Friday, April 19, 2024
VR&AR

Varjo Aero VR headset review: Another PCVR masterpiece?


Varjo is known for crafting a particular class of high-end virtual reality headset, designed for enterprise use and VR enthusiasts.


The Varjo Aero is part of that line-up and is likely the company’s most user-friendly consumer-oriented device. Yet at $1,990 (just for the headset), it’s a far cry from the accessible and affordable Meta Quest 2. That’s because this device is built for PCVR and sits in a class of premium VR headsets that includes the likes of the Pimax 8K X, the HTC Vive Pro 2 and the HTC Vive XR Elite.

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Ultimately, this means you need a powerful gaming PC in order to run it, but if you have access to such a thing, then you can enjoy the very best that VR has to offer. That includes not only a pixel-rich display but also other highlights like real-time eye tracking and superior clarity.

Varjo Aero VR headset

Varjo

Varjo Aero

The Varjo Aero is a high-end PCVR headset with superb features and specs that make it incredibly appealing. This does come at a cost though. 

Pros

  • Incredibly clear display
  • Comfortable and immersive fit
  • Excellent features
  • Useful software
Cons

  • Very costly
  • Requires additional purchase to work
  • No built-in speakers

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High-end PCVR specs

  • Dual Mini LED LCD display 2880 x 2720 pixels per eye, 90Hz refresh rate
  • 150 NIT max brightness
  • 99% sRGB, 95% DCI-P3 colour gamut
  • Custom-made variable resolution aspheric lenses with 35 PPD peak fidelity
  • 115-degree horizontal and 134-degree diagonal field of view
  • 57–73mm IPD range with automatic adjustment
  • 200Hz eye tracking, 1-dot calibration for foveated rendering

When you’re shopping for a premium PCVR headset and paying this sort of money you expect to get specs to match and that’s what you’re getting with the Varjo Aero.

Varjo says this headset offers a “generational leap in visual fidelity” with its “future-proofed optical design and stunning dual mini-LED displays”. Naturally, the quality of the display is a large part of what PCVR enthusiasts expect from a VR headset and with the promise of 2880 x 2720 pixels per eye, the Varjo Aero certainly sounds enticing.

Varjo Aero VR headset lenses 4

It’s much more than just pixel count that matters though, it’s the overall experience you get from that display. This is where the Varjo Aero shines as well, and we saw the highlights of this headset almost as soon as we first donned it.

Externally the Aero looks much like many other headsets in this class, but it’s the insides that impress. Strapping the headset on we were struck first by the comfort (more on that later), but then immediately engaged by the immediate jump into eye tracking.

Varjo Aero Eye Tracking

The Aero has integrated eye-tracking as standard and this is useful in more than one way. The first is the automatic lens adjustment. When you first put it on and adjust it into place, the headset then tracks where your pupils are and automatically adjusts the lens position to account for your IPD (Interpupillary Distance). The adjustment accounts for a range of 57 to 73mm which should suit most eyes. On other headsets, this is usually a manual process and a faff to get right. On the Varjo Aero, there’s no fuss because this automated process is designed to result in the best visual quality for every user.

Varjo Aero VR headset in action

There’s more to the eye-tracking than just IPD adjustment though, it’s also used for foveated rendering. This is an intelligent processing logic that essentially allows the system to render the image you’re looking at in higher quality while reducing the image quality of your surroundings in your peripheral vision. This improves system performance, resulting in a smoother virtual reality experience while also allowing for superb visual fidelity.

Varjo Aero PPD

Varjo Aero also has accompanying software in the form of Varjo Base. This software runs alongside SteamVR and gives you access to various tools.

In here you can adjust the PPD (pixels per degree) of the display, while in Steam VR you can also tweak the rendering resolution to make the most of the power of this headset. With those couple of tweaks, we then set about replaying some of our favourite PCVR experiences including Half-Life Alyx, Superhot VR, Walking Dead Saints & Sinners, Creed Rise to Glory, Boneworks and more.

Varjo Aero VR headset in action 4

Our experience here was a fantastic one. The Varjo Aero really rejuvenated even ageing games and made already awesome experiences like Half-Life Alyx even more impressive. Stunning visuals and breathtaking scenes abound, and there were no visible god rays or visual imperfections to spoil our experience.

The Aero delivers crystal-clear gameplay in a satisfying way. Sure, the lenses aren’t as wide and all-encompassing as those on the Pimax 8K and you can still see some of that blackness if you focus too much on the edge of the screen, but generally, the experience is sublime.

There are some quirks of the system though. We found that occasionally when loading games or levels the headset would leap between the game view and the desktop view. This breaks up the experience a little, making it less seamless than other SteamVR experiences we’ve had with other PCVR headsets. That said, there are some benefits to this setup as it’s really easy to see the desktop view of your PC from the headset. The display is clear enough that you can easily read text and navigate around, so you could grab a keyboard and mouse and use it for productivity reasons.

We could easily see ourselves using this headset for hours and that’s down to other parts of the design.

