Virtual reality as sharp as the human eye can see?

Finnish start-up Varjo has developed a prototype virtual reality (VR) headset that its makers claim gives an image 50 times sharper than most other headsets currently on the market.

When I tested the prototype – looking round the virtual cockpit of a passenger plane – the level of detail in the small central area of vision was certainly impressive – as close to the real thing as I’ve come across.

Image quality outside this area, simulating standard VR headsets, was noticeably fuzzier.

Founder and chief executive Urho Konttori says the firm has managed to achieve this by mimicking how the eye sees.

“The human eye only focuses on a thumbnail-sized area of vision – the brain fills in the rest,” he says. “Our peripheral vision is less detailed, at a much lower resolution.”

So Varjo’s headset provides very high definition images only of the objects our eyes are focusing on at any particular moment, the rest of the scene is at lower resolution. It uses eye-tracking technology to tell which parts of the image it needs to render in high definition.

Plane cockpit at lower resolutionImage copyrightVARJO
Image captionThis is how most current VR headsets will render the image, Varjo says

This technique is known as foveated rendering within the industry – chipmaker Nvidia has been working on it for a few years.

This selective approach uses a lot less computing power, says Mr Kontorri – roughly 25% less than current VR headsets.

But this level of detail doesn’t come cheap – headsets will cost between €5,000 and €10,000 (£4,350 and £8,700) – so the Helsinki-based firm is targeting corporate customers, such as aircraft manufacturers, carmakers, architects, construction firms and the entertainment industry.

“VR visualisation – looking at designs of cars, buildings, cityscapes in high-definition 3D – will become a key part of the design process for business,” says Brian Blau, VR analyst for research firm Gartner.

Mr Kontorri, who used to work for Microsoft and Nokia, is hoping that simulator training for aircraft pilots and other professionals could be made a lot cheaper using VR in addition to training on traditional full-scale simulators.

 

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