Virtual reality headsets have been available to consumers for several years, and growth has been stagnant by all accounts. Even Oculus founder Palmer Luckey says VR just doesn’t have what it takes to go mainstream. One of the most significant issues is that VR isn’t as immersive as it could be because of low screen resolutions. One company says it has developed VR that operates with previously unheard of visual fidelity, but it’ll cost you a whopping $6,000. You’re not really supposed to buy it, though.
While consumer VR is still lagging expectations, a lot of businesses are very interested in the technology and willing to pay higher prices. Finnish startup Varjo initially wanted to make augmented reality gear for enterprise, but most potential clients say they wanted higher resolution VR more than AR. So, Varjo began working with emerging display technology to make virtual reality look more like regular reality.
The problem is that VR headsets are showing you a magnified display, so even the highest-resolution OLED panels look blocky. This is often called the “screen door effect.” The Varjo VR-1 headset is making the rounds with its “hybrid bionic display” technology. According to the company, the density is so high that you can’t make out the shape of the pixels. Varjo makes that happen with a combination of three separate display panels.
The VR-1 has two “outer” displays identical to the ones in the Vive Pro — that means OLEDs with 1440×1600 per eye. In the center, Varjo has a single 1920×1080 microLED. These screens have a network of tiny LEDs that should offer brighter, sharper images compared with other display technologies. Sony uses a small 1080p microLED display in the eyepiece of its broadcast-quality cameras, and Varjo is using a similar panel in the VR-1 headset.
So, the OLED screens provide an immersive experience at a middling resolution, which fades into the super-sharp microLED field in the middle of your vision. Varjo has some samples of the difference (above), that really drive home how different its headset looks compared with consumer-level devices. Because it’s intended for industry, there isn’t much content that takes advantage of the sharpness, though.
Varjo is hoping to attract designers and engineers from automakers, aerospace companies, and others. You know, companies that can afford to drop $6,000 on the headset with an annual $1,000 software license. This isn’t the next big thing for consumer VR, but it might offer a taste of what’s to come in the future.
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