After more than a year in which I’ve striven to maintain an invisible 12-foot dome as I approach other mask-weary faces, I am experiencing a different alternate reality in a nondescript conference room in a hotel a block away from Central Park. At one point, a gigantic robotic arm reaches behind its base to fetch objects that include a medical model of the human body and the International Space Station. Later, a near-life-size concept car fills the room. In both cases, my brain obeys my duped eyes. When the robot swings its payload close to my head, I duck. And when I want to check out the interior of the car, I peer from beyond the door before realizing I can walk through it.
These reflex-inducing illusions are offered up by the Varjo XR-3 (the “XR” is for “extended reality,” a broad industry term to span both VR and digital objects in physical reality). The headset has largely achieved Finnish startup Varjo’s goal of producing virtual worlds and objects rendered at the resolution of human vision.
Breathtaking as digital reality is within the headset, it comes at a price—$5,495 and a mandatory service subscription of $1,495/year. It also comes with literal strings attached—a tether to a beefy PC handling the rendering of these realistic images. And while Varjo has sought to make its latest headset generation as comfortable as possible, Facebook’s consumer-focused Oculus Quest 2 is smaller and lighter than Varjo’s headset, works independently of a PC, and costs a small fraction of Varjo’s tour de force.