Hands-On With Varjo's Bionic Display



I had the opportunity to visit Varjo and Jani Ylinen. I will be taking a quick look at the extremely impressive Bionic display HMD that takes the visual side of Virtual Reality to the level at which it should have been from the beginning.


Virtual reality (VR) is a potent and powerful tool for teaching, learning, design and creating new worlds and experiences as well a gaming platform. However most know and see it from games even though it has been around for decades as a scientific tool. With the eruption of consumer level tech like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and Vive Pro as well as the PlayStation VR this world of computing and computer entertainment has come to our homes. However the Bionic display is not a consumer system even if they probably will sell it to a consumer customer if someone wants to buy it. This HMD is an industry system and priced at the level while outperforming everything on that level.


If you’ve followed my blogs you know that I see augmented reality (AR) as more pertinent tool for everyday life and see VR as a precision tool, but I am somewhat skeptical towards it mostly because of the quality and the usability of the HMDs currently on the market. I for one seem to have a larger head than the Vive is designed for and I wear glasses. Thus using Vive is anywhere from extremely uncomfortable to not being able to see anything for me. If VR is to really become an everyday technology it has to have the same possibilities and abilities as the current AR devices, namely mobile handsets. This means they have to work whether the user has a big head, glasses or is normal.


Bionic display (Bd) is comfortable even with glasses. It is the first headset I have tested that actually takes people’s eyes, eyewear and so on into account. The prototype I tested did not yet have the automatic Interpupillary distance (IDP) measuring and adjusting functionality integrated so it was hand-adjustable. The finished product will also include eye-tracking and focusing, which according to Mr. Ylinen, will work even with glasses.

The viewport in the HMD is interesting as you have a sort of a Heads-UP Display (HUD) in the middle where your vision will be at the sharpest. It took me a couple of minutes to get a handle on it and after that I no longer noticed it and the experience became a natural one. In my mind I believe that a VR experience that can be described as natural is the highest praise I can give for usability and immersion and the Bd deserves it.


At the moment Varjo seems to project that their HMD, which uses Full HD and adjusts for the wearer’s vision, to be about 20% heavier for the computer running it than the normal Vive. I frankly was amazed because of this. The quality of picture and the over-all performance made me expect a Quadro and Xeon combination, however the testbed used was your basic high-end gaming PC with quad core at 4GHz, GeForce 1080TI and 64GB of RAM. This means that you can run the HMD on a laptop.

Currently Varjo uses Steam tracking for the headset and HTC Vive’s Lighthouses. Similarly the development is on both Unity and Unreal engines for the foreseeable future. While this gear is basic, the HMD is not yet Vive compatible and does not support gaming. This is a serious piece of industry tech for simulations, design and so forth. Perhaps in the future we might see gaming compatibility, but it is not important.


I am not easily impressed with VR-hardware because of my standards. I believe that VR has to be easily accessed by everyone and currently it is not. Bd is not wireless (I understood Varjo is looking into this, but wireless technology is always problematic), but as it stands out it is far the best VR HMD and system I have ever used. My first contact with VR was in a Trocadero arcade in London in the late 1980s and to me they have seemed to have been stuck in in time ever since. I believe that the Bd is the first true leap forwards in decades because of the quality of picture, performance and comfort. Perhaps we will at some point also get some sort of cooling inside the eyepiece.

On Friday I found the future of VR, which Versoteq will support. All our VR software can easily be updated to support this HMD. While most of our customers will be quite alright using Vive or Oculus, certain types of software and projects are better handled with this level of technology.