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Varjo's “bionic display” concentrates its firepower on just the thing you're looking at. This produces an effect known as foveated vision, in which the center of your vision is crystal clear, while your peripheral vision remains blurred or pixelated. Mother Nature has been hip to this trick for a while — it's how certain birds of prey can literally see for miles — and the human eye uses a similar technique.
“Bionic display is inspired by the human eye,” Varjo founder and CEO Urho Konttori said in an email. “We only see accurately at two degrees in our center field of view. We see at 100 pixels per degree in the center, but in periphery we see only one pixel per degree.”
Varjo uses a very interesting high-resolution projection technology that can display a high pixel density image at the most interesting location: where your eyes are looking at. For that, it also needs to use gaze tracking, but we know that this technology already works well enough to be used effectively with rendering technologies such as Foveated Rendering.
Although Varjo relies on Gaze Tracking, it is in fact the complete opposite (and complementary) of Foveated Rendering. Foveated Rendering lowers the rendring details in the peripheral vision while Varjo augments details in the area you are looking at (gaze area).
However, it is today’s only believable path to achieve the objective of having VR with human sight. --There are still a few things that Varjo needs to prove, but their product is based mostly on proven technologies put together with really smart engineering, so I think that they can pull this together and make it work.
I had the chance to demo a prototype of the company’s technology last week using a modified Oculus Rift headset with Varjo’s display systems embedded.
I suppose the best testament to the company’s technology was that I spent most of the demo questioning whether my eye sight had actually been improved. After being dropped into an apartment scene, I was almost disturbed by my ability to read the spines of books on bookshelves several feet away.
In the demonstrations we tried, the system looks very impressive. Resolution within the box is excellent, while the areas around it are no better or worse than commercial VR systems. But what could cause other players in the industry to get nervous is the patent portfolio that Varjo has amassed.
Konttori said its hardware patents have already been granted by the US patent office and that it isn't planning on sharing its tech with other suppliers.
Your future workplace may live inside a virtual reality headset. One startup wants to make sure you can't tell the difference between that and the real world. --
I recently tried a Varjo prototype -- a retrofitted Oculus Rift with a clear rectangular display in the center of the device's screen. Anything viewed through the opening was incredibly life-like, even crisper than my naked eye. Everything outside the rectangle resembled a typical VR resolution experience: Not as clear. This was to highlight the difference between what's available now and Varjo's technology.
A demo I experienced provided a literally small window into into the future. Working with a prototype of its headset so early that I slightly burned my fingers when I touched a chip on its surface, Varjo showed a number of VR scenes in the native resolution of what an Oculus Rift would display. However, in the center of the image was a rectangle through which one could see images at the headset's greatly enhanced resolution.
The rectangle provides a clue to the shortcut Varjo is exploiting to bypass a generation of computing and display technology. By using ultra-fast gaze tracking, the headset can render objects within one's field of view as your eye moves to that area of the scene. The result is a de facto rendering of the whole scene at the resolution of human vision.
Helsinki-based Varjo Technologies came out of stealth Monday with a bold claim: The company believes that it can make a VR headset with a dramatically better screen resolution that existing products like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive — up to 17 times better, to be precise.
Varjo’s technology promises to do away with visible pixels in VR, and allow users to read even fine print and other intricate details. “This is a very pivotal moment for VR,” said Varjo founder and CEO Urho Konttori.
At the core of Varjo’s technology is an interesting trick that mimics the way human vision works. When we read a sign or closely look at an object, we don’t actually have the entire field-of-view in focus. Instead, we hone in on one point, and the rest of whatever we see is out of focus.
If I looked at something through that small rectangle—the text on the virtual computer monitors, the tiny numbers in the plane's instrument panels—it stopped looking like VR. It just looked like...well, like real life. And it's the first step in Varjo's plan to create ultra-high-end headsets—for corporate use at first, but someday soon, for civilians like you and me.
The most striking thing about the demo was how much detail is lost in the translation to the fuzzy modern VR headsets. -- Looking at them through that window in the center gave each of these scenes new life. Textures that were obscured by the Oculus’ dual 1080 x 1200 displays could now be seen in more lifelike detail. I could read individual filenames in the folders on the virtual desktop. The cockpit of the plane was especially striking. Looking at it through the Oculus displays surrounding Varjo’s tech, I couldn’t understand any of the labels on the many knobs and switches at my virtual fingertips. Looking “through” those microdisplays, though, I was able to read all of them.
Even though this window of ultra clarity was small, it felt like a massive relief. I was able to resolve detail I thought I’d otherwise have to wait years to see in VR, and it didn’t strain my eyes as much, either.
In time, Varjo’s technology has the potential to help bring virtual and augmented reality together. The company wants to take a video feed, show that to the headset’s wearer, and then enable a set of digital effects laid over the information about someone’s surroundings.
In a set of pre-taped demos, the company showed how that approach could be used to provide a set of mixed reality effects that can’t be done with transparent headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens. For example, it’s possible to reduce how bright a room is just by altering its digital representation.
Even in its current unfinished form, the technology Varjo is demonstrating is tantalizing. The problem with VR today, says Prashant Fonseka, an associate at the venture capital firm CrunchFund, is that we live in a world of 4K displays, so even high-end systems like the Rift and Vive feel outdated. Many people who have bought such systems rarely use them, he says, adding that if VR offered visual displays of the quality we’ve gotten used to with TVs, it could appeal to a much wider audience.
“It feels like a very unrefined experience, and still feels like a beta, and doesn’t feel like something you’re going to spend hours in,” says Fonseka. “I think what Varjo is doing could unlock the VR market.”
Last Monday, I walked three blocks uphill on Mason St in San Francisco to the Fairmont Hotel to demo a stealth product that had been touted to me as one of the biggest advancements in XR tech this side of Magic Leap.
As it turns out, the trek was worth the hike—Varjo’s Human-Eye Resolution technology made me realize something I’d only known in a general sense prior: current visual fidelity in VR/AR has a long way to go. Varjo’s soon-to-launch headset catapults us a decade into the future in terms of what we’re actually able to see in immersive reality.
I am standing in a virtual living room rendered via Unity. Except I am seeing things I never have before in VR. There is a virtual television on the wall to my left displaying a 4K video of a city. The floor, the couch pillows, the clothes hanging on a rack to my left, are shown in such extreme detail that I am actually seeing a life-like world. It’s a glimpse of VR’s future.
This isn’t a typical virtual-world view, though. Rather than seeing the whole scene as uniformly in focus, when I look straight ahead—through a rectangle that makes up about 5 percent of my field of view—I can see much more detail. I’m able to note striations in the fabric on the couch cushions, and clear patterns on the sweaters and beanbags. I can read the words on the posters and the titles of books.
This increased sharpness is the work of a Finnish startup called Varjo (pronounced like “Vario”; it means “shadow” in Finnish), which is trying to massively improve the resolution of images for both virtual-reality and augmented-reality headsets—something that may be a way to woo more users to the nascent technologies and make them more useful for professionals.
During our preview, things that were viewed through the rectangle were significantly clearer than the surrounding areas. On a virtual eye test, letters in the bottom row were easy to read through Varjo's simulated rectangle, but were blurry and almost illegible in the regular Oculus Rift mode.
Although it's difficult to explain exactly how all that looked, since we couldn't take pictures of the demo, you can see from the images the company provided that it can achieve significantly higher resolution than the Oculus Rift or Vive, something that would no doubt make the VR and AR experience more immersive.