Varjo Aero: A New, ULTRA-High-Resolution Consumer VR Headset

The new Varjo Aero VR headset offers a resolution of 2880 x 2720 pixels per eye!
(image source)

Varjo, the Finnish manufacturer of ultra-high-end virtual reality and mixed reality headsets for the corporate market, which boast photorealistic levels of resolution, has announced a brand new VR headset intended for the consumer/prosumer market: the Varjo Aero.

This new PCVR headset (selling for US$1,990, which is just the price for the headset alone, but you can use Valve Index Knuckles controllers and base stations with it) has the following key features:

  • Dual Mini LED LCD lenses with a resolution of 2880 x 2720 pixels per eye at 90Hz (which completely removes the screen-door effect seen in lower-resolution VR headsets);
  • Automatic interpupillary distance (IPD) adjustment (i.e. you just put it on and the device automatically adjusts to your eyes), plus ultra-fast, built-in eye-tracking at 200 Hz;
  • Weighing in at 617 grams, offering 4 separate adjustment dials for a custom fit, with active cooling and optimized ergonomics for long-duration usage; and
  • Unlike Varjo’s corporate line of VR/AR/XR headsets, there is no annual software subscription fee.

However, there are also a few drawbacks to the Varjo Aero: there is no built-in audio and, even worse, no built-in microphone! (There is, of couse, an audio jack to attach an external set of headphones.) Also, as Jamie Feltham notes in his review of the product on UploadVR:

So let’s start with what has been my biggest issue in my time testing the headset. Yes the Aero is impeccably clear and I’ll touch on that in a second, but over the past four weeks using the headset I’ve noticed significant peripheral distortion when rotating my head. As I look away from a virtual object or surface, it appears to warp as if not entirely solid. Only the very center of my view looks stable. It’s incredibly distracting (which, ironically, is only enhanced by the clarity of the display).

In pretty much all the apps I’ve tested, including big-budget titles like Half-Life: Alyx and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners and indie projects like Gorn and Sweet Surrender, it’s been a noticeable issue.

Crucially, Varjo itself knows about this. I’ve been on multiple troubleshooting calls with the company over the past few weeks to talk about it and have been repeatedly assured that this is a software issue it’s aiming to fix with subsequent updates. In fact, the company says it expects to have its Base software fully ready for the Aero in December, which is when it also expects the first units ordered today to arrive.

And, of course, the YouTube VR vloggers were all over this new release! I have attached review videos by Thrillseeker, Cas and Chary, and Sebastian Ang of MRTV below (if you only have time to watch one, watch Thrillseeker’s; his mind is just blown by the Varjo Aero, although he also notes the visual distortion Jamie mentioned, and says that the company assured him that they would fix the issue before shipping product):

As Thrillseeker says in his review video, improvements to virtual reality hardware and software are accelerating, and slowly but surely filtering down to the consumer market! It’s an exciting time to be in VR!

I leave you with another video showing how the Varjo Aero VR headset is being used in aircraft pilot training:

UPDATED! KAT Walk C: The First Consumer-Level VR Omnidirectional Treadmill

Yesterday, virtual reality vlogger ThrillSeeker reviewed the KAT Walk C (the world’s first VR omnidirectional treadmill intended for the consumer market) in the following 13-minute video, which is an absolute must-watch. The video is epic, mind-boggling, and at times absolutely hilarious!

ThrillSeeker reports that he was easily able to set up the device and get it to work with various VR apps and games. He doesn’t shy away from criticism in his review, about what he thinks are the weak parts of the system. While he says that most VR games probably wouldn’t greatly benefit from the US$1,399 treadmill, he found that adding the ability to use your legs to walk around in open world VR games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim VR and No Man’s Sky gives you a completely different sense of scale and realism, compared to using your thumbsticks to walk and/or teleport in virtual reality.

ThrillSeeker, wearing a Valve Index VR headset, walking on the KAT Walk C

For those of you, like Thrillseeker, who have to be on the absolute bleeding edge of virtual reality, you might well want to add to the body-tracking pucks, the Vive Facial Tracker, the FeelReal Multisensory VR Mask, and any haptic vests or any other haptic equipment may you already have, and open your wallets for this device! (Yes, they’re even having s sale!)

I leave you with a 3-minute promotional video for the product by the company behind this device, KAT VR (which also sells a version for business use):

UPDATE Oct. 3rd, 2021: VR vloggers Cas and Chary have also released their review of the KAT WALK C:

XRSpace Manova: An Update

I last wrote about XRSpace in May 2020, but I decided that it was time for an update on the ambitious project to create both a new standalone, wireless VR headset and a new social VR platform called Manova. (Yes, as far as I can tell, they are using the same name for both. The headset used to be called Mova, but is now called Manova, and I have seen the social VR platform referred to as “Manova World”, to differentiate it from the VR headset.)

