New Aero headset features bright screens and high fidelity.
Are you prepared for the cavalcade of headsets coming your way? Next week, the Augmented World Expo (AWE) conference will officially start as a hybrid. AWE was among the first on the trade-show circuit to announce in-person activities, and they have a busy virtual conference as well.
The first time we were lucky enough to try out the Varjo headset was at the AWE a few years ago and they’ve been teasing a giant announcement “coming soon.” It seems obvious the wonderful new thing would be a headset, and that it would be designed for a broader market, and would be a complement to Varjo’s Reality Cloud announced this summer. All that pretty much falls in the well-duh-category. But, there are some nice surprises.
Varjo has carved out a safe place for their headsets at the high end of the market reserved for professional workflows. The company has told us they tripled their customer base in 2020 and they have made inroads with enterprise customers including Boeing, FlightSafety, Saab, Fortum, and more with training applications. Simulation and training have been one of Varjo’s largest markets.
With their newest VR headset, the Aero, the company is opening up that base to include professionals and gaming enthusiasts. In addition, the new headset will take full advantage of the company’s newly announced Reality Cloud. Varjo says it all adds up to the next step to the metaverse and, claims the company, provides the next step to a metaverse experience for everyone.
|Varjo VR 3||Varjo XR 3||Aero|
|Display||Bionic display: focus area 27° × 27° @ 70 PPD uOLED, 1920 × 1920 pixel per eye. Peripheral area at over 30 PPD LCD, 2880 × 2720 pixel per eye. Colors 99% sRGB, 93% DCI-PC||Bionic display: focus area 27° × 27° @ 70 PPD uOLED, 1920 × 1920 pixel per eye. Peripheral area at over 30 PPD LCD, 2880 × 2720 pixel per eye. Colors 99% sRGB, 93% DCI-PC||Dual Mini LED LCD: 2880 × 2720 pixel per eye. Brightness calibrated to 150 NT. Colors: 99% of RGB, 95% DCI-P3, refresh rate: 90 Hz|
|Field of View||Horizontal 115°, diagonal 134° at 12 mm eye relief||Horizontal 115°, diagonal 134° at 12 mm eye relief||Horizontal 115°, diagonal 134° at 12 mm eye relief|
|Refresh rate||90 Hz||90 Hz||90 Hz|
|Hand tracking||Ultraleap Gemini v5||Ultraleap Gemini v5||–|
|Weight||594 g + headband 386 g||594 g + headband 386 g||487g + headband 230 g|
|Connectivity||Two headset adapters box, two USB-c cables (5 m). PC connections: 2× DisplayPort and 2 × USB-A 3.0||Two headset adapters box, two USB-c cables (5 m). PC connections: 2× DisplayPort and 2 × USB-A 3.0||Headset Adapter and USB-C cable (5-meter) PC connections: DisplayPort and USB-A 3.0|
|Positional Tracking||SteamVR 2.0 or 1.0 tracking Varjo inside-out tracking using RGB video pass-through cameras beta||SteamVR 2.0 or 1.0 tracking||SteamVR 2.0 or 1.0 tracking|
|Eye-tracking||200 Hz with sub-degree accuracy; 1-dot calibration for foveated rendering||200 Hz with sub-degree accuracy; 1-dot calibration for foveated rendering||200 Hz with sub-degree accuracy; 1-dot calibration for foveated rendering|
|Audio||3.5 audio jack w/microphone support||3.5 audio jack w/microphone support||3.5 audio jack w/microphone support. Metal chassis n-ear headphones with mic in-box|
|Mixed reality||Ultra-low latency, dual 12-megapixel video pass-through at 90 Hz|
|XR Depth||Lidar + RGB fusion, 40 cm–5 m operating range|
|Comparison of specs for Varjo’s current lineup. (Source: Varjo)|
Interestingly, when Varjo is talking about gaming enthusiasts, they’re talking about people who are into sims including flight simulators, train simulators, etc. They’re not the Fortnite or Call of Duty types. Microsoft’s Flight Simulator was cited as being especially fulfilling with the new headset.
The advantages of the Aero include its lightweight and ease of use. It’s much more of a put-on-and-go proposition compared to its more expensive and relatively more complex brethren. Yet, the company says these headsets still meet the demands of professional applications with visual fidelity, and edge-to-edge clarity across 115° field of view—one of the largest by the way in the industry. Also, the hardware requirements for the Aero hit more of the mainstream as documented in the accompanying table. The new headsets are priced at $1,990. So yeah, still in the professional range but inclusive of the people who are already buying high-end equipment for their work and entertainment.
Varjo’s founder and CTO Urho Konttori includes aviators, creators, and racing simulation enthusiasts among the potential users for the new headset in addition to professionals. He says, “this device, together with our Reality Cloud platform, continues our mission to make a true-to-life metaverse accessible for all.”
The headset features mini LED displays with adjustable color tuning, contrast levels, and aspheric variable resolution lenses. Varjo has been one of the pioneers in foveated rendering which optimizes the resolution where the user is looking and reduces image quality (resolution) in the peripheral vision. It relies on built-in eye-tracking which adjusts the focus to the view.
Varjo says the lower PC hardware requirements of the Aero enable more scalable deployments and multi-user experiences such as flight and racing simulations, enterprise training scenarios, design, and creative use-cases, as well as delivering immersive experiences in showrooms, museums, and virtual arcades.
So, about that Reality Cloud…
One of the reasons we’re anticipating this year’s presentations in the XR fields is that we hope to see more infrastructure being built. Varjo’s Reality Cloud service is an example, it has been designed to support virtual collaboration using the company’s Teleportation software.
The Reality Cloud is key to Varjo’s plans for collaboration.
In June 2021, Varjo announced the acquisition of Dimension 10 (D10), a Norwegian company with VR collaboration technology, that will help Varjo build its Reality Cloud. The Reality Cloud claims Vajo will enable users to work together in headsets without having to go through computers. Users will be able to scan their surroundings through the Varjo XR-3 headset and create a virtual 3D model as a common environment.
Varjo says they have leveraged the idea of foveated rendering to enable high-resolution cloud-based interaction at acceptable framerates. They’re calling it their foveated transport algorithm. Varjo will be developing APIs to enable other headsets to collaborate in the Reality Cloud.
As for the Aero, Varjo will be able to add to its features by enabling content streaming from Reality Cloud.
For Varjo, Aero is an important piece of the puzzle by helping to democratize the technology.
The Aero will ship by the end of 2021 and can be pre-ordered now at www.varjo.com/aero. For the princely sum of only $1,999.00
What do we think?
We admire Varjo’s steady cadence of product and technological advances. They understand more than any company we know that the headset isn’t really the point, it’s about the system. The company has relied heavily on its customers to understand what to build next. But, they’ve also been careful to keep pushing the barriers of what’s possible in their technology—to spark the imagination of their customers. It’s a two-way street. The company has added Lincoln Wallen to its board of directors. Wallen is also CTO of Improbable, a British company that is exploring the potential of virtual worlds. They’re building content and developing technology. Wallen has considerable expertise in technology and storytelling. Previously, he was CTO of DreamWorks.
This is going to be a very interesting AWE conference and Varjo is helping define the future of XR.