Displays

Photo by Road to VR

Varjo Aero uses a pair of mini LED LCD displays with a resolution of 2,880 × 2,720 per-eye at 90Hz. They are nice and bright at 150 nits, and Varjo says they’re calibrated to cover 99% of sRGB and 95% of DCI-P3 color space, which means a wide gamut and accurate colors. The mini LED backlighting offers decent black levels but still nothing close to the raw darkness of OLED.

Despite the impressive clarity of the lenses, there’s no screen-door effect (unlit space between pixels) to be seen on these displays. The only obvious tell that you’re actually looking at pixels is when you see some aliasing. If you’re really looking for it, you can find a faint bit of mura (inconsistencies in brightness and color from one pixel to the next), but it’s doubtful you’ll be able to spot it during real use.

Audio

For a $2,000 headset, Varjo Aero’s lack of onboard audio feels like a big miss. Yes, there’s some custom earbuds with a mic that will come included in the box (they weren’t ready in time for our review) that can plug into the headset’s 3.5mm aux port, but the extra friction of fiddling with earbuds or headphones is something we hoped would be left behind in VR’s first generation.

Tracking & (Bring Your Own) Controllers

Varjo Aero uses SteamVR Tracking 2.0 sensors (which are compatible with 1.0 or 2.0 base stations). Make note: the $2,000 price tag does not include base stations or controllers. You’ll need to shell out another $580 if you want to pick up Index controllers and base stations new, but because it’s all in the SteamVR Tracking ecosystem, you could use old base stations or controllers (like Vive wands) if you’d like.

Image courtesy Valve

Head-tracking with Varjo Aero is every bit as good as you’d expect from other SteamVR Tracking devices (which, if you didn’t know, is typically excellent and considered the gold-standard in the VR space).

No Light Leak (but Also No Passthrough)

Varjo Aero’s facepad creates an excellent seal that doesn’t let any light in, but it makes me realize how often I use the nose-gap in other headsets to find my controllers or headphones, or to click a few things on the PC without taking the entire headset off.

Something that feels missing on a headset of this price released in 2021 is a decent passthrough view, even if only to look quickly and easily outside of the headset.

Fit & Ergonomics

Photo by Road to VR

Varjo Aero uses the same great headstrap as the company’s more expensive XR-3 and VR-3 headsets; it’s the best version of the ‘halo’ style headstrap that I’ve seen so far.

It’s got three core adjustments that offer a lot of flexibility in finding the right fit; there’s the usual dial on the back strap, but also one on the top strap which lets you easily adjust the front of the headset up or down. Additionally there’s two dials near your temples which work in tandem to change the angle of the display housing with regard to the rear strap. It takes some time to figure out how to find the most comfortable fit between these three adjustments, but the dials make it quick and easy to adjust on the fly.

Photo by Road to VR

One thing I miss from some other headsets though (like Index and Reverb G2) is the ‘springy’ side struts which make it much easier to put on and take off the headset without re-adjusting the fit every time. Depending upon the way you adjust Varjo Aero, you may find that you need to loosen the rear dial every time you take the headset off which is fairly annoying because it requires two hands (both of which are probably already holding controllers). With some practice you can find a fit that allows the headset to come on and off a bit easier (donning from the back to the front seems to be best), but it’s less than ideal.

I don’t wear glasses myself, but given the way the headset goes on your head (best back-to-front), the headset isn’t as friendly to glasses wearers as headsets which can be put on front-to-back. I tried the headset with a small pair of sunglasses and it didn’t feel like there was much room for glasses in Aero.

Unfortunately Varjo Aero has no eye-relief adjustment, which we would have hoped to see on a headset at this price point. Without it, you can’t bring the lenses closer to your eyes to maximize the field-of-view or move them further away to make extra room for glasses.

Software Experience

Varjo Aero works fairly seamlessly with SteamVR, but its core software is called Varjo Base (which must be running for the headset to work).

In addition to a built-in virtual desktop, Varjo Base also includes a handful of useful configuration options and extra tools which are nice to see.

Captured by Road to VR

You can see a mirror of what’s being shown in the headset, look at the view through the eye-tracking cameras (creepy but cool), easily capture a screenshot or video, and even create a virtual pointer inside the headset’s view so that someone outside the headset can point to something inside the headset (surely useful for VR demos and tours).

