Qualcomm Announces New AI Platform, Snapdragon 845 VR Headset Reference Design, and More
Mobile World Conference, the world’s largest gathering of smartphone OEMs, chipmakers, and telecom companies, is just weeks away. Ahead of the festivities, Qualcomm took the wraps off a slew of technologies it’ll be highlighting at the show, including a multi-device Bluetooth audio feature for Snapdragon chipsets, a new artificial intelligence platform, a refreshed mobile VR headset reference design, and Always Connected PCs. Here’s what you need to know.
Always Connected PCs
Always Connected PCs, a brand of Snapdragon 835/845 PC hardware engineered in collaboration with Microsoft, brings Windows 10 and x86 programs to ARM-based devices — albeit with a few limitations. Key benefits include Gigabit 4G LTE connectivity, near-instantaneous wake from sleep, background downloads, and “all-day” battery life.
Qualcomm previewed Always Connected PCs in late December at the Snapdragon Technology Summit, and later this year, OEMs such as HP, ASUS, and Lenovo will begin shipping the first products to stores shelves and carriers.
Here’s the availability by country:
- US — Amazon, Microsoft Stores, T-Mobile, AT&T
- Germany – Deutsche Telekom
- Australia — Microsoft Stores
- China — JD.com, CMCC
- Italy — Unieuro
- Ireland — Cubic Telecom
- France — Boulanger, Fnac, Transatel
- Spain — Telefónica
- Switzerland — Switzerland
- UK — Asus Stores, BT Shop, John Lewis, Microsoft Stores, PC World
New Snapdragon 845 Mobile VR Reference Design
Qualcomm’s VR headset reference platform is designed to both showcase Snapdragon chips’ VR capabilities and serve as a foundation for future products — standalone headsets from Google, Oculus, and Vive used elements of last year’s model. The newest refresh, which was unveiled at the Snapdragon Technology Summit in December, doesn’t disappoint: it boasts a Snapdragon 845 system-on-chip paired with an Adreno 630 GPU, advanced VR rendering technologies, and full-body tracking.
Thanks to the Adreno 630, the headset exhibits 30 percent faster graphics performance, 30 percent better power efficiency, and more than twice as much display throughput compared to the Snapdragon 835 reference headset. Coupled with Adreno Foveation, a rendering technique that combines graphics rendering with eye tracking, it provides the “sharpest visuals” possible on a mobile VR headset, Qualcomm claims.
It’s also environment-aware. Thanks to six degrees of freedom (6DoF) and simultaneous localization and mapping (accelerated, of course, by the Snapdragon 845’s Hexagon Digital Signal Processor and Adreno GPU), the headset is able to track wearers’ bodies and locations within a room without the need for external sensors.
Qualcomm’s working with GoerTek to facilitate the adoption of the reference platform in commercial designs.
Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence (AI) Engine
Qualcomm’s Artificial Intelligence Engine, a combination of hardware and software on the Snapdragon 845, 835, 820, and 660, accelerates on-device AI.
One of the components is the Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine (NPE), a framework designed to make it easier for developers to choose which Snapdragon core — the Hexagon Vector Processor, Adreno GPU, or Kryo CPU — to use for AI-enabled applications. The Hexagon Neural Network (NN) library, another, allows developers to run AI algorithms on the Hexagon Vector Processor.
The Artificial Intelligence Engine supports a variety of machine learning platforms, including Google’s Tensorflow, Facebook’s Caffe and Caffe2, and the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) interchange format. And it taps into the Android Neural Networks API (first released in Android Oreo), which gives developers access to Snapdragon’s hardware through Android.
Qualcomm says Xiaomi, OnePlus, Vivo, OPPO, Motorola, ASUS, ZTE, Nubia, Smartisan, and Blacksharck are among the OEMs that’ll optimize their AI applications using the Artificial Intelligence Engine (AI) on future flagship smartphones.
Software partners are taking full advantage, too. SenseTime and Face++ offer pre-trained neural networks for image and camera features such as single-camera bokeh effects, facial authentication, and scene detection. Elliptic Labs’ ultrasonic -based gesture controls use the AI Engine. ArcSoft and Thundercomm offer single camera and dual camera algorithms to Snapdragon partners. And Uncanny Vission provides optimized models for people, vehicle, and license plate registration.
Qualcomm Broadcast Audio
The Snapdragon platform’s advantages don’t stop at accelerated AI, VR, and Always Connected PCs. Qualcomm’s Broadcast Audio technology for the Snapdragon 845 allows smartphones, tablets, and laptops to beam a single Bluetooth audio stream to multiple headsets and speakers with “near perfect synchronization”.
A few of the benefits include simpler setup and pairing of Bluetooth devices, the ability to broadcast to multiple devices within Bluetooth range, quality of service techniques like automatic retransmission and packet-loss concealment, and encrypted audio streams that aim to reduce the risk of eavesdropping.
In addition to the Snapdragon 845, Qualcomm’s Broadcast Audio is supported on the company’s Bluetooth Audio system-on-chips, which include the CSR8670, CSR8675, CSRA68100 and the recently announced QCC5100 low power Bluetooth audio SoC Series. It can be added retroactively to devices via an over-the-air update, the company says.