What is real Varjo has the answer

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The VR-1, priced at €5,995, is the new standard by which users will judge VR experiences. Varjo chief product officer Urho Konttori tells VRWorldTech just what the Finnish company has achieved with the new headset

It’s a question from a movie about a human race of the future enslaved by robots, but consider its resonance in the age of manufactured realities: what is real? If it’s what your mind perceives from the signals it receives from your eyes, ears, fingertips and tongue, then virtual realities and others have the potential to be as real as reality itself. But we’re not there yet.

The line between actual reality and manufactured ones is all too distinct, in the computer-generated imagery we perceive with our eyes. The bulky hardware we feel on our head rather than the virtual tools we’re manipulating. The imperfect audio we hear through our headphones. And all of this is before we develop the ability to taste or smell these realities. Taken together, these appear to be insurmountable hurdles, but one Finnish company identified the resolution at which VR content can be viewed as one—and decided to overcome it.

Varjo, the Finnish company behind the impressive VR-1 headset, counts among its founders Niko Eiden and Urho Konttori. Eiden led development of the HoloLens when it was a Nokia product, while Konttori worked on VR headset development at Microsoft. Together, they decided they didn’t just want to create mixed reality devices, they wanted to push the boundaries of what the technology can really do.

Konttori, who is chief product officer at Varjo, which now boasts more than 100 employees, explains: “We worked on consumer hardware for years and knew that to create technology for the masses, you have to make a lot of compromises. But if we skipped the consumer, we could accelerate the pace of technological development substantially.”

And the reason for this development was the achievement of hard augmented reality, where the user is unable to tell the difference between what is virtual and what is real.

Konttori says the Varjo team’s experience in camera module development proved that capturing the requisite number of pixels wasn’t the problem, but showing them. To achieve Bionic Display, as Varjo describes the human-eye resolution capability of the VR-1, the company actually uses two displays per eye. One is traditionally used in broadcast camera viewfinders, while the other is a more typical VR headset display that creates a wide field of view.

Combining these displays to achieve human-eye resolution took significant work, particularly when it came to the software used in the VR-1. “The way that we fused these two images together is a mixture of hardware and software,” Konttori explains. “It’s really pleasant to see that we’re still improving that quality, because it’s mostly the software doing the work. That’s why we achieved human-eye resolution in your central field of view. It’s actually the same size as HoloLens 1 was in the entirety of the view. But for us that’s the area of the human-eye resolution.”

A comparison of the resolution quality between the HTC Vive Pro (left) and Varjo VR-1 (right)

Varjo achieved something of a coup last month when it partnered with automotive visualisation specialist ZeroLight and Audi to create a demo experience for the VR-1. The experience enabled users to configure and explore the Audi e-tron using Varjo’s headset.

The automotive industry, it turns out, set the baseline for what Varjo wanted to achieve with the VR-1.

Konttori explains: “One of the things the automotive industry told was that for car design, the VR model needs to be exactly the same as a clay model. Clay models take a tremendous amount of time, effort and resource to produce. If they could achieve the same quality in VR, they would be able to produce so many more iterations. And of course, you get all of the traditional benefits: you can change the colour, see how it looks at night, during the day, in Berlin Square or in New York, all at the snap of a finger. You can see all of these iterations and identify areas that need improvement, so the whole design process is so much faster.”

“For the automotive industry, it means they can do many more of these product-equivalent iterations than could previously. It needs to reach a certain quality level to be useful. It’s interesting how much better we understand these things when we see them with a VR headset with 3D stereo vision, as opposed to just on a flat screen. But the key is being able to see it like it would look in real life.”

Varjo is pressing ahead with developments to the VR-1 and its use within business and academia. A major add-on is planned for the summer and Konttori is particularly excited about its potential.

“It’s a modular add-on that replaces the front plate of the headset. The mixed reality add-on allows you to have by far the highest quality mixed reality of any headset out there. We’re talking tens of times higher resolution than any competing products.”

“The HTC Focus line-up and the Vive Pro have certain resolution cameras that you can use for mixed reality, but with very high latency. The distortions are still quite visible. We’ve worked on all of these things. The resolution is huge. Latency is non-existent, certainly below typical VR rendering. There is much more work we do for each pixel you see, but we’ve been able to get rid of all the latency.”

What is real Varjo has the answer

“Necessity is the mother of invention, so we had to roll up our sleeves and work on both problems simultaneously.”

URHO KONTTORI, CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER AT VARJO

Konttori adds: “That has taken almost the entire lifetime of the company to achieve. We actually began dealing with that problem before the issue of displays, thinking that the technology was already available to achieve human-eye resolution, but necessity is the mother of invention, so we had to roll up our sleeves and work on both problems simultaneously.”

Image credits: © Varjo: https://www.varjo.com/media