I'm already living the Philip K. Dick life. I've got the communicator, the tablet computer, the everywhere Internet. All I need now is a deadly government conspiracy and an immersive 3D environment that lets me jack in and walk around.
Oh, that's here now too! At least the immersive 3D environment part. Sort of.
Sony's new HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer is a gleaming bit of headgear that lets you have your 3D and wear it too, you gigantic nerd.
Why It Matters
This is a big step on the path towards being totally immersed in a virtual 3D world. Moreover, it's a working, wearable television. You probably haven't tried a wearable television. You probably haven't seen one on your friend's coffee table, or resting on the noggin of the guy sitting next to you in seat 7B. There's a good reason for that: they all suck. They've looked awful, fit poorly, felt bad, and performed about as well as Justin Bieber in the
Surprising that none have taken off.
But this one has a chance to. It lobs the ball squarely into good-enough territory.
The 3D and HDTV looked great. It has two screens, each with an OLED 720p display. Each sits centered in front of your eyes. Speakers cover your ears, and promise virtual surround sound.
Before you even fire up this rig, you're going to need to spend some time fitting it. You can make it fit comfortably, but it takes effort. Sony made it super-adjustable. You can move the speakers forward and back on your head, and up and down to fit over your ears. The backside adjusts in the temples just above each ear, and in the back of the head via two extensible straps with watch-style fastener belts in the middle. The top strap is sturdier plastic, while the lower one is more flexible. A hinged pad rests on the forehead.
I spent several minutes, around ten, getting the headset adjusted to suit my face. The key is to get the bottom strap well below the most protuberant peak in the back of your skull. That keeps it largely comfortably in place.
There's an HDMI pass through box that sits in-between the viewer and your video source. You plug the source (like a PS3 or Blu-ray player) into the back end and a cable snakes out of the front to your eyes. The controls on the HMZ-T1 let you adjust the volume and gives you some limited menu options (3D or not 3D) and it does support HDMI CEC, but for channel surfing, fast forwarding, game controlling, etc., you're going to have to use your regular array of remotes.
Although the screen is only inches in front of your eyes, it feels a bit like sitting in a theater. You can move your eyes around quite a bit and stay within the confines of the screen. It does not, however, completely take over your field of view so that you feel immersed in the screen. You wouldn't want that, for most movies and games. It might be nice for a nature video. But with it strapped on you'll still very much see the screen edges, and in your peripheral vision you can distinctly see above and below you. Light comes in.
First, it's very fun technology. It's just neat to have the TV take over for you. This has some serious future shock going for it as well.
The video performance is exceptional. That's largely due to the 3D. Crosstalk or ghosting is one of the biggest problems with 3D. Sony claims that the two displays make the personal viewer crosstalk free, because the image is only merged in your head and never on a single screen It works. I saw none, and looked hard. Meanwhile, the display was bright and vivid. Colors popped.
You won't be totally immersed in a world. You won't feel surrounded by gunmen when you're playing a 3D game, because the display doesn't completely take over your field of vision. Don't expect that, it won't happen. (Which is preferable, given that 3D content is designed for 16x9 screens. If the display was large and close enough to take over your vision, you'd miss things at the edges.) At 45 degrees, the viewing angle is more than ample.
But it does immerse you to a much greater extent than sitting in front of a TV, even a very large one.
That's also due to the sound. The speakers sounded quite good, and were loud enough to completely drown out external noise in my apartment. The clanging of buttons in the dryer, the sound of a radio playing at low volume disappeared. The 5.1 virtual surround sound was... okay. I certainly heard directional noises.
But the surround sound pass-throughs could have been better.
And let's talk wearability. While it's far, far more comfortable than any other headset we've tried, it isn't exactly like wearing your favorite hat. If you don't spend a lot of time adjusting it, it will rest poorly on your face, falling down on the bridge of your nose.
Even if you do adjust it, it's still heavy. (Sony specs it at 600 grams, or 1.3 pounds.) You can't wear it for prolonged amouts of time—literally a warning pops up after 3 hours and it automatically shuts down at 6. Your neck gets tired. I kept wanting to rest my chin on my hand, or to sit back completely in my chair, with my head draped over the back. At half an hour my neck felt strained. At just over an hour, I really noticed the pad on my head. By the time I took it off, 90 minutes later, I had a large red spot on my forehead.
It's also not very portable, or usable off the couch. The pass through box is the real problem. You have to plug it in, which rules it out of using on most flights, or for, say, taking it back and forth with you to the office. (Perhaps a positive after all, as it effectively prevents you from looking like a doofus in public.)
And finally, something sort of subtle. Because you largely can't see or hear anything going on outside of the viewer, I often felt a little claustrophobic in the headset. And if you want to get up and do something, like grab a beer from the kitchen, you have to take off the viewer and stop playback or miss what's going on. You can't just leave the game on and listen in.
Should I Buy This
Yes, as long as you have another TV. This is a toy. An $800 toy. I think very few people would be happy with it as their primary television. It's too closed-off from the outside world, and tethered to the video source by a cable. You have to be so connected to it. And if you do pull an all-day TV sesh, you unrepentant couch potato, it will be a literal pain in the neck. Perhaps forehead too.
But it's one hell of a toy. The sound is good, the video is great and the 3D is far better than what you're used to at the theater, and even the best 3DTVs. It's passably comfortable, and you are going to love playing games on it (even if the 3D on the game is weak, or non-existent.) It's fun, and interesting, and I dug it. [Sony]