Using Varjo Aero with SteamVR doesn’t require any additional configuration beyond installing Varjo Base and then launching SteamVR. Once it’s running and SteamVR detects your hardware, you can launch SteamVR applications from your desktop or click your controller’s menu button to pull up the usual SteamVR dashboard and use all the features you’re used to.

Who is Varjo Aero For?

Image courtesy Varjo

Not everyone, that’s for sure. Aero is too expensive to be casually recommended. If you aren’t a business that has a special use-case for eye-tracking or needs to maximize fidelity, or a simulation enthusiast that doesn’t blink at dropping thousands on sim hardware, this headset probably isn’t for you. Even though Aero offers another step up in clarity, a much more affordable headset like Reverb G2 is going to be a way more sensible option for 99% of individuals that are after maximum clarity.


Disclosure: Varjo provided Road to VR with an Aero headset.

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  • XRC

    Great review, and glad you raised visual issues, lack of eye relief and no proper audio solution.

    Seems like a step backwards despite the resolution, especially considering the ridiculous price?

    • Jan Ciger

      It is not – it is not really meant for consumer market. This is more targeting the pro market where their high end uber-expensive headsets are out of the reach/hard to justify for most industrial R&D projects.

      Also, you don’t really have a headset within this class of performance that’s suitable for business use – a step up in visual quality over the Index, widely supported (G2 being a Windows headset is not really something that will work for business, given its non-existing ecosystem and going through Steam is another hassle), eye tracking. Those are all features squarely aimed at business users.

      And once you start talking business, then $2000 price tag or so is not a problem – have you looked how much is Oculus or HTC charging for their much inferior headsets when you buy their “for business” versions?

      • XRC

        Thanks for your informed reply. Perhaps the “Varjo for all” messaging wasn’t appropriate after all..

        • Bob

          Indeed. The phrase “Varjo for all” seems a bit misleading but marketing has got to do what marketing does.

          Personally speaking, and aside from the price, I’m not happy about the lack of eye relief and the field of view. It’s severely disappointing for a VR HMD released in the 2021 (five years on from the CV1 and the HTC Vive) even if the HMD itself is not squarely aimed at consumers. This is the one area where things have generally regressed in the name of sharper visuals and image clarity; at least for more experienced companies like Facebook/Oculus, and Varjo. Except in this case, you don’t get the smaller form factor of the Quest 2 and yet the FOV is essentially smaller. Eye tracking and the automatic IPD adjustment could have been removed in order to reduce this form factor and the weight further. And push down the price a bit more.

          No integrated audio solution is another major deterrent for even wealthy VR enthusiasts. With Valve Index being on the market for over two years now, you’d expect Varjo to follow suit with the floating ear speaker solution. They haven’t.

          So all in all, it appears that Varjo have taken the quickest and easiest route to get into the “consumer” space by essentially removing the bionic display and that really is about it. Despite still being an enterprise/business focused SKU, I feel like they could still have invested a little more time and effort into tailoring this headset to the wider market but instead they’ve essentially recycled and repurposed the VR-3 and slapped the phrase “Varjo for all” to gain maximum publicity. Disappointing.

        • Tabp

          What Varjo seems to be trying to do here is make the RTX 3090 of headsets. The 3090 is also explicitly a consumer product marketed to gamers, but in practice it’s for professionals who don’t need the official workstation lines and rich people who don’t care what it costs.

  • kontis

    I felt deja vu when reading about visual problems of these lenses.

    I remember when Oculus DK1 and DK2 were criticized and many experts were suggesting to mitigate these problems with Fresnels. Surprise, surprise, it’s all about trade-offs and Fresnels also have their advantages.

    • wheeler

      At least we can tell the subset of enthusiasts that are absolutely *outraged* about the use of fresnels (and that are convinced that all of the downsides of aspheric are worthwhile for everyone) to just buy the Aero

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Well, to me fresnel are really crap, they all have the awful godrays which can be very distracting.

      • Thud

        I agree. They’re a solution that introduces more problems than they solve.

    • Jistuce

      Honestly, I’d be okay with distortion and chromatic aberration. Lifetime with thick glasses makes this acceptable, even natural, for me.The artifacts fresnel lenses cause, by contrast, are obvious and distracting(though their size and weight advantage is a significant feature).

