First, the mobile market came out with 1080p Full HD displays, a feature that was mainly available only for the TV industry. Now, another typical home entertainment feature will be coming to the mobile market: 7.1 surround system audio. This is not done with seven speakers and a subwoofer (or LFE - Low Frequency Effects). The best part of Headphone:X is that the ability to play 7.1 surround sound is not dependent on the headphones used, making it possible to have the same effects on a high-end headphone as well as a low-end pair. Of course the quality of the perceived audio will differ between a cheaper set of cans and a more expensive set, since there is nothing the chip can do to make up for the lower quality of materials and technology used in cheaper sets.
Qualcomm partnered with DTS to develop its latest chip technology which is now powerful enough to simulate 7.1 surround sound. While this sort of virtual surround sound was tried by other firms in the past (all being minor features of music players, or in the PC ecosystem, usually a toggle in the sound card menu), reports from Qualcomm's MWC testing booth seem to indicate it's doing a very good job at simulating the directional sound. Stuart Miles of pocket-lint.com had this to say after testing the technology:
"We and the other journalists in the room at first doubted that the sound was being played through a rather average pair of Sennheiser headphones, rather than the Marantz powered 7.1 speaker system in the room, but it sitting through the demo twice, it was clear that it was."
The Headphone:X project will be coming to the Snapdragon 800 newer processors only. Even though the Snapdragon S4 Pro is fast enough to do the calculations, Qualcomm confirmed that the Headphone:X will not come to the S4 Pro or any other previous processors.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 processor line was designed and scheduled to come for high-end devices and Smart TVs in the second half of this year. Qualcomm claims that the Snapdragon 800 offers 1.75 times better performance than the S4. The chip series has at a glance the following specifications:
- 28nm HPm fabrication
- Upgraded Hexagon V5 digital signal processor
- Krait 400 architecture
- Up to 2.3 GHz clock speeds
- 800 MHz LPDDR3 memory
- Adreno 330 GPU
But Snapdragon 800 will not necessarily come with Headphone:X, this decision belongs to the smartphone and tablet manufacturers themselves, Qualcomm is offering the chip without surround support for those companies who don't intend to use it.