Earlier this week, the Helsinki-based company Varjo Technologies Oy announced a new partnership with Lenovo, Near-term the will mean “Certified for Varjo” desktop and mobile workstation configurations from Lenovo’s ThinkStation and ThinkPad P Series portfolio that support Varjo’s tethered augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets. Long term, the deal will enable additional technical and business cooperation between the two companies. It’s just the latest news in a whirlwind year for Varjo, which has announced four headsets in 2019, three focused on driving commercial-grade VR experiences and one that approaches AR in a different way than other products in the market.
Focus on VR
I’ve written extensively about the evolution of VR technology, the growth of the commercial VR space, and the growing number of use cases inside businesses that include training, design, and collaboration. I’ve also run annual surveys asking IT decision-makers about their plans around buying and deploying VR hardware, software, and services. One of the recurring data points I’ve collected: Companies embracing VR technology say they would prefer to do so with hardware designed for work vs. the consumer-grade VR hardware that’s been widely available since the launch of the HTC Vive and Facebook Rift. Those same buyers also said they’d be willing to pay more for such hardware. Varjo clearly saw the same opportunity, and in 2019 it has launched three different VR products.
Back in February, it launched the VR-1, specifically noting that the $5,999 product (plus a yearly $995 service contract) was “designed solely for professionals in industrial design, training, and simulation, architecture, engineering, and construction.” The VR-1 uses a set of ultra-high resolution displays the company says mimics the 20/20 vision of the human eye, and it claims the resulting headset offers a level of resolution 20X that of any other VR product on the market. It accomplishes this by combining two 1920×1080 low persistence micro-OLEDs and two 1440×1600 low persistence AMOLEDs into what it calls a Bionic Display.
Why is this high-resolution so important? One of the key challenges with VR headsets that utilize traditional displays is the limited resolution of those displays can make fine details, including text, very hard to see. That’s not a huge deal if the primary use case is a consumer one that includes playing games and watching 360-degree videos. But if you’re a professional designer creating products, a doctor training to do complex surgery, or experts engaging in high-level simulations, this level of precision is important.
In addition to the high-resolution visuals, the VR-1 also incorporated eye-tracking. This technology is especially important when it comes to training simulations. Not only can apps optimized for this type of VR technology drive a more immersive learning experience, but they can also capture key analytics about the person’s performance in VR.
Although the company only launched the VR-1 in February, in mid-October it announced two new VR headsets: The VR-2 and VR-2 Pro. Both new headsets offer the same resolution as the now-discontinued VR-1, but the company says it improved the visual appearance using an updated Bionic Display that has better calibration between the displays and an improved combiner. In addition, the new headsets natively support Steam VR content as well as support for the OpenVR development platform from Valve. The VR-2 Pro also includes hand-tracking technology from the company UltraLeap. The VR-2 sells for $4,995; the VR-2 Pro for $5,995; both are available on the company’s Web site now.
AR and Lenovo Partnership
In addition to rapidly iterating on its VR products, earlier this year Varjo also announced a new product that targeted augmented reality (or mixed reality) developers. While most of today’s existing AR headsets utilize see-through lenses, the XR-1—due to ship by the end of the year—uses two front-mounted 12-megapixel cameras to pass through a low latency video feed onto its Bionic Display. It then overlays digital objects on top of that, creating 3D objects that don’t have the ghostly appearance common on see-through AR lens. The XR-1 will ship as a developer kit only, and it also offers eye-tracking capabilities. Varjo hasn’t listed pricing yet; it expects to ship the XR-1 by the end of the year.
Varjo’s decision to work with Lenovo makes a world of sense for both companies, even when you consider the fact that Lenovo has similar partnerships with other companies, as well as its own AR and VR products. Varjo benefits from the fact that Lenovo sells a wide range of devices, software, and services to a huge percentage of the enterprise organizations on the planet. Varjo may have great technology, but at present, it’s not very well known, and the Lenovo partnership should open many doors.
By partnering with Varjo, Lenovo continues to push forward its ongoing narrative around being an innovator in the areas of commercial AR and VR. The company has announced its own commercial AR headset (the A6) and AR platform (Think Reality), builds the Oculus Rift S tethered VR headset for Facebook, and continues to sell its own Mirage Solo with Daydream standalone VR headset for use in education. By adding the partnership with Varjo, it further covers the high-end commercial VR segment and cements its reputation for being serious about helping its commercial customers utilize these important new technologies.