      But there’s apparently not much space for glasses in this one anyways, so… no good for me!

      • Charles Bosse

        I just wish they would make one where you could reasonably swap out lenses! I have made do with some after market “covers” but it would be nice if an OEM just offered some flexibility.

  • mellott124

    Nice. Surprised they dropped their high resolution inset display, as that is what makes their HMDs so unique. But that’s still an impressive resolution. I would assume they can fix the chromatic aberration and edge distortion issues. And I’m glad to read they didn’t ruin the resolution of their panels with bad optics like the Vive Pro 2.

    This isn’t a consumer HMD people where hoping for though. People complain of the Focus 3 price. On other Varjo HMDs there’s a yearly service fee. Didn’t see mention of that here.

    • kontis

      Microdisplays are very expensive. I’m more surprised that there are some enthusiasts expecting them to be available in sub $500 headsets. Maybe Facebook if they go even further with subsidizing, but don’t expect it from anyone else.

      • mellott124

        I understand they’re expensive but that’s just because no current major player has picked them up in volume. There have been plenty of past HMDs at the $500 price point with microdisplays. Kopin supplied a lot of those panels. Just not in this current wave of VR. I bought my first VFX1 for $600. I-glasses also come to mind. And plenty of Vuzix headsets. They’ll eventually come around. Question is when and at what resolution.

      • Thud

        True. The microdisplay subsystem was probably the most expensive part of the XR2.

  • wheeler

    Could the pupil swim be reduced with the eyetracking? Or is it a different kind of distortion?

    • Arashi

      yeah but Varjo said they’re not working on such solution. Really a shame since the eye tracker works great on my VR3, so they have everything in place to solve it …

      • Thud

        OpenVr may impliment something *someday*

  • Sam

    looses its true retina

    *loses :P

    • Rise_of_Chaos

      Was disappointed to see this error as well. Maybe time for a mental health evaluation for the road to vr guy.

      • Jesus, it’s a typo. If you think a person should get a mental evaluation for a single typo, maybe the pot is calling the kettle mentally inept.

        • Thats not a typo. Its one of a number of intentional misspellings used by morons on the internet, mostly kids. Using “Loose” instead of “lose”, there are quite a few of them. Mostly used by vermin on the internet as some kind of expression of their own thought, as if they don’t have to spell things right and can use form some type of primitive expression through a failure of the english language. They do it intentionally as a form of rebellion against western civilization. Much like the idea of multiple genders etc, along those lines of idiocy.

  • grindathotte .

    I got to the bit where it mentioned lack of eye relief adjustment, then moved on.

  • TeddyLoo

    I was super stressed out wanting to buy this after MRTV/VR FlightSIM youtube reviews. Thank you RoadtoVR for side-by-side FOV compares. You’ve just saved me $2,000.

    For that amount of money integrated headphones or at least speakers. And yes, vertical FOV is important for immersion as well. I’ll manage to hold off until Valve, HP, or Pimax release their next generation of headsets. I may even have purchased this at $1,000 or below but at $2,000 this has to be a headset that I put on not longing for anything any of the other headsets can give me. Ironically the Facebook post a few days ago with their ‘retina’ screen prototype suggests that those other companies may not be far off as well.

    • Bob

      Considering Pimax’s history with disappointing product announcements and launches, I don’t have high hopes for whatever they intend to announce on the 25th October. Save yourself stress, and expect the worse ;)

      • Rogue Transfer

        Nothing has been confirmed for FRL, apart from a recap of their research to date. Nearly all their prior prototypes(and their tech) failed to make it into a consumer product.

        So, I wouldn’t be looking too foward to what might be another disappointment from Facebook Connect. But, here’s hoping the rumours turn into something that actually does become a product and not just another empty hype for a “next generation” that kept being put off. And something that isn’t just a small improvement over their prior stuff. Though, even some small improvements at the low end, mass market, would be welcome to raise the bar more.

        • Bob

          FRL is responsible for all related XR hardware coming from Facebook. Oculus is simply a brand name for a family of products.

          Not all information is unveiled to the public through the FRL website, and you’d bet that some of the R&D they’ve been working on, for what appears to be a very long time, will be revealed in an actual product at next week’s conference. At least one of their prototypes would have made it to the production line especially if you take into consideration the fact that next year is the heavily rumored announcement and possible launch of Apple’s XR device. Facebook obviously wouldn’t want to fall behind and lose face from the competition so they have the urgency to put out a highly competitive and “bleeding edge” product. This so-called product would potentially be the culmination of some of the work they’ve been grinding on for many years now involving Varifocal lenses, and eye tracking although not everything at once. There’s a very high chance that at least eye tracking will be on the list.