Varjo Aero VR headset side view 2

Lightweight immersive fit

  • Three-point precision fit headband
  • Plush polyurethane face cushions
  • Active cooling
  • 487 g and headband 230 g (including counterweight)

Aside from the visuals the other thing we noticed about the Varjo Aero was the design of the headset itself.

This is a lightweight headset that’s carefully balanced and cleverly thought out so it can easily sit on your head for hours without issue.

Varjo Aero VR headset and Vive Wands and base stations

It uses a three-point system with adjustable points on top, at the rear and at the sides. Pop the headset on and you can tweak each of these to get the right fit. We found this remarkably easy to do too, as you get notified by the eye-tracking system if the headset isn’t quite in the right place.

Comfort wise the Varjo Aero also delivers thanks to some soft and plush padding in all the right places. So there’s no excessive pressure on your face when you’re losing yourself in VR.

Our favourite part of the fit though is what it adds to the experience. This headset has possibly the best face padding we’ve seen on a VR headset. It’s not just comfortable but it’s also great at blocking out light. We found ourselves essentially in pitch black with the only light coming from the screen. Usually, headsets let some light in from the exterior which spoils the experience, but that’s not the case here.

The Aero is a joy when you just want to block out the world around you and get on with gaming, or whatever else you choose to do in VR.

Varjo Aero VR headset lenses 2

The Aero has more to offer in terms of comfort that’s not immediately obvious though. That includes active cooling. This is a system which is said to circulate the air around the headset to keep you cool while using it. We occasionally felt this cooling in action with what felt like the light breeze of a fan blowing on our eyes. It’s not a constant feeling, but you certainly do feel cooled and this is another wonderful highlight.

Virtual reality is always a hot business. For glasses wearers, it can also be a misery when your spectacles steam up and the lenses do too. That didn’t happen for us with that headset and this alone is one of the many reasons we love it.

Varjo Aero VR headset review the equipment you need 1

There are a few things that are lacking though. One of these is sound. The Aero doesn’t have any form of built-in speakers or headphones. These are sorely missed, and it’s an odd oversight considering the price and the fact that other similar headsets (like the Vive Pro 2 or Pimax 8K) do have such things.

There is a 3.5mm jack though, so you can use your own in-ears or headphones or even a wireless gaming headset that’s just connected to your PC. But you’ll need this for both sound and for a mic if you plan on chatting while you play.

Obviously, this means dealing with either extra cables on the headset or perhaps an extra headband, which can be problematic, but we used both the EPOS H6 Pro and the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro wireless without much fuss.

Varjo Aero VR headset review the equipment you need

SteamVR setup misery

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses during our testing period though and it’s worth us noting why so you don’t run into the same problems.

The Varjo Aero doesn’t come with anything aside from the headset. The retail unit apparently comes with earphones (our review unit didn’t) but that’s it. It all works via the SteamVR platform, which means you need both SteamVR base stations and compatible controllers as well.

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We happened to have some Vive wands knocking around and Varjo sent a couple of SteamVR base stations 2.0 units for us to use. What we failed to account for was the original Vive wands aren’t compatible with the newer base stations. So they wouldn’t track in VR which made the headset unusable without simply using a keyboard and mouse.

We acquired some of the original base stations and sorted our problem out, but it’s worth keeping this in mind. Aero will work with both the older and newer accessories, but don’t mix and match.

Naturally, the other consideration here is cost. The headset already costs a small fortune and if you also have to buy two base stations and two controllers you’ll see that cost suddenly shoot up. However, if you’re upgrading from a previous VR setup with an HTC Vive (for example) then you can always re-use what you have laying around.

Aside from this daft issue, the setup process was straightforward enough. The headset connects with a single USB-C cable to an adapter which in turn plugs into your gaming PC via DisplayPort and USB-A 3.0. That adapter needs power from the mains, but otherwise, it’s plug-and-play – assuming you have the Varjo Base software and SteamVR installed.

You do need a good PC in order for this to work though, with minimum specs that include:

  • Processor (CPU) – Intel Core i5-4590 (or better)
  • RAM – 8GB
  • Graphics card – NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 (or newer)
  • Connections – DisplayPort 1.4 and USB-A 3.0
  • Operating System – Windows 10 or 11

Naturally the better the specs, the more you can crank up the visuals. We ran the review unit on a PC that includes these specs:

With these high-end specs you can certainly get some great visuals with the Aero.

Verdict

There’s no doubt that the Varjo Aero is an impressive virtual reality headset with a lot on offer. It’s comfortable, capable, incredibly easy on the eye and stunning in more ways than one.

We love the little details like the active cooling and the immersive faceplate as well as the astounding display and clever eye-tracking. We’re put off by the lack of SteamVR things included as standard and the oddities like the lack of mic and speakers at this price point, but otherwise, it’s great. If you have money to burn and no interest in the wireless VR freedom of the likes of the Vive XR Elite or Meta Quest Pro then the Aero is one to look at.



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