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Varjo, a Finnish startup that’s building a high resolution virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (XR) headset that promises clarity comparable to the human eye, has announced it has raised $31 million in a series B round of funding led by Atomico, with participation from Next 47, EQT Ventures, and Lifeline Ventures.
“Traditional” VR headsets are certainly clear enough for many scenarios, such as watching a soccer match or playing some games, but if you ever need to get up close and read a piece of text on a virtual document or identify subtle nuances between shades of color, for example, then something a little more high-res will likely be in order.
Founded out of Helsinki in 2016, Varjo (pronounced “Var-yo”) is targeting myriad industries with a super high-resolution headset and software that promise to help companies carry out tasks that traditionally require a detailed view, but from within a virtual world. The headset can also be integrated with popular 3D engines such as Unity, among other integral industry-specific software.
Varjo shipped its first alpha headsets last November, and has been working with a host of big names from multiple industries including 20th Century Fox, Airbus, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, and Technicolor.
The current available prototype has an effective resolution of 50 megapixels per eye, which is well over 20 times more than most consumer VR headsets. VentureBeat was given a hands-on demo with a Varjo prototype headset, and we have to say, it was quite impressive.
While the version we used isn’t fully representative of the one that will go to market, the rough shape and size of the unit will be the same, and it will still require a high-performance computer to operate alongside — this isn’t a standalone device, and it isn’t wireless.
We witnessed several demos, including an artist’s studio and a cockpit simulation, and the detail was incredible. In the cockpit, for example, you could crane your head forward and read tiny numbers on the various screens and dials.
It’s difficult to convey this without experiencing a demo yourself, but by way of a crude illustration, these side-by-side comparisons go some way toward highlighting the differences between what Varjo is trying to build and where consumer VR headsets are currently at. Using a Sony DSC-RX 1000M4 camera, Varjo snapped a photo of the on-screen visuals through a Varjo headset (top) and the Oculus CV1 headset (below).
In reality, humans only see the most clarity within around a five degree area off their full field-of-view, and Varjo’s so-called “bionic display” tracks your eyes to deliver high-res imagery where the eyes would normally expect to see such clarity in the real world.
“The resolution of VR devices on the market today is a fraction of what the average human eye can see,” noted Atomico founding partner and CEO Niklas Zennström. “Until we met Varjo’s visionary founders and experienced their superior product firsthand, we thought that VR was still at least 10 years away from being truly useful for professionals.”
Varjo chief marketing officer Jussi Mäkinen told VentureBeat that he believes this level of clarity won’t be feasible within consumer VR headsets perhaps for another 7 to 10 years.
Show me the money
Prior to now, Varjo had raised around $15 million in funding, including an $8.2 million equity round last September and a follow-on $6.7 million debt tranche shortly after. With another $31 million in the bank, it’s now well equipped to bring its first VR headset to market later this year, with plans to introduce a mixed reality (XR) add-on in the first half of 2019.
Mix it up
This is where things could get particularly interesting for Varjo in terms of industrial use-cases. We’re already seeing some early signs of what mixed reality could do for companies — earlier this year Microsoft launched Remote Assist for its HoloLens headset, which enables hands-free video calling, image sharing, and annotations. The wearer on-site in a warehouse, for example, could share what they see with an expert situated halfway round the world, who can draw a diagram on their screen to illustrate something that needs to be fixed.
In a rather more mundane example, Microsoft later launched SharePoint Spaces for mixed reality, which allows companies to create immersive worlds for viewing data and documents within SharePoint. It’s certainly a more interesting way for sales teams to visualize boring Excel data.
By bringing VR and AR together in a high-resolution world, Varjo will test the waters to see what use-cases companies can come up with in their respective industries. But even if VR has yet to explode in the consumer realm, companies such as Varjo should go some way toward advancing VR in day-to-day work environments across industries such as architecture, automotive, aerospace, engineering, construction, and industrial design.
“We hope that the impact of our hardware and software platform on industry will be as profound as the introduction of the graphical user interface,” added Varjo CEO and cofounder Urho Konttori.
The investment will be used to grow Varjo’s team from 80 to more than 200 in the next year, as well as help take its product to market globally. Though a final price has not yet been established, we are told that the Varjo will cost many thousands of dollars — likely in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.
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