Varjo’s XR-4 new mixed reality headsets — an enterprise alternative to Vision Pro?

Enterprise VR/AR hardware vendor Varjo has launched its latest mixed-reality headset, promising levels of realism that surpass consumer-focused devices — and at a price that puts the device in line with Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro.

Varjo targets the highest of high-end virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) use cases, including training simulations for airplane pilots and design reviews for global car manufacturers. It’s an approach that pushes the boundaries of immersive technologies, the company says, with prices to match: individual Varjo headsets can often run into five-figure sums.

On Tuesday, the Finnish company announced its XR-4 series devices, the latest generation of PC-powered MR headsets, with three headset SKUs available beginning in December.

One notable change involves pricing. The base model, priced at €3,990 (around $4,350), is half the cost of the previous generation XR-3 (priced at €6,495, or roughly $7,000), placing it closer to the Vision Pro ($3,499) and Microsoft’s enterprise-focused HoloLens 2 ($3,500). Varjo is also ending a €1,495 yearly subscription fee for XR-3 device purchases.

Varjo xr 4 focal edition Varjo

Varjo’s new XR-4 series devices starts at around $4,350.

With the lower priced XR-4 base model, Varjo says businesses can deploy mixed-reality devices more widely across their workforce. “For many of our customers, XR has graduated from their innovation labs, and is deployed in dedicated XR workspaces,” said Patrick Wyatt, Varjo’s chief product officer. “They are now thinking about how they could deploy this technology more broadly, so their employees can use XR at their desks or even from home. We expect that the XR-4 will be a great device for this scale-up phase.”

“Varjo’s headsets have ruled the roost for many high-end enterprise use cases, but at a high price that’s shut out a lot of potential buyers,” said David Truog, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “So, the XR-4’s lower price will open up a much larger market for Varjo and create opportunities for enterprises to start working in XR that have hesitated to until now. That will be a game-changer for this market.”

“Varjo didn’t just lower the price on the VR-4, it also greatly simplified the pricing structure,” said Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponential. “You no longer need to pay a software maintenance fee or separately purchase Steam controllers or trackers.”

He pointed to other costs involved in procuring the XR-4 series, including the need for a “fairly high-end workstation or gaming PC.” However, the “easier out-of-box experience, increased capabilities, and lower cost … should grow the market among Varjo’s design, aviation, simulation, and engineering customer base,” said Greengart.

Those wanting the most advanced passthrough features still face a significant outlay. The XR-4 Focal Edition offers improved augmented reality performance thanks to the addition of auto-focus cameras, which Varjo says makes these devices particularly suitable to training simulations that require interaction with real world objects. The Focal Edition costs €9,990 ($10,940), which represents a substantial decrease from the XR-3 Focal Edition, priced around €17,000 (or roughly $18,625).

Finally, a Secure Edition designed for government and defense organizations is built in secure manufacturing facilities in Finland that meet TAA standards, with the option to remove radio components from the headset. Pricing for Secure Edition products wasn’t immediately available.

All three products benefit from a range of enhancements over the XR-3 headsets. For example, the XR-4 devices have a 120-degree horizontal field of view and 105-degree vertical field of view, which results in 50% more screen real estate than the XR-3. “That means that, as a pilot, you can then look down and see your yoke and see your avionics all without moving your head, which is quite important,” said Wyatt.

Display panel resolution has increased as well; the new devices are 4k by 4k with 28 million pixels (20% more than Apple’s Vision Pro, according to Varjo). The XR-4 is also twice as bright as its predecessor, at 200 nits, while the LiDAR resolution has also increased. Controllers, built by Razer, are included in headset price, too.

As with previous generations, the XR-4 devices require connection to PCs — a must for running compute intensive applications accessed by industrial customers. The headsets are bulky and weight a little over two pounds, making them heavier than the XR-3 and twice the weight of the consumer-focused Quest 3. This isn’t a major consideration for Varjo’s customers, said Wyatt, who are likely to don the devices for restricted periods of time, such as for training.

The most significant hardware update in the XR-4 series is the addition of enhanced mixed reality passthrough in the pricier Focal Edition. Passthrough allows users to see what’s going on in the real world around them via external cameras and sensors on the headset. In the XR-4, the peak pixel density when using the passthrough is 51 pixels per degree (ppd), compared to 33ppd in the base unit. In comparison, the Quest 3 passthrough is around 25ppd; Apple’s hasn’t announced similar specs for the Vision Pro.

The Focal Edition headset uses a combination of eye-tracking, LiDAR depths sensors, and auto-focus cameras to bring passthrough quality close to “human-eye” resolution, Varjo claims. “In a matter of milliseconds, we track where the user is looking…, we calculate how far away the object is, and focus the passthrough cameras to that point,” said Wyatt. “Effectively, the auto-focus cameras are replicating the natural function of the human eye, as it adjusts to different depth-of-fields.”

The improved passthrough is an important feature for scenarios where clarity of real-world objects is vital, such as pilots training in mixed reality in real-world cockpits. “This enables headset wearers to see real world objects in higher detail than is possible with the XR-3 and other headsets,” said Wyatt.

Improving passthrough quality is key focus for headset vendors, with varying degrees of success so far. “The passthrough on Varjo’s XR-3 and on products like Meta’s Quest 3 are useful, but they never fool you into thinking that you aren’t looking at a display in a headset,” said Greengart, who has used Apple’s headset but not the XR-4 devices.

“Apple’s Vision Pro does pull off this trick — at least in short demos — and that is the promise of Varjo’s XR-4. This level of immersion can open up new spatial computing applications, especially for automotive design and flight simulation with real instrumentation.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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