Most virtual reality headset screens are still sort of blurry, but Finnish company Varjo has an unusual approach to changing that. Its industrial VR-1 headset, which is shipping today, combines a super high-resolution center panel with an ordinary screen for peripheral vision. It’s supposed to deliver images that look almost real, albeit with some compromises and a price tag that’s for professionals only.
The VR-1 calls its center panel a “Bionic Display.” It’s a 1920 x 1080 “micro-OLED” display with a resolution of 3,000 pixels per inch. (For context, last year’s high-resolution prototype display from Google and LG had 1443 ppi.) Within that central strip, images are supposed to roughly match the resolution of the human eye. As Ars Technica, which checked out the headset, puts it, that section looks “every bit as detailed as real life.” Outside that super crisp panel, there’s a 1440 x 1600 display that produces images of more average quality.
The VR-1’s total 87-degree field of view is smaller than that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, let alone the 200 degrees offered by something like Pimax’s more experimental VR headset. The Bionic Display only comprises a slice of it. Ars Technica describes great image quality while you’re looking straight ahead, with a noticeable downgrade outside that. And rendering that high-resolution slice requires more processing power than you’d need for average VR headsets, which are already fairly demanding.
Varjo isn’t trying to make a headset for completely immersive entertainment. It’s solving specific problems for business clients, like auto designers who need to examine fine details on a full-scale car model or pilots using flight simulators with a lot of small buttons. In addition to its high resolution, the VR-1 includes eye tracking, which is still a premium feature for a VR headset. And Varjo plans to release a camera-studded front-plate that can pass video straight through to the headset, turning it into a mixed reality device.
The VR-1 uses standard SteamVR base stations for tracking, and it supports both the Unity and Unreal engines, so you could theoretically play games or use other consumer software. But the headset isn’t priced for consumers. It costs $5,995 with an annual service fee of $995, and Varjo stresses that it’s “only available for businesses and academic institutions.” The company is already working with Airbus, Audi, Saab, Volkswagen, and Volvo, among others.
Consumers won’t necessarily see this dual-display setup in future headsets. It comes with some clear trade-offs at present, and consumer headset makers seem focused on full high-resolution panels. But the VR-1 is an intriguing system for offering incredibly good image quality with present-day tech. For anyone else who wants to buy the headset, it’s available in 34 countries across North America, Europe, and Hong Kong.