During GDC in downtown San Francisco, I stopped by Qualcomm’s demo area to try the Lynx R-1 mixed reality headset and chat with Lynx’s CEO, Stan Larroque.

This headset made a name for itself in the past couple of years, and it was nice to finally try a demo. The app consists of a virtual trip in and out of our solar system, with basic interactions.

In the demo, you get close enough to the sun, it is an “immersive” VR experience in which the cosmos surrounds you. You can pinch-and-pull planets with your bare hand, which is recognized in real-time.

If you step back, the cosmos goes away, and the solar system seemingly floats in the demo room. The switch feels quite natural even though you see the real world through a camera.

Each eye has a 1600×1600 display resolution, which is great for the demo, and I can only imagine how better it can get into the future with 2448×2448 displays. I include some official video demos representing what I have experienced, and I’ll comment further.

I found the Lynx R1 headset highly interesting because it could easily handle VR and AR environments. In VR mode (completely immersed in the virtual world), it felt like a typical VR experience with low latency and good motion to photon reaction time.

The AR mode is excellent. Typical AR headsets and applications suffer from a very narrow field of view (~54 degrees) due to the way projective AR display technologies work. Lynx does not use projective display tech, so its AR mode feels more immersive because the field of view is better (~90 degrees), making the AR experience more natural.

Viewing the real world through the camera allows Lynx to use a Z-buffer to occlude some real objects (like your hand) if a virtual 3D object is in front of it. This increases the realism of the integration of the virtual objects to the real world and is impossible to do with a projective technology.

Finally, the cameras pipeline opens the opportunity for image filtering, so you could color-correct or change the HDR toning to display an optimal image. With different sensors, you could even get night vision. Again, not possible with a classic see-thru AR system.

The downside of looking at the real world through a camera is some loss of details, but it might well be worth it for the immersive AR gains you experience. At $600, it’s hard to complain about the image quality, and I hope a professional version will come.

The switch between VR and AR modes is exceptionally convenient depending on your use case (more use cases here). Lynx made it possible to “flip-up” the optics in a similar fashion to military night vision goggles (NVG). As a developer, it’s something I’d want to “flip up and fix code.”

The 500g weight of the headset makes it relatively comfortable, and I could imagine wearing one for extended periods, possibly as long as three hours: that’s the theoretical battery life.

Inside, it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, an 8-core chip with an Adreno 650 GPU backed by 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. I’m not sure how much of the Qualcomm Extended Reality SDK Lynx uses, but that kit provides many of the features seen in the demo.

Overall, that was a great demo. I didn’t have time to try games or other apps, but in another discussion with Qualcomm executives, I suggested that it’d be great to use Snapdragon XR devices with PC VR games to squeeze more value from these mobile XR headsets.

In any case, Qualcomm’s commitment to the XR industry is paying big time as its platform powers some of the biggest names, including Facebook and Lenovo.

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