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Varjo’s dual-resolution VR and AR headsets just got crisper and cheaper

Varjo’s dual-resolution VR and AR headsets just got crisper and cheaper


The VR-3 and XR-3 will ship in early 2021

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Varjo XR-3 AR headset

Virtual reality company Varjo, known for its unusual dual-resolution displays, has a new generation of virtual and augmented reality headsets. It’s promising even higher resolution, a wider field of view, and AR with advanced depth mapping.

Varjo’s PC-tethered VR-3 and XR-3 both have some of the sharpest screens you’ll find in VR and AR. The headsets use two panels for each eye: a small 1920 x 1920 display in the center of your vision, and a 2880 x 2720 panel for the rest of the screen. That produces an extremely clear image when you’re looking straight ahead and a more standard (albeit still high) VR resolution for your peripheral vision. Earlier Varjo devices used the same strategy with lower-resolution panels; the VR-1 and VR-2 from 2019, for instance, had a 1920 x 1080 inner panel and a 1440 x 1600 display.

The original Varjo screen (which it calls a “bionic display”) had a relatively narrow, boxy field of view, but the VR-3 and XR-3 have expanded that to offer a 115-degree horizontal FOV. That’s higher than the fairly expansive Valve Index and substantially bigger than lower-end consumer headsets. (These headsets typically have closer to 110 degrees of diagonal FOV, which translates into 100 degrees or less horizontal.)

The XR-3 and VR-3 use the same screen, and both feature hand and eye tracking, as well as the same 90Hz refresh rate. But the XR-3 also includes cameras and LIDAR sensors that turn it into an AR headset by combining virtual objects with a passthrough video feed. That makes the XR-3 somewhat heavier than the VR-3, at 594 grams compared to 558 grams, plus the weight of a headband that’s supposed to evenly and comfortably distribute that weight. (The recent Oculus Quest 2, a totally self-contained device, weighs 503 grams altogether.)

The XR-3’s passthrough design is an alternative to typical AR glasses

Varjo’s passthrough AR approach produces a much bulkier product than AR glasses like the Microsoft HoloLens, which project light through a pair of transparent glasses onto the real world. But it also creates much more solid-looking virtual objects, similar to the AR images you’d find on phones and tablets. LIDAR — which Apple incorporated into its 2020 iPad Pro — helps the headset more accurately map the outside world. You might still get some obvious “tells,” like virtual objects’ lighting not matching that of a real room. But better mapping means that physical objects can realistically occlude virtual ones, for instance.

Varjo still isn’t pitching its headsets to consumers. The XR-3 costs $5,495 and requires a one-year $1,495 Varjo software support subscription. The VR-3 costs $3,195 and requires a similar $795 subscription. But that’s still a major cut from the $9,995 XR-1 and the $4,995 VR-2. The goal is a headset that more businesses and other organizations can afford. The higher resolution, meanwhile, could help with specific use cases. The VR-3 and XR-3’s crisper peripheral vision means that pilots-in-training can glance around at a virtual cockpit and get a clear image, for instance — mimicking how they’d act while flying a real plane. Varjo also promises better color accuracy with the XR-3 cameras, so doctors could get a better look at something like a rash while holding telemedicine sessions.

The VR-1, VR-2, and XR-1 were announced and released within months of each other, and the VR-3 and XR-3 are being released roughly a year later. Varjo doesn’t expect to keep up this tight hardware release cycle. With the screen resolution boost, higher field of view, and other features in place, it’s going to focus on scaling up deliveries and improving performance via software tweaks.

The XR-3 and VR-3 are both available for purchase today, and shipments will start in early 2021.