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:

The First User Reviews of Facebook Horizon Are Mixed

Wuhao from the RyanSchultz.com Discord server alerted me to the Oculus page for the invite-only beta version of Facebook’s new social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, where (much as they do on Steam) the first users have weighed in with their reviews.

As of this morning, there are 93 ratings in the Oculus five-star rating system, which break down as follows:

Half of the earliest reviewers give Horizon 5 out of 5 stars

One common complaint is that, while people liked the ease of use of the in-world building tools, Facebook Horizon lacks in tutorials and documentation for its scripting abilities. One user said:

The tutorials don’t go deep enough into using Scripts and Gizmos, and I have had to resort to deconstructing scripts inside the script example room. This is a horribly inefficient way to learn for a newbie. I find myself having to Google what some words mean (like [what the f*ck] is a Boolean?), and I’m having to connect the dots to figure out how variables and logic work inside the tools. A YouTube tutorial series, or even a series of help pages is sorely needed.

I met a man with experience in the game industry that said someone helped him learn how to build in Horizon over the last few months (he was in the Beta beta). Not all of us will be blessed with that opportunity to have a mentor.

I had to laugh at the Boolean comment; most people who have done even rudimentary computer programming know what Boolean logic is (AND, OR, NOT). But, of course, the target audience for Horizon is not computer programmers; it is the soccer moms of America, the millions of people who post cat pictures to their Facebook feeds and like other people’s posts. (Make that billions of people; Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide. That is whom Horizon is squarely aimed at. They’re not aiming this at the Second Life crowd, either, many of whom will not doubt be horrified that you can’t hide behind an avatar identity.)

And (of course) there are the usual complaints that are common to any brand-new social VR platform: not a lot of people (yet), and the usual severe gender imbalance, with way more men than women participating. One woman wrote in her review:

I have never been in an online community before, so this was a treat. It was pleasant talking to people and getting help on how to do things. My one criticism is that the few people there were all male. I was the only female there, and it would have been nice to have some female company, especially more mature women. I am 65. I visited some of the worlds and had fun shooting at a monster and a dragon, once I figured out how to make the weapons work (not much help from the app, but another player showed me how). One of the worlds where you build things out of building blocks needed multiple players, and I was the only one there. That was my other criticism: hardly any people were there. I guess that will be rectified once the app hits the market.

There are a few less-than-positive reviews:

Maybe I’m missing something but this felt like just another Rec Room, only far inferior, with other people’s avatars wandering around tring to work out what to do.

and…

Wasn’t that impressed was waiting and waiting for this thought it was gonna be something totally different than what was delivered. I’m not a tech nerd or a genius I couldn’t get anything to work in building mode I don’t know anything about coding or scripting I feel like if you want more people to contribute worlds and items your gonna have to dumb it down a little I actually only found the boomerang throw entertaining in the plaza. I’ve checked out a few worlds I thought some were kinda ok but nothing wow I might continue to pop in once in awhile to see what’s new but this isn’t my go to for fun.

and…

For anyone that has played Rec Room, they know that [it] is much better.

1. When you grab anything in here, the physics are terrible. Almost everything is going through your hand or not feeling realistic at all.
2. The graphics aren’t anything to be in awe of. Many other games have better and smoother graphics.
3. Almost no options for avatars. The avatar options are VERY limited.
4. I tried playing multiple games and I was the only person in any of them. Very very very boring.
5. Facebook takeover…talking about how much they monitor you. It’s just unsettling how they will record and watch and listen in on you and you won’t know.

And some people were just downright cranky:

Interesting. I liked the interaction as I first met up with older beings. But I’m hoping there are some filter/settings? to limit age groups? I think it would be a good idea to keep adults out of kids playing. (obvious reasons) and personally as a older man I had fun working with others until a young man (maybe 9 yr old?) joined us and though he was over all nice… I still got a head ache quickly with his noises and yapping and all around high pitched voice. Nothing wrong with that but it ruined my experience and the two other people I was working with on a puzzle… left. (I think for same reason). So I suggest adding a limit (who you see/join?) maybe setting a low limit of 18 and a higher limit of 40… or older folks like myself might want to limit 40-70. It just keeps those with more in common together and doesn’t let a youngster ruin a good thing like we had happen today. Personally I’d prefer 20+ and prefer no profanity. (maybe a setting). There were a couple of f’bombs and though I’m no prude… I’d prefer no hearing cursing unless it’s a slip.

One user felt that the actual product didn’t really match up to the advertising:

After spending a couple of days doing a little bit of everything, I have to say it’s not at all what I expected. Last year’s commercials set a much higher bar. However, world creation tools exceeded expectations as it almost seems to be a 3D modeling community more than anything else. (The problem with that is the majority of community members today are not modeling artists, so I miss the ‘consistently’ rich environments I get in Bigscreen for example.) IMO if the worlds could be made richer by novices then that would be spectacular! To do that I would suggest you offer room templates and a variety of editable objects like furniture and room boxes that we could customize —but it would be good if you could beat Rec Room’s childish templates, and get closer to the standard of last year’s Horizon commercials.

Here’s the commercial he was probably referring to:

But there are also many positive comments in the user reviews (and half of the earliest reviewers gave Facebook Horizon the highly favourable rating of five stars out of five):

After going through a couple hours of what Horizon has to offer I must say I’m very pleased and impressed by what I’ve seen so far. This definitely has a ton of room for all types of possibilities. I got one am very excited to see what will be coming as more and more developers contribute to this great app!!!

