesture recognition that are required for VR/AR will be solidified into the chip to further reduce power consumption and reduce development difficulties.

In fact, Qualcomm’s XR series chip products launched next year are very likely to have the above characteristics. Liang Xianglong revealed that Liangliang Vision is currently trying to move the technology platform to Qualcomm, and plans to launch new products with further audio-visual effects next year.

On the other hand, industry giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Magic Leap are likely to continue their self-research and customization directions. According to foreign media reports, Apple has completed the design of VR/AR chips in 2020 and commissioned TSMC to produce chips with advanced 5nm manufacturing processes. The SoC is composed of three chips, the function is to optimize wireless data transmission, compress and decompress movies, and improve battery efficiency.

The “meta universe” trend that has blown since the beginning of this year has not disappeared. Although it is still difficult to predict when the era of “top player” will truly arrive, from Qualcomm to Apple, they have devoted themselves to the core field of chips, at least We can be sure that the next VR/AR products will usher in a period of accelerated development.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:
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