XRSpace is working with Deutsche Telekom on Manova, and a German vlogger called VoodooDE had an opportunity to try out the new headset and the social VR platform, posting the following review video with in-world footage:

To put it mildly, he’s not a fan, citing problems with the visual display of the headset and calling the internal cooling fan a “disaster”, comparing it to someone turning on a hairdryer nearby. He played a clip of the sound and yes, it’s horrible! I can’t imagine wearing this headset for any length of time for that reason alone.

While the app store includes games such as Angry Birds and Bait!, it’s still rather limited. There’s also a selection of 360-degree videos you can watch. The various locations in social VR look pretty good, including a traditional German Christmas market, a dance club, a beach with an underwater world to explore, and a spa.

VoodooDE saved his harshest criticisms for the clumsy gesture system. In its current incarnation, you can’t just wave at somebody using your hands. Other people do not see you waving at them! You literally have to open the gesture menu, select Wave, and only then does the other avatar see you waving at them! Mindboggling.

In short, Manova seems to be a hot mess. But it’s still very early days, and we can hope that they make some improvements to both the headset and the social VR platform in future. It would be nice if XRSpace Manova could give Facebook some competition in the wireless headset market, but the hardware and software problems are pretty serious, and definitely need to be addressed.

German vlogger MRTV also reviewed the Manova (but unfortunately, he can’t really share his opinions because of an non-disclosure agreement with Deutsche Telekom).

Other than that, there is still frustratingly little information out there about this product. But I’ll continue to monitor the situation and keep you posted!

UPDATE 3:03 p.m.: I did a little more searching and I uncovered an article written by Gerald Lynch in March for the TechRadar website, where he mentions hand tracking problems (something which VoodooDE also mentions in passing in his video):

It’s also one of the only headsets to feature built-in hand tracking (not to mention outside-in tracking, generally), but its execution is a bit patchy. It regularly lost track of where my hands were floating, and the pinch-to-select menu gesture worked – but would often select the wrong item as my VR hands inadvertently veered over an unwanted menu option. This led to a humorously-brief excursion during my demo session with Manova World’s creators where I was whisked away and accidentally became lost in some sort of circus land after arranging a rendezvous at Manova’s beach environment instead. Thankfully, I was not met by any creepy virtual clowns.

Interestingly, I learned from Gerald’s article that XRSpace has plans to make the Manova social VR platform available for other headsets:

But XRSpace is pragmatic about Manova World’s future. It’s aware of its own hardware’s limitations (understandable, given the blueprints were drawn up around four years ago, a time when all-in-one hand tracking VR solutions weren’t commercially available), and sees the long-term future of Manova extending to other hardware and VR platforms. XRSpace is expecting to bring Manova World to other VR platforms later this year, and is aiming to have 50,000 users in the next 12 months as a result.

So, I anticipate future announcements! Stay tuned.

A look at the social VR platform Manova (sometimes called Manova World)

The VIVE Focus 3 Standalone VR Headset: A First Look

I received an email announcing that VIVE has released their new standalone virtual reality headset, called the VIVE Focus 3. This is the first major standalone headset which is not part of the Facebook/Oculus ecosystem, which means that you do not have to sign up for an account on the Facebook social network in order to use it—in my books, a major selling point!

This headset, which is intended for the corporate market, retails for UD$1,300 (which works out to $1,750 Canadian dollars due to our lamentable exchange rate).

The Vive Focus 3 product page on the VIVE website gives some examples of use cases for this new standalone headset (which can also be used as a PCVR headset with the addition of an appropriate cable to your gaming PC):

Mike from the Virtual Reality Oasis has already reviewed the VIVE Focus 3 in this 15-minute YouTube video:

In this video, he discusses whether or not the Focus 3 is any good for gaming, and compares it with the Oculus Quest 2. He loves the design of the product, and says it took only 10 minutes to get up and running. Mike notes a few of the limitations of this headset (notably, a noisy fan and a very small sweet spot for the lenses), and says that, in his opinion, “it’s just not ready for consumers”.

Cas and Chary also reviewed the VIVE Focus 3 in the following 15-minute video:

Like Mike, Cas and Chary note the high-quality design, the removable, swappable 26.6Wh Lithium-Polymer Gel battery, the expandable memory slot (128 GB / 8 GB with support up to 2TB microSD), and the excellent hand tracking. I am also happy to note that both reviews mention that glasses will fit into the VIVE Focus 3 headset!

Again, the major market for the Focus 3 is the business market, and it is a rather expensive standalone headset for consumer use, especially compared to the Oculus Quest 2, a product which I have been told Facebook sells at a loss (no doubt hoping to recoup the investment on games and app sales in the Oculus Store).

I’m sorely tempted to buy, but I think I will wait for version 2 of this headset (or perhaps, another non-Facebook standalone product, like the Pico Neo 3?) before I decide to purchase a replacement for my trusty Oculus Quest 1 headset, which is currently sitting in its box, waiting to be mailed to my sister-in-law in Alberta for use in her work with developmentally-challenged adults. I’ll stick with my beloved Valve Index for now! 😉