The Varjo Bionic Display: We Have the Technology

Image is the Property of Varjo (Fair Use)
VR headsets, despite any apparent stagnation, are a hot area of development. Plenty of different companies are working on ways to improve the current generation of VR eyewear. So we’ve seen motorized screens, foveated rendering, curved screens, special lenses and more.

Despite how good current VR headsets like the Oculus are, you have to admit it could be better. One of the biggest problems is the relatively low resolution of VR headset screens. Yes, we have “retina” screens on phones and tablets, but that’s measured at typical distances people actually use their devices. When you put one of those screens an inch or two from your eyeball things are different. We get that dreaded “chicken wire” effect where the pixel grid is visible, made worse by the optics in the headset.

Achieving that retina apparent pixel density in VR is a tough nut to crack. Simply adding more actual pixels in may not be the most efficient solution for a variety of reasons. The horsepower needed to drive that many pixels being a major factor.

Add More Screens

Varjo gets around this issue by simply adding another screen for each eye. There’s one incredibly high-resolution, small display that uses eye tracking to measure where the sharpest part of your vision is focused. The second display then acts as peripheral vision. This neatly gets around the massive cost that would be associated with a full-sized VR retina display. It all sounds pretty good, but the proof is in the pudding. In lieu of actually getting to don one of the prototype units, we have these images from Varjo demonstrating the difference in resolution.

Clearly, (no pun intended) this represents a major leap in VR clarity. The instrumentation demo in particular shows how important this visual upgrade will be. It’s not just a shallow improvement in crispness or additional immersion. It’s going to make a massive difference to what will work as a VR experience.

Not Ready for Primetime

Varjo’s prototype doesn’t seem that far off from production, but we have no real idea when you’d be able to buy this or how wide support for its multiresolution, dual-screen approach will be. If you are a VR developer, you can actually apply to get one of the prototypes and development kits for it. So that’s one possibility to experience what will surely be the norm one day a generation early. There’s also a mixed reality add-on coming in 2019, which may put the people from Magic Leap on notice. We’ll be watching this headset like a hawk, that’s for sure.

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