Thursday, August 5, 2021
XR HeadsetsVR Headsets

Varjo’s New Generation of XR and VR Headsets: Do We Need Them?

When you make the best VR headsets, how fast is too fast, and how high is too high?

 

Finnish headset manufacturer Varjo has just started shipping its next-generation XR and VR headsets. The existing models were already top of the class, but the announcement comes amid similar announcements from Pico and Oculus, and hardware updates from VIVE.

Varjo simply can’t be beat, but do we need another bleeding-edge VR headset so soon?

Varjo VR-3 and XR-3 Shipping Now

Varjo just announced that the VR-3 and XR-3 headsets are currently shipping. The VR series is a full VR headset, and the XR series combines VR and AR to achieve MR, full VR, or variable pass-through. Both headsets boast 70 ppd resolution,  improved pixel density, and a 115-degree field of view.

Varjo VR-3 VR headset
Varjo VR-3

The $5,495 XR-3 features a 12-megapixel pass-through, LiDAR-enabled depth awareness, and an inside-out tracking beta. This replaces the previous model, which shipped in 2019.

The $3,195 VR-3 features a 90Hz frame rate, 200Hz foveated rendering, and automatic IPD adjustment. With foveated rendering, the Varjo VR-3 has 1920 x 1920 px/eye in the focus area and 2880 x 2720 px/eye in the peripheral. VR-3 follows the VR-2, which was announced in 2019.

Now that we know a little more about those headsets, do you need to drop that kind of money on these third-gen headsets – top-of-the-line they may be?

Is Varjo’s Biggest Competition… Varjo?

The first major competition for Varjo’s new headsets actually comes from their previous generation of headsets. After all, Varjo’s human-eye resolution and VR/AR pass-through were both already features of the previous generation of headsets – and those headsets remain unrivaled in a number of categories.

That having been said, the gen-3 headsets do have even better resolution, moving up from 60 ppd. The FOV is also about 30-degrees greater, so there are some significant improvements.

The passing generation of headsets has been all but scrubbed from the Varjo webpage, so you won’t be able to order them new anymore or directly from Varjo. However, Varjo does have a certified reseller program where you may still be able to scoop up old headsets.

Varjo XR-3 headset
Varjo XR-3

It may even be easier to find headsets through a partner reseller like Lenovo than directly from Varjo. The question becomes how much longer Varjo software will be supported on headsets that barely even appear on their web-page anymore despite being just two years old.

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Is Rift Still an Enterprise VR Headset at All?

Oculus Rift used to be a powerhouse enterprise VR headset line. The Rift S, which came out around the same time as Varjo’s previous generation of headsets, has been heavily caught up in the transition of Oculus to a gaming company under Facebook.

The shift of Oculus into gaming is so pronounced that Rift is even marketed as “PC-powered VR gaming” on its webpage, and industry experts rank the Quest among game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

Further, it’s hard to compare Rift to other headsets, as Facebook is not as forthcoming with technical specifications as other VR headset manufacturers. We know that Rift, and even Quest 2, are capable of limited pass-through, despite not yet having features like the advanced eye-tracking that Varjo brings to the table.

This was discussed in “Oculus for Business” at Facebook Connect in September. Pass-through is supposed to become part of the “Infinite Office” at some point, but even this is more part of XR’s trend toward “virtual screens” than it is meaningful extended reality like the Varjo XR headset line offers.

It’s possible that Facebook has the technology to do something like that in future models of the Quest, which Zuckerberg teased in a recent interview with The Information. However, in that same interview, Zuckerberg expressed a reluctance to do anything like AR or XR until it can be done in a lightweight formfactor that is years down the road.

The win that Oculus has is that the Rift S is a tenth the price of a Varjo VR headset.

HTC VIVE Cosmos Playing the Long Game

HTC’s VIVE is another major Varjo competitor at this level of play. The $900 Cosmos Elite is currently their most advanced VR headset, and it incorporates a number of the same features that Varjo offers over Oculus, including eye-tracking.