          We’re also heading into 2022 which I personally believe is the year that companies move out of hiding, and begin to integrate technologies coming off hot from the R&D oven with Valve a very likely candidate to launch their next generation VR device.

          So yes, expectations should be tempered but at the same time it’s also not too much to expect be hopeful about things especially after so many years of R&D effort.

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    • Charles Bosse

      I absolutely agree that, compared to the Reverb G2 or Vive Pro 2 this feels like a $1000 headset, and not a $2000 one. I mean, it also sounds like it has better actual optics, which would be nice to see in other headsets, but it’s not an extra $1000 nice.

      I will say that this article almost sold me on the Vive Pro 2, especially knowing it has some integrated signal compression that might make hi-res wireless a reality. I think I’ll wait on the Index 2 (or whatever it gets called) to at least be announced first though.

      • Kevin Brook

        Yikes, the Vive Pro 2 is the worst headset I have ever used. I bought it as a high end upgrade over my Quest 2 but the Quest 2 was actually the better headset. The Vive Pro has a fantastic display, but they have paired it with the worst lenses I’ve ever had the misfortune to look through. Godrays and glare everywhere. There is no real clarity as the binocular overlap is so low the view is on the verge of separating into two. If you move your eyes around the view splits into views, it’s incredibly jarring. Going back to the Quest 2 felt like the upgrade.
        In the end I sent the Vive Pro 2 back and got a Reverb G2, which visually at least, is far superior, despite the lower resolution panel.

        It really shows that displays are o ly half the story, you need good lenses. In theory this should make the Aero much, much, much better than the Vive Pro 2 visually.

        I’m on the fence about buying one. I’m a massive Microsoft Flight Simulator user so I fit the niche audience, but it’s a lot to shell out…

        • Charles Bosse

          That’s good to hear. I think I’ll stick it out with my Index a bit longer.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    it’s the lenses that are what interests me, as I get really fed up with the ugly fresnel lenses and it’s godrays. Hope other manufacturers will use the type of lenses varjo is using. Such lenses on a Quest 2 would be excellent.

  • Thud

    @Ben Lang; Did you measure or notice any improvement in performance when foviated rendering was active?

  • Justin Davis

    “a much more affordable headset like Reverb G2 is going to be a way more sensible option for 99% of individuals that are after maximum clarity.”
    Disagreed. I had it, and it was only clear in a small area in the center. The rest was blurry. I prefer Index.

  • Bradley Gaffney

    Folks, the retina displays were dropped because you then need a gpu that can render 4 2700 displays at 90hz, which isn’t feasible for most gaming rigs. They explained it in the presentation.

    • XRC

      Please correct me if wrong, the retina display didn’t work in SteamVR, but required special applications (enterprise) with Varjo SDK integrated?

    • VRFriend

      These were never retina displays. Only marketing. Retina is 600 mega pixels.

      • guest

        Yeah, and that’s just characterizing cones and rods in digital terms. They are more like analog sensors so the true retina resolution is magnitudes higher!

  • Guest

    Wish they would stop using the marketing term retina resolution. Even the little shards that can cut your hands on a chain link fence wires are nowhere near true retina resolution!

  • Ratm

    Thank you for the fov measurements.

  • Anonmon

    “VRChat (…) simply (wasn’t) authored with the necessary level of detail.”
    I’d argue that while the majority of the content in VRChat was optimized for the average current gen HMD, and thus makes the statement correct, there’s a TON of worlds that have absolutely ridiculous levels of detail (For example, a number of “Show off the engine” environments have been portend to VRChat), and plenty of avatars that have absolutely absurd poly counts and texture sizes you definitely would be able to get something out of the increased fidelity of a Aero HMD if all you do is play VRChat. Especially if you’re the type to exclusively hang out with your closest VR buddies who are all running high end hardware and like to go to 300mb+ worlds almost exclusively.
    Granted you have to have a monster of a rig to run it, but that’s clearly a non issue if $2000 is a realistic proposition for a headset.

