Startup Varjo Technologies (Finland) is coming up with a VR product that provides something that the industry didn’t think would be available for years of not a couple decades in the future: human-eye resolution VR experiences. We tried this new VR display technology, and it shows immense potential.

VR does provide a type of experience that users cannot get anywhere else. However, the way VR works today distribute display resolutions in a way that make things look low-resolution and fairly pixelated. It is fair to say that for the first time, current VR technologies bring the whole VR experience to a level where it’s “good enough” to be useful.

A VR view of a bombardier cockpit

Up: Varjo’s resolution Bottom: normal VR resolution

But with current headsets like the HTC VIVE or the Oculus VR is great, but we all agree that the visual quality could use rather large improvements to fulfill VR’s end game: a complete, believable immersion into a virtual world. Simple things like being able to read text, or see smaller details from intricate materials such as brushed metal of far-away bricks seem essential to further immersion.

More importantly, professional applications such as architecture and industrial design *must* have a higher level of visual details to be truly productive. It’s true that architects can “get by” with today’s tech, but mainly to get the ball rolling.

Varjo uses a very interesting high-resolution projection technology that can display a high pixel density image at the most interesting location: where your eyes are looking at. For that, it also needs to use gaze tracking, but we know that this technology already works well enough to be used effectively with rendering technologies such as Foveated Rendering.

"VARJO AUGMENTS DETAILS IN THE AREA YOU ARE LOOKING AT"Although Varjo relies on Gaze Tracking, it is in fact the complete opposite (and complementary) of Foveated Rendering. Foveated Rendering lowers the rendring details in the peripheral vision while Varjo augments details in the area you are looking at (gaze area).

Varjo claims to bring an effective resolution of 70 Megapixel to VR, while the rest of the industry is currently at 1 or 2 Megapixels. Varjo doesn’t have a 70 Megapixel display, so what does this value mean?

In the future, it is well possible to have a 70 Megapixel display, but the technology is simply not possible today. So Varjo decided to use a projective technology to essentially project a very sharp image where your interest is, and reply on a classic VR display for areas outside of your direct gaze. By being to move the projection to anywhere your eyes can look at, they effectively have the benefits of a 70 Megapixel screen — that is the theory.

The prototype headset (augmented existing tech) that I have tested didn’t have gaze tracking on, so the gaze was assumed to be at the center. The details experienced in that location was amazing. Although just a little under what we could consider being a normal eyesight (in my opinion), the ability to read fine text was enough to enable decent experiences with virtual Windows Desktop and other things that we expect VR to be good at “some day.”

"THE ONLY BELIEVABLE PATH TO ACHIEVE VR WITH HUMAN SIGHT DETAIL TODAY"At the moment, the integration between the high-resolution projection and the background “standard” VR display is still visible. But with some improvements in the size of the projection, blending at the edges of the two display technologies and proper gaze tracking, things could get to a point where it’s not too noticeable, or not noticeable at all. At the moment, there are too many moving parts for me to estimate how good it will be in the end. However, it is today’s only believable path to achieve the objective of having VR with human sight.

Before you get excited, Varjo will start by addressing the professional market, for customers such designers, architects, and others. The price of a headset isn’t yet defined because it will depend on the volume and final design. However, the Varjo team is confident that it will be well under $10,000. It not unreasonable to think that $2000-$3000 is possible.

In conclusion, there are still a few things that Varjo needs to prove, but their product is based mostly on proven technologies put together with really smart engineering, so I think that they can pull this together and make it work. I enjoyed talking to Urho Konttori (Varjo/CEO) and Jussi Makinen (Head of Marketing) and see how passionate they are about computer graphics. I can’t wait to try the demo again when the developer version is ready for prime-time.

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