By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm
I’m in Berlin for IFA, the giant conference that’s Europe’s answer to the U.S.’s Consumer Electronics Show. I’ll be writing about some of the products I learn about this week–and one of the most interesting ones so far is Sony’s HMZ-T1, a personal TV headset that lets you watch movies and TV and play games with an image projected right in front of your eyes, producing a virtual theater-like effect.
The idea isn’t new–in fact, it’s an updated take on Glasstron, which Sony introduced back in 1997. But the new version has been thoroughly updated. It’s got twin 720P OLED displays, 3D, and 5.1 channel sound. You plug the HMZ-T1 headset into a converter box that connects to your TV. A cable delivers both an image and power–the headset doesn’t have a battery, which let Sony design something that’s fairly lightweight (14.8 ounces) and comfortable given how much electronics you’re strapping to your skull.
That’s me above, playing a racing game recently. (Sony prebriefed me about the headset and let me try it out.) As you may be able to tell, I’m enjoying myself–even though I don’t consider myself a 3D fan.
Confession time: I have an impossibly wide head. Impossibly wide as in “I wear a 2XL hat, and even that can be a tad on the tight side.” And I wear wide eyeglasses, too. The HMZ-T1 can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of heads…but even expanded to its very loosest settings, it was a skosh too tight for my noggin, which meant that the 3D picture was slightly fuzzy. But if I pressed down slightly on the headset–in a way I don’t think I’d have to do if my head weren’t so freakishly humongous, or if I didn’t wear glasses–the 3D picture looked surprisingly crisp. Much better than 3D on a standard TV, in fact.
Why’d it look so neat? Well, OLED displays are apparently better suited to this idea than LCD ones. But another big point in its favor is that you’re actually looking at two separate displays, each one optimally designed to fuse into a 3D image. (It’s rather like how ViewMasters work–and they still deliver one of the best 3D effects ever invented.)
With both the active and passive 3D TV technologies used for standard 3D TV, you’re looking at one screen with two images overlaid, and the glasses are required to descramble the image. And with active glasses, tiny LCD shutters are fluttering continuously to reveal the two images, a technique which makes my eyeballs hurt just thinking about it.
The HMZ-T1 will go for $799–a price I guessed before Sony revealed it to me–and are due to show up in Sony Stores next month. Like earlier passes at this concept, it’s going to be of most interest to gizmo freaks, not the masses. But it’s the best-performing, least gimmicky video headset I’ve seen to date. Even if you’d never buy one, you might have fun donning it for an in-store demo.
(Full disclosure: I’m speaking at an IFA panel. The conference’s organizers paid for my travel here.)