Varjo Aero is the first prosumer oriented virtual reality headset by a Finnish technology company Varjo. It is a next generation high resolution VR-headset.
Read more on manufacturer’s product page
About the review
I have written this review from the perspective of a technically demanding and advanced VR user. I am also a qualified electronics engineer, who likes products that last and dislikes e-waste. I will be assessing weak points and repairability of the device.
- Coming from using a Valve Index
- Already owned Valve knuckles controllers and SteamVR 2.0 Base stations
- I purchased my unit in cash from a local retailer 28.6.2022
- Review is written after 4 months of use
- The headset had “new car smell” for a week
- The headset is super light and comfortable
- Materials are thin and light
- Build quality is high, but not unnecessarily high
- The adjustable forehead strap is the way to go
- Can be used as an actual screen replacement
- Headset does automatic motorized IPD adjustment
- Included audio solution is lacking
In order to use the headset, you need to install Varjo Base, create a Varjo Account, get the drivers and probably need to do a firmware update. They have a neat onboarding process for it, and its easy enough.
- The firmware update failed couple of times during setup
- No idea what I did not make it go through
- Software was able to recover and update eventually
The room I’m using is my living room with a multi-functional area for VR / Cinema, two ceiling-mounted SteamVR 2.0 base stations at the ends of the play area.
Test bench used: Mark X
- Ryzen 9 3200X 12-core @ 4.6 GHz
- HyperX Fury DDR4 32 GB @ 3.2 GHz
- Asus Pro WS X570-ACE
- ASUS STRIX 8 GB RTX 2080 AND ASUS TUF 24GB RTX 3090
- NZXT Kraken Z3 CPU Cooler
Check out the up-to-date list of system requirements for Varjo Aero
Varjo Aero Hardware
- Connects to PC via it’s own little link-box
- DisplayPort for video
- Robust USB-A 3.0 connector for data
- No obscure and proprietary connectors here
Tether aka. “the cable” is the most common failure mode for virtual reality headsets. I would like the manufacturer to offer the replacement cable, so the consumer can get one out-of-warranty. Valve added Valve Index replacement tether to their store as Index headsets started to go out of warranty.
Varjo has added the replacement tether to their B2B online store accessories page.
Varjo Aero connects to its link box with what looks like a standard USB-C cable. According to markings on the cable it is USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C to Type C active cable. I tested the headset with a data cable that came with my phone, the computer recognized it but did not get video – probably some pins missing from the cable.
Varjo’s cable looks to be just an expensive USB-C cable, so I would not worry about Varjo going bankrupt and me not being able to fix my headset if the cable broke.
Example: Valve uses a proprietary tether, they replaced mine under warranty with no cost after it broke. The issue is that the Index headset units can only be repaired as long as Valve is making those tethers.
- Standard active USB-C cable used as tether
- Tether is made from good quality cable and connectors
- Easy to replace if you have a replacement cable
- According to Varjo the replacement tether is available through Varjo support
- Replacement was not available in Varjo’s own store (6.11.2022)
variable resolution aspheric lenses
Varjo Aero has some swanky black-magic voodoo optics. Varjo’s material sells these as “Custom-made variable resolution aspheric lenses”. I can tell that math went into making these!
The lenses distort the image in such a way that pixel-density in the middle is higher, and there is less detail in the edges. This is then corrected in the software to give you a variable-resolution screen that has higher DPI in the middle. If you removed the lenses, you would see some sort of fish-bowl effect on the panels.
According to Varjo, the headset has 35 pixels per degree (ppd) in the middle and a 115° field of view.
- Excellent lens design for a VR-headset
- There is no god rays
While headsets that use Fresnel lenses have issues with godrays, Aero’s aspheric lenses suffer from chromatic aberrations. It is definitely noticeable, but its something I stopped paying attention to in a while. I would prefer these color-related issues anytime compared to brightness related issues (godrays). Human eye is much more sensitive to chrominance issues than luminance issues.
I have noticed that the amount of color fringing is larger when using eyeglasses, and much smaller when using contact lenses. I have a prescription of -1, so I usually use my headset without corrective optics. After trying all 3 options I am now considering corrective eye-surgery.