VIVE Cosmos Elite
VIVE Cosmos Elite

Cosmos Elite does have a lower resolution than Varjo’s VR-3 (Cosmo’s 1440 x 1700 pixels per eye, compared to Varjo’s 2880 x 2720). The Cosmos Elite also has a FOV that is 5-degrees narrower. And, like the Rift S, there are not any solid advancements on an updated model of the Cosmos Elite.

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That having been said, VIVE is huge into offering peripherals that extend the functionality of a single headset rather than constantly releasing new headsets. In a recent release shared with ARPost, VIVE announced the release of a new external tracking base and a facial tracker that mounts to the existing VIVE VR headset to record facial movements and expressions.

In addition to the amusement that comes from VIVE dropping face tracking in the same week that Zuckerberg calls face tracking a technology of the future, this is a huge practical tell. Not only are there not strong signals that VIVE isn’t going to put out another VR headset anytime soon, these are strong signals that VIVE is going to continue investing in its existing headsets.

That last forecast makes VIVE a potential point over the earlier generations of Varjo headsets because, again, we don’t know how much longer they’ll be supported. The forecast still doesn’t make VIVE VR headsets better than Varjo’s new generation. Although, again, VIVE is thousands of dollars cheaper, even with their adapters, bases, and trackers.

Pico Has a 2021 Third Gen VR Headset Too

Pico is a relative newcomer to North American markets, and they’re still exclusively an enterprise provider in the US. However, they do have a third-gen VR headset on the way that could potentially be a rival to the Varjo VR-3.

The Pico Neo 3 was just announced and, even though it is scheduled to be available later this year, we know virtually nothing about it other than that it follows up on the Neo 2 that just came out last year. Going off of the specs for the Neo 2, Pico’s third-gen might be able to go toe-to-toe with Varjo’s.

The Pico Neo 2 already had a lot of high-end tricks up its sleeve like eye tracking and foveated rendering, as well as inside-out tracking, which is only in Beta for the Varjo 3 series. The Neo 2 has a 101-degree field of view, which was a little under the industry standard at the time. The refresh rate is also 75Hz which is a little under par these days.

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However, we are expecting these numbers to be higher on the Neo 3. How much higher is yet to be seen, particularly considering the Neo 2 is only a little over a year old, so it’s unclear how much improvement Pico could have fit into that timeframe. Though, we should know more soon.

Even without human-eye resolution, and with its slightly narrower FOV, even the Neo 2 could do a lot of things that Varjo can do but that a VIVE or Oculus couldn’t. So, if you need Varjo’s massive toolkit but don’t need their uber-expensive ultra-high resolution, the Neo 2 or the upcoming Neo 3 could be exactly what you need.

Pico isn’t very forthcoming with prices, but we’re pretty confident that the Neo 3 won’t have a Varjo-sized price tag.

Don’t Forget the HP Reverb G2

Finally, the HP Reverb G2 is establishing itself as a contender in the space. The VR headset was announced at last year’s Augmented World Expo and, while it is “just” a second-gen, the Omnicept edition announced at the VR/AR Association’s Global Summit just months after the initial launch already has a lot of updated features.

The Reverb G2 has a smaller FOV than competitors, but it has a resolution rivaling that of Varjo (2880 x 2720 pixels per eye from Varjo compared to 2160 x 2160 from HP). It also comes with eye tracking, foveated rendering, and facial tracking – without VIVE’s clunky add-on.

HP Reverb G2
HP Reverb G2

A design partnership with Valve also created a lightweight and comfortable headset with built-in immersive audio and a wider range for gesture controls – all about half-a-pound under the industry standard.

And, as we saw with VIVE, HP’s tendency to update rather than replace suggests that the $600 Reverb G2 might be in the game for a while before a completely new VR headset comes out of HP.

Is Varjo Rolling Too Deep?

There’s no question that the Varjo VR-3 and XR-3 have improvements over their predecessors. Whether it’s too soon for them to announce another big-ticket VR headset is the question. And, as much as we love Varjo, we’re not so sure.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.