When