Mixed Reality Gets Real | Electronic Design

One of the big announcements was about Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Plus Gen 2 mixed-reality platform. It supports 4.3K resolution/eye and can handle more than a dozen cameras concurrently. Typically, a pair provide VR glasses with a view of the real world while the others provide tracking information about a person’s body and the surrounding environment. This chip, which will be used in upcoming headsets, addresses one of my issues—resolution.

The current crop of reasonably priced XR headsets, including the Quest 3, has a resolution on the order of 2k/eye. I think that ideal point will be 8k/eye, but 2k/eye is sufficient and 4k/eye will probably work for a few years.

But resolution isn’t the only differentiator. Lower latency, frame rates, hand and eye tracking, body movement, and sensing the surroundings, plus better pass-through for VR headsets, is making major differences in improving the visual feedback.

Spatial computing is the latest buzzword. It encompasses AR/VR/MR/XR as well as apps and content. Digital twins are likely to come up in any conversation about special computing, as XR is one way of presenting and manipulating these virtual constructs.

Why XR is Hard to Explain to the Uninitiated

The number of people who have really used MR is pretty small compared to the general population. The cost of headsets, the lack of apps and content, plus motion sickness have limited the use of XRs. However, lower prices and improvements in all other areas are changing the game, so to speak.

Unfortunately, it means most people are unfamiliar with XR and it’s something that really needs to be experienced over the long term to really appreciate. Popping on a headset for five minutes is a nice way to introduce the technology, but it takes long-term use with a variety of applications to really get a feel for what it can do. I’ve talked with many who have never used it that say it’s either great or worthless, but they would never use the technology.

One example is the virtual workplace, where you can have any number of large-screen displays available for use. You can also collaborate with other, remote users in this environment. MR headsets can open up a window around a keyboard and mouse in case you don’t touch-type without looking at the keyboard.

Interestingly enough, power is the limiting factor with most headsets. Their batteries often run a couple hours at most. However, an extra battery pack or a wired connection (not recommended for gaming or physical exercise) can provide almost unlimited use. I often don a headset for hours at a time, although I still use my multimonitor system for most work right now. If I didn’t have all of my large screen monitors, I would probably switch to a headset.  

The other aspect that requires longer usage is experiencing a full 3D environment. Having earbuds or a quiet room with built-in audio is the way to provide an immersive experience that’s unattainable with a conventional 2D device like a PC or smartphone. One can literally walk through a museum or an outdoor environment and come away with an experience that’s superior to watching a 2D rendition. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s very close.

One considerable difference is the increased use of hand and body tracking, enabling gesture recognition to be used instead of relying on handheld controllers. There are limitations because a typical hand controller has multiple buttons and joysticks. They can be more efficient when a lot of controls are in the mix, such as in gaming, but are less of a requirement for some applications.

Users also need to understand the uses and limitations of each system. AR puts the real world first and overlays the virtual. VR puts the virtual first and if it has a passthrough mode, then it’s really an MR system. Here, the quality of the real-world presentation comes into play as it will be a subset—essentially VR first, real world second.

XR Targeting Corporations and Movies

One of the companies I have talked with is Lenovo, (watch Virtual Reality on the Next Level). Their ThinkReality VRX headset is complemented with a development and deployment framework that targets companies looking to deploy a lot of systems (Fig. 2).

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