Headset maker Varjo has a reputation in the XR industry as a company that never stops pushing the envelope of what’s possible. This is particularly true in the enterprise market, where it has become the headset of choice for many customers, including multiple automakers and defense contractors.
Most of the bleeding-edge XR technologies get a foothold in the enterprise XR market before the consumer market, in large part because businesses typically have bigger budgets than consumers. Previous models of Varjo’s headsets (VR-1, XR-1, and VR-2) were expensive $5-10K investments. While they delivered exceptional visual quality, it’s hard to scale beyond a few dozen headsets at these prices. Without bringing the cost down, these older headsets run the risk of becoming too niche of a product to gain mainstream adoption and move the industry forward meaningfully. Varjo appears to have taken measures to address this issue with the newly announced VR-3 and XR-3. Let’s take a closer look.
Both the VR-3 and XR-3 feature a new 115-degree FoV (field of vision). Additionally, their 90 Hz display features a high 71 PPD (pixel per degree) OLED microdisplay in the center with a lower resolution display for the rest, which varies from 27-35 PPD depending on where in the lens the user is looking. This approach makes sense, given that the user’s gaze will likely be at the center of the display for most of the time. Thanks to eye-tracking and dynamic foveated rendering, the user is unlikely to notice the difference between the two different types of displays in most scenarios.
With these specs, there isn’t anything like the Varjo XR-3 and VR-3 on the market. Even when compared to its last generation, the company has made giant leaps in image quality and immersion overall. Varjo’s previous generation of headsets had a smaller high-resolution zone that only reached 62 PPD and an outer lower-resolution zone of 14 PPD, all while increasing FoV from 87 to 115. The displays are high-quality, enterprise-grade OLEDs, with color depth that covers 99% of the sRGB color gamut and 93% of DCI-P3. Varjo also uses an in-house 200 Hz eye tracking solution, and although I haven’t had a chance to try it, I have confidence that it works well, based on the VR-1.
Ergonomics and User Experience
Varjo has vastly improved the ergonomics of the XR-3 and VR-3. The headsets feature a new three-point solution that should help better balance their weight (593g and 558g, respectively). There is also a small counterweight in the headsets’ back to help balance out the headset’s front-heavy nature. This measure should make the headsets’ more enjoyable for long-term use. While the XR-3 and VR-3 are not standalone headsets, if it were ever to go wireless, this is where Varjo should put the battery. In addition to improving the ergonomics, Varjo added Leap Motion hand-tracking sensors so users can go controller-free. I believe this is the right move by Varjo—in the long term, hand tracking will be table stakes for all XR devices. The XR-3 also has a pair of pass-through RGB cameras to support AR capabilities, as well as LiDAR for environment scanning and tracking. For mixed reality and AR applications, this sensor fusion makes total sense. Lastly, the headsets’ 12-megapixel cameras stream a very high-quality, latency-free feed, which Varjo has clearly spent a long time perfecting.
While I, unfortunately, haven’t had a chance to try either of the headsets in-person, I hope to get a chance to try them in 2021. Varjo is already selling both the XR-3 and VR-3 on its website and is ready to ship directly or through resellers. The XR-3 and VR-3 cost 5,500 Euros and 3,200 Euros, respectively, plus subscription fees of 1,495 and 795 Euros per year. While this is half the price of the previous generation, there is still a 7,000 and 4,000 Euro price of entry when you include the required subscription. As such, these headsets are still very much industrial-grade enterprise headsets for those who can justify the costs. Still, there isn’t anything like the Varjo XR-3 and VR-3 on the market, and compared to the last generation, the company has made giant leaps in image quality, immersion and price.
It is quite clear that Varjo has become the headset of many enterprise customers, including multiple automakers and defense contractors. Varjo is the pinnacle of what’s possible in XR and VR today, but at a price still firmly in the enterprise realm for significant projects that can justify the cost.