    • ViRGiN

      Oh yeah, show me these beautiful, complex worlds. Link me a video.
      VR Chat is horribly unoptimized, and custom wordls are ever far worse. And they all look like dogshit.

  • Thanks for this amazing review, Ben! The lens distortions were an issue also with XR-3, so I guess Varjo is having a hard time trying to correct this issue.

    As for the chromatic aberrations, also Pico headsets suffer from it

    • Erilis

      I used to have horrible chromatic aberration on my Samsung odyssey headset, but right before I sold it it got solved with an software update. I have hopes for that

      Everyone kept saying that lens distortion was fixed with the gear vr lens mod with some patch, but I could still see it. I never got used to it, I had to change back. I have yet to hear someone solve this, just a lot of overoptimism, although their eye tracking may be the key

  • MosBen

    Great review, Ben. And unfortunately, it seems like another case of an HMD being hard to recommend as the clear front runner of the pack in the way that the Index was when it was first released (I know, I know, Samsung Odyssey+ fans). I guess I’ll wait to see if Pimax has anything up their sleeve, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Seeing a through the lens comparison of the Varjo Aero, HP G2 and the Valve Index, I must say the HP G2 isn’t that much worse as the Varjo Aero, certainly not the 4x price difference, the only thing I actually like about the Varjo is the auto IPD and the clearlenses.. Where auto IPD would probably add around 300 buck (due to eye tracking which sits around 100 per eye, and the motor for the IPD, which I put a hefty price of 100 on, but in reality it would probably only be a couple of bucks in material) to the HP G2 price and the clearlenses probably around 50 or so.

    • Bob

      In hindsight, all of these announcements from all of these companies have been quite disappointing. It appears that the only player left who has the potential to launch something groundbreaking next year is Valve. But, as we know, they like to take their time. A lot of it. And focus seems to have shifted to the Valve Steam Deck set to launch later this year. So I’m not hopeful about 2022 as I thought I would be which is a shame for VR. A true shame.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        Don’t discount Samsung, maybe they also still have something up their sleeve..

        • Bob

          I believe we’ve discussed this before at the beginning of the year which I stated that something must come out from Samsung regarding anything to do with their VR ventures. We have two months left of the year and there have been no leaks, rumors, patents, written articles about any of their VR research and development. Nothing. Nada.
          And I distinctly remember mentioning that if we didn’t hear a single piece of news from Samsung within the entirety of this year, then we could safely assume that they have no further role to play.

          I think it’s very safe to say that the absolute final nail in the coffin for a new Samsung VR HMD will be a complete no-show of any potential product related, even remotely, to VR in early January of next year at CES 2022. They do, however, have an interest in AR, as demonstrated through that “smart” headgear thing shown a few months prior, which leads me to believe that all of their resources and XR funding have instead been funneled to this project. Why? Because of investors.

    • Erilis

      I don’t think we should put too much reliance on through the lens image. I do think for example the jump from 2100 dpi vertical to 2700dpi doesn’t sound that large, but it’s the microLED stuff too. I was kind of amazed that it performed as well or better than reverb in FPS. I think Wmr is lagging behind again. When foviated rendering kicks in, maybe that makes a difference as well. Although reverb omnicept editions foviated rendering didn’t really make a difference. I just don’t know if jumping from reverb with index controllers is worth it for me. I rather get the project cambria I think.

  • Thank you Ben for your detailed review and want to confirm as a VR content developer ( https://1smallstepfor.space ) that trying push the boundary of texture resolution and mesh detail (required either through higher density meshes, displacement texture/parallax occlusion) that you unless you have a GPU capable of rendering at the detail warranted by this HMD and the others mentioned — your framerate suffers. Of course on my VR experiences, high frame rate is not necessary and detail is more important, but there will always be someone who is sensitive to any lag. In any case, good thing GPUs keep pushing the envelope.

    On another note. I am very curious how Apple will handle its supposed 8K resolution with its M1 SOC variant. My guess is you will have foveat system that will use a small area of the display at its native dpi (like the Varjo XR-3) and a grouped pixel arrangement outside of this detailed area to create a lower resolution peripheral. In fact this might be wired directly in the LVDS substreams to to reduce input bandwidth and GPU processing since it appears Apple will be using only two panels, one per eye (I have a source who told me this a couple of years back so things could definitely have changed).