Of course, Facebook Horizon is still in an invite-only beta test mode, and is still very much a work-in-progress. Once Facebook adds to and refines the features of the product, and decides to open the doors to the general public, it will be very interesting to monitor this page over time, to see if the overall tone of the user reviews changes over time. (For example, Sansar has been absolutely crucified in its Steam reviews.)


Thank you to Wuhao for the heads-up!

Sansar on Steam: Linden Lab May Be Fighting a Losing Battle Against the Thumbs-Down Crowd

Sansar Steam Reviews 10 Dec 2018.png

Well, the overall rating for Sansar on Steam has gone from “Positive ” to “Mostly Positive” to “Mixed” between its launch this past Wednesday and the following Sunday (in only 5 days).

The reviews are now 1/3 negative and 2/3 positive. Some of the thumbs-down reviews are by disgruntled SL users with an axe to grind. Some are trolls. Some have well-thought-out explanations of why they dislike Sansar. But it looks like the overall rating is not going to improve anytime soon. I was afraid this was going to happen.

Also, the all-time peak usage via the Steam statistics seems to be stuck at 76. Obviously, it’s still very early days though. We’ll have to wait at least a few more weeks to detect any trends.

SteamSpy Stats 10 Dec 2018.png

But it is starting to look like a similar situation might be developing to what happened when Linden Lab first launched their “open creator beta” on July 31st, 2017: a lot of people trooped in, kicked the tires, took a look around, declared themselves dissatisfied, and promptly trooped out again. (Note the slight downward trend in the overall usage stats since Wednesday on the chart above.)

Like I said, it’s really much, much to soon to make any observations. But it looks like Linden Lab is going to be facing a prolonged, losing battle with the negative reviewers.

UPDATED! Sansar on Steam: The Earliest Reviews Are In!

#ff0000;">Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? #ff0000;" href="https://ryanschultz.com/2018/11/20/new-a-discord-server-for-ryanschultz-com-readers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">More details here. 


Early this morning I decided to check what the reviewers on Steam are saying about Sansar (scroll to the bottom of the page), and overall, the news is pretty good! Thirty-one reviews so far (25 positive and 6 negative):

Sansar Steam Positive Reviews 7 Dec 2018.png

But, as I had feared, there are some thumbs-down reviews as well:

Sansar Steam Negative Review 2 7 Dec 2018.png

Aah yes, the “but there’s nothing to do” crowd. Somehow it seems to escape certain people that you can create your own experiences and host events in Sansar, as many people already do. Don’t expect it all to be handed to you on a silver platter, my dear. If you’ve been in Second Life for 6 years you should already have learned that. Next!

And the “grainy and blurry” comment in the second negative review? Excuse me?!?? Are we occupying the same Sansar? One of Sansar’s strongest points is its strong support for good graphics and beautiful lighting. This person must have horrible internet bandwidth or a slow computer. Or maybe he’s just a troll.

Argh, I can see that I am going to have to limit my perusal of the negative reviews. It’s gonna give me an ulcer!

However, I was very pleased to see that Linden Lab is already actively responding to negative reviews:

Sansar Steam Negative Review 7 Dec 2018.png

Linden Lab is going to need to keep on top of this. A good response can do a lot to mitigate a bad review (even though it still brings down Sansar’s overall rating on Steam).

By the way, if you are not running Sansar on Steam (i.e. you have not downloaded and installed it from Steam), then you will be unable to leave your own review or participate in the Steam Community for Sansar. Over time, that community may become more active than the official Sansar Discord server.

Also, people should know that if you install Sansar from Steam, you must use the Steam Wallet to buy Sansar dollars, and Steam gets a cut of the transaction. If you download the Sansar client directly from the Sansar website (outside of the Steam ecosystem), you can still buy Sansar dollars the same way you did before, and Steam does not get a cut of the action. That’s an important distinction to think about.

As yet, there’s no incentive for me to uninstall my current, non-Steam Sansar and reinstall it via Steam. I don’t use Steam very often and I don’t feel like giving them a cut of my transactions when I buy Sansar dollars.

And I don’t intend to post reviews; I will leave that to other people. Besides, I already have a blog where I can praise or chastise Linden Lab at length for their decisions regarding Sansar, as you might have already noticed. 😉

Interesting times ahead! And it looks like the Steam reviews page is going to be hopping with activity! In the short time that it took for me to write this blogpost, an additional three Sansar reviews were posted: two positive and one negative!

Are you thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Sansar? Feel free to leave a comment.

aziz-acharki-592558-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

UPDATE Dec. 8th: Peter Valencia (a.k.a. Theanine) has left a comment with a very useful tip for those people (like me), who might want to post a review but not actually use the Steam version of Sansar:

Some longtime users of the platform may have tried to leave a review, but to do so, they need to have run Steam Sansar for at least 5 minutes. However, if you still have the old Sansar installed, you get the error message telling you to first uninstall the non-Steam installation of Sansar.

What some might not know is that you don’t even need to login. You can just leave it open for 5 minutes with that error message still displaying. Then you can post a review. That’s what I did. I won’t be using Steam Sansar either (at least for now). I just installed it and did the trick above so I could leave a review, then uninstalled it.

Thanks, Theanine! 🙂 I have tested this and it does indeed work, provided you have bought at least $5.00 on the Steam store.