- Chromatic aberration causes color fringing
Headset has two Mini-LED backlit LCD-panels with resolution of 2880 x 2720 px per eye, with a maximum brightness of 150 nits. According to the manufacturer the screens are color-calibrated and cover 99% SRGB and 95% DCI-P3 color space.
The panels have 90 Hz refresh rate, which is not the best, but it is good enough not to bother me at all. My beefy PC with RTX 3090 has issues now and then to maintain even that in more demanding scenes.
Minimal to no screen burn-in or color drift is expected as the headset is based on LCD technology. This info might be helpful for VR-arcades, running the same game from day to day, with HUD-elements in the static spots.
- High pixel density
- Almost zero screen-door effect
- Long-life screen technology
- Color accurate for professional graphical work
- Takes a lot of horsepower from the computer
- Only 90 Hz refresh rate
Varjo reduces rendering workloads by using eye-tracking to check what you are looking at, and then only rendering that part in high quality. The peripheral vision is rendered in lower quality thus saving on compute time.
- More frames for smaller compute power
- No noticeable loss in quality
- I can not tell if the FR is on or off
Red-Blue shift on Varjo Aero
I noticed an issue, where saturated red color jumps towards me and blue seems to go backwards. With natural images this is not noticeable, but with saturated images like icons this is an issue. With one eye closed both images seem OK, but in stereo image is not.
I would guess that the second screen inside the headset is mounted upside down for easier mechanical design, and has the subpixels layout of BGR while the other screen has RGB. This causes the red and blue subpixels to be placed in a different spot, giving the color a slight 3-dimensional look to these.
Example: While playing Half Life Alyx, I noticed something to pull my attention in the corner. It turned out to be the red “rec” LED in a security camera. If the subpixels were aligned, the red dot would have been flat and I would not have paid attention to it.
I have contacted Varjo about the issue. They are aware and working on it, but refused to comment on my theory and whether if their high-end quad screen headsets have the same issue. If the issue is caused by the subpixel layout like I estimated above, it can not be fixed with software – but it makes sense to me that the impact and visual effect can be minimized with some additional image processing.
I found a working solution to take care of the red-blue shift for me:
Manually add 8 mm to the measured IPD adjustment.
This almost completely solved the issue for me, but this might not work for you depending on how your eyeballs are spaced relative to the headset.
Another possible fix is to use a old version of Varjo Base 3.5.1 which has a selector for experimental distortion correction algorithm (that new versions use as default and cant be turned off), old algorithm can give more crisp image, but my VRChat Eye Tracking would not work with this version.
Cameras & eye tracking
The headset is missing a pass-through camera. I have gotten used to Valve Indexes camera to find a beverage to move around. With Varjo Aero you have to move or remove the headset, which throws off the eye-tracking and you need to calibrate it again. This takes like 5 seconds and is easy to do – but it is still annoying. The eye tracking calibration can be disabled in the Varjo Base settings and done on-demand with the buttons on the headset.
I would prefer a single cheap pass-through camera that works with SteamVR than no-camera.
- No pass-through camera
- No headset mounted USB-connector to add one
- Eye tracking recalibration when headset is reworn
Varjo Aero Eye tracking cameras are used to automatically set interpupillary distance (IPD) and to check for the correct headset alignment. You will get instructions in the calibration process if your headset is not mounted correctly. Headset will complain if it can not see your eyes or thinks that the headset is misaligned.
Gaze-dot can be enabled in the Varjo Base headset view so see where the user is looking at and this is relatively accurate. For more accurate needs you can do more accurate calibration that measures more eye-positions. There is also some sort of function to export the gaze-data, but I have not played around with it.
I got the eye tracking, pupil dilation detection and blink detection to work in VRChat using VRCFaceTracking and VRCFTVarjoModule.
Please note, that you will also need an avatar that supports VRCFaceTracking. I managed to add the eye and face tracking to my avatar, and found these VRCFaceTracking Unity templates by Adjerry91 very helpful in the process.
- Provides easy, fast and consistent automatic calibration
- Uses built-in motor to adjust the IPD
- You can get the eye tracking to work in VRChat
- Privacy setting in Varjo Base allows eye-tracking to be disabled
- Eye tracking camera can take funny selfies
- Does not work plug-and-play in VRChat
- Does not track eyebrows or other facial gestures
Varjo Aero’s audio solution
Varjo Aero comes with standard in-ear headphones with a microphone in the cable. The headphones connect to the headset with a 4-pin 3,5 mm TRRS connector in the left side of the headset. Cable is much shorter than on most similar headphones that you get when you buy a phone, which is nice because the audio jack is also mounted to your head.
Option: Included headphones
I played Beat Saber for 15 minutes with the included headphones, put them in the box they came in and forgot they exist. I disliked the included headphones. I was left missing the overt-the-top audio solution from Valve Index.
- Probably did not add much extra cost
- Good fall-back solution that has a mic
- Below average audio quality
- Cable a bit ridgid, transfers noise like rubbing on clothes
Option: Using bluetooth headphones
First thing after the included headphones was to try my wireless noise-canceling WH-1000XM3 headphones with the headset. Turns out there are a couple of issues with that.
The headset has an internal fan to keep the screens and your face nice and cool. This causes a tiny amount of vibration that you don’t feel, but is transferred mechanically to the headband and the slider of the headphones. Noise canceling mics can pick that up and to me it sounded like there was somebody outside with a lawnmower.
- PC needs a bluetooth dongle
- Bluetooth has delay which might break immersion and ruin BeatSaber scores
- Fan-noise messes with noise canceling
Option: My audio solution for Varjo Aero
I gobbled up a working audio solution from the stuff I had available. It has premium headphones, small but good quality microphone and 3 adapters to make everything work. This turns the headset into a rats nest of wire. Headphones come with 3 meter cable, so it is always a hassle to set up – but this works for now.
- 3.5mm TRRS Male to Dual 3.5mm TRS Female splitter
- Röde smartLav+ Lavalier Microphone
- Röde SC3 3.5m TRRS to TRS Adaptor to connect the mic to the other adapter
- Sennheiser Cable Adapter Female 1/4″ 6.3mm to Male 1/8″ 3.5mm Plug
- Sennheiser HD650 headphones
I designed a Rode smartLAV+ sticker mount that you can download for free from Printables.
Modding Valve Index speakers to Varjo Aero
I planned to remove the over-the-year BMR speakers from my Valve Index and mount them on Varjo Aero, but turns out the amp built in the headset does not have enough power to push through the Valve high impedance speakers, volume was really low and I discontinued the mod.
Varjo Aero is the most crisp and comfortable headset I have ever tried.Henri Rantanen aka. nerdaxic
This is why I have decided to keep it, and would recommend the headset to advanced VR-users, who are looking for the best solution that is available for consumers and are willing to tinker with the audio. This will be my new daily-driver, but I will have to find some nice earbuds for it and a ModMic.
The quality, material and design do not scream planned obsolescence to me, and I expect my unit to last for many years to come. I will still remind you that wearable devices wear down – handle with care.
I would have wanted to see Varjo’s quad screen technology and reasonable quality pass-through video for moving around in the playspace. I considered the XR-3 headset, but the 1500 € yearly Varjo subscription cost was too much even though the purchase price could have been justified.
Added info 17.1.2023
According to Varjo Support, the subscription is needed to use the VR-3 and XR-3 devices.
“If there is no active subscription then user will not be able to use device until active subscription is acquired”
- The software is available in Finnish
- Visual quality is excellent
- No god-rays or screen-door effect
- Superior head strap design & comfort
- Uses reliable light-house tracking
- Standard 3,5 mm TRRS audio-jack
- RTX2080 GPU was enough, had no need to update my computer
- Eye-tracking that works well
- Enough space inside for medium-sized eyeglasses
- Replacement face cushions are available
Neutral but note-worthy
- Does not come with good audio solution, but allows you to use whatever you want
- Does not make you buy more controllers if you already have some
- Does not come with any lighthouses that are required to use the headset
- Lack of pass-through cameras
- Lack of microphone
- Lenses have chromatic aberration
- Red/blue shift issue makes saturated objects pop
- Included headphones are bad. Prepare to get an audio solution
- Internal fan noise can be transferred to noise-canceling headphones
- High purchase price (Finland 6.11.2022 2467,60 € inc. VAT 24%)
Turn-offs for some
- AMD graphics cards are currently not supported
- Google Captcha required to create Varjo account
- Varjo’s product pages lack a lot of technical info for nerds, that is needed to justify the purchase
- As a hacker I would have appreciated an USB-port in the headset
- My cat finds the tether as a delicacy