Virtual Reality Devices: Pimax, Looxid, and Varjo

By Paul Mealy

Virtual reality (VR) devices are still in their infancy. But, it you are hoping to get a feel for what current VR devices have to offer, you might give Pimax, Looxid, or Varjo a try. Take a peek to see what these VR devices have to offer.

VR devices: Pimax 8K

Pimax is a Chinese startup that appeared on Kickstarter in 2017 and surprised many with a claim that the company had plans to release the world’s first 8K headset. While the “8K” claim is a bit of a marketing trick (in that its two 3,840-x-2,160-pixel displays don’t actually make the headset 8K), many have been impressed with the visuals offered by its two 4K displays. The Kickstarter offering was a roaring success, with an original goal of $200,000 being obliterated as pledges shot past $4.2 million.

The human eye’s natural FOV is around 200 degrees. Pimax’s claim of a 200 degree FOV has yet to be verified, but by all accounts the FOV of the headset stands well above the FOV of almost every other current-generation and even most next-generation HMDs. Early reviews indicate that the unique lenses and insanely high-resolution screens give the feeling of the world wrapping around you as you would experience in real life.

FOV aside, Pimax also offers a number of other unique modules the group hopes to bring to its headset, such as eye tracking (the ability of the headset to monitor your eye movement and adjust based on where you’re looking), inside-out tracking, hand tracking, and even scent enabling (yes, just what it sounds like). It also offers a number of the things you would expect to exist in the current generation of headsets — positional tracking via base stations, motion controllers, and so on. Pimax is compatible with OpenVR as well, meaning it can be used by other items that follow the OpenVR specification (such as the Vive controllers).

OpenVR is a software development kit (SDK) and application programming interface (API) built by Valve for supporting SteamVR (powering the HTC Vive) and other VR headsets.

Early reviews praised the increased FOV of the Pimax, but they were also careful to point out some of the Pimax’s current issues. Positional tracking of both the headset itself in space and tracking of controllers are cited as some of the kinks that may need to be ironed out in order for the Pimax to reach its full potential.

Due to its incredibly high resolution, the Pimax will also require a very high-end computer and graphics card to adequately power the experience. The Pimax also currently requires tethering to that computer, eschewing the wireless direction many next-generation headsets appear to be targeting.

Final price and release date will hopefully be available soon, though Pimax is hoping to ship to Kickstarter backers in 2018 and have indicated the price range will be approximately $400 to $600.

Technology releases at mass-consumer scale become a numbers game of finding the price point consumers will pay. This price point can often determine the features and specifications you build into your headset. Although it may be possible to manufacture a true 8K headset with a full 200-degree FOV and full inside-out tracking (and, in fact, such a headset may exist already in the enterprise world), a consumer-scale release of such a headset is cost-prohibitive at this time, and the market for purchasing it likely does not exist.

It remains to be seen whether Pimax will be able to iron out the issues that currently exist with the headset while retaining what makes the headset unique. But companies such as Pimax that seek to push the envelope are a good thing for the industry as a whole. Regardless of whether the Pimax 8K becomes a success, it does signal a next step forward for VR in attempting to remove yet another barrier between the medium and full immersion.

There are any number of VR headsets that are coming out (or even already released) that could be compared to the headsets on this list. For example, StarVR is a headset with similar specs to the Pimax 8K in terms of FOV and refresh rate. Currently StarVR is enterprise-level hardware whereas Pimax is looking to target the mass consumer market. If you’re developing VR applications, especially targeted for enterprise level customers, be sure to research all the potential options available.

VR devices: LooxidVR

Looxid Labs is a startup responsible for the LooxidVR system, a phone-based VR headset created to capture insights into human perception within VR. The LooxidVR headset incorporates both EEG sensors to measure brain waves and eye-tracking sensors to determine what a user is looking at. Combining this data could allow for better understanding of users’ emotional reactions to various stimuli and could lead to more immersive experiences.

Individual VR consumers are not Looxid’s current target. You likely won’t find yourself buying a LooxidVR device for single-use consumption anytime soon. However, by selling its system to researchers and businesses, Looxid could begin to have a deep impact on the VR industry as a whole. The Looxid system could find a great deal of use in the healthcare industry, particularly in therapy and in measuring users responses to mental trauma.

It could also be used in gaming, with games modifying their gameplay based on your biometric response. Is a certain area of the game causing you stress as measured by Looxid? Perhaps the game will modify itself to make that area easier. Playing a horror game and one section of the game elicits elevated responses? The game could modify itself to include more of whatever it is that seems to be triggering that response from you, making it even more intense.

With its incorporation of both eye tracking and brain monitoring, the Looxid system could also find uses as a powerful tool for advertising and user analytics. Advertising is a field that VR has yet to unravel, but many are attempting to do so, as the payoff could be huge. Google has begun to experiment with what advertising in VR could look like. Unity has started to experiment with VR ads as well, putting forth the idea of “Virtual Rooms,” which would provide separate branded experiences included in users’ main applications.

With Looxid’s system, it will be possible to capture analytic data from these advertisements deeper than any current VR offering, including how well these ads succeed with their target markets.

Unity’s “Virtual Room” ad technology is Unity’s answer to how advertising in VR should look. The Virtual Room is a VR native ad format Unity is creating in conjunction with the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The Virtual Room will be a fully customizable mini application that appears within your main VR application. A user can choose to interact with the Virtual Room or ignore it.

VR devices: Varjo

Varjo is notable in its claim that its current headset can offer an effective resolution of 70 megapixels (human eye resolution) in VR, whereas most current generation headsets sit at around 1 or 2 megapixels.

Varjo aims to accomplish this utilizing eye tracking to follow where a user is looking and render the highest resolution only for that space, with items in the user’s peripheral vision rendered at a lower resolution.

The Varjo headset is still in prototype mode, but the company hopes to release a beta version of its headset to the professional market in late 2018 and follow up with a consumer-market release. Things like production volume and final design are yet to be determined, but the initial messaging from the company lists the professional headset as “under $10,000.” That price doesn’t inspire confidence just yet, but you’d be wise to keep an eye on the technology and see if other manufacturers take note and begin incorporating foveated rendering techniques within their own headsets.