Qualcomm unveils a wireless version of its augmented reality Smart Viewer, a reference design that manufacturers could adapt to commercial headsets. Wireless AR Smart Viewer updates Qualcomm’s previous smart glasses design with a higher power chipset, plus a docking system that uses Wi-Fi 6/6E and Bluetooth instead of a USB-C cable. That comes with the compensation of a potential very short battery life, though Qualcomm says consumer-ready versions may be designed differently.
The new Smart Viewer was developed by Goertek. It is currently available to select manufacturing partners with plans to expand access in the coming months. Like its predecessor, it connects to a phone or computer and offers mixed reality experiences with full head and hand tracking, using tracking cameras and projections powered by micro-OLED screens. Qualcomm has kept the previous 1920×1080 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, but is slightly reducing the field of view, reducing it from 45 degrees to 40 degrees diagonally.
That’s substantially smaller than the non-consumer-focused Magic Leap 2, which offers closer to 70 degrees. But to its credit, the Smart Viewer has a slimmer profile than the wired Smart Viewer or most of its competitors. Its frames are 15.6mm deep compared to the wired version’s 25mm, which softens the typical googly-eyed look of AR goggles. (This shallower design, using free-form optics, can be much more difficult to achieve with a wider field of view.) At 115 grams, it’s a bit heavier than the 106-gram Nreal Light lens, a bit lighter than the rumored 150-gram Apple AR. / VR, and much slimmer than VR headsets like the 503-gram Meta Quest 2.
The wireless viewer uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chipset compared to the previous model’s XR1, something that Qualcomm says offers more power for computer vision processing and other tasks. Qualcomm promises a fast 3 ms latency between the glasses and the connected phone or PC, as long as your phone or PC includes Qualcomm’s FastConnect 6900 chip. (That’s not a given for many machines.) Qualcomm’s AR/VR chief Hugo Swart says that the actual “motion to photon” latency is less than 20ms, simply passing the threshold for a comfortable mixed reality experience.
Wireless headsets have been on Qualcomm’s roadmap for years, but Smart Viewer still highlights one of AR’s lingering challenges: making high-powered glasses that don’t run out of power almost immediately. Swart told reporters that the most demanding virtual experiences could drain the headset’s 650mAh battery in 30 minutes, though he stressed that a simple, lightweight virtual overlay could use much less power. Users can also connect a pluggable battery with a cable, and Swart said manufacturers could choose to prioritize a longer-lasting headset in their own designs. But current technology probably doesn’t support some of the more obvious applications of AR, like creating a set of virtual monitors you can use all day at work.
We weren’t able to test the new Smart Viewer ourselves, and consumers may never buy hardware that looks exactly like the reference design, as manufacturers can modify the system to their own specifications. While Swart said Qualcomm was working with “at least four” manufacturers, he didn’t name them or say how long it would take to bring the headphones to market. But Qualcomm’s previous designs have anchored products like the Nreal Light glasses and the Lenovo ThinkReality A3, so it’s a good example of what wireless headsets will look like in the months and years to come.