Varjo tries to bring vision-quality VR out of the shadows

Virtual reality headsets are interesting fare, but a number of challenges remain in the march towards making them useful for many applications. Finnish outfit Varjo says it's made a breakthrough in increasing the resolution of VR displays to reduce the "screen door effect" that accompanies the current technology. The company—whose name means "shadow" in Finnish—has adapted Sony OLED microdisplays used in broadcast cameras for use in VR headsets for what it calls "vision-quality" images.

Demonstration of the difference between Varjo's prototype's and current VR displays

The 0.7" OLED panels that Varjo uses have a resolution of 1920x1080. In Varjo's modified Oculus-Rift-based prototype, the image from the tiny panel is overlaid atop that of a current-generation VR display. Peter Rubin from Wired was able to experience Varjo's demo and wrote that virtual computer monitors and aircraft instruments were made suddenly readable when viewed through the OLED "reticle." The next-generation prototype hardware will replace the fixed high-quality display region with one that reacts according to tracked eye movements—a similar concept to foveated rendering.

According to Wired, the Sony microdisplays in the prototype currently cost about $900 each, which is more than the retail price of a full VR headset. Varjo says its technology will be aimed at the professional market for use in the CAD, industrial training simulators, and medicine markets at first. The company says it will release technology preview units to partners later this year. Varjo's employees (some of whom worked previously at Nokia) spent about ten months developing the prototype that Rubin used.

Varjo says its technology represents as much as a 70-fold increase in image quality, but many challenges remain before that high-quality VR imagery can become the norm. The company notes that graphics chips must become several times more powerful, more efficient, or some combination of the two. Headset makers also face challenges in reducing the weight of headsets while reducing or eliminating the cabling requirements and decreasing the overally complexity of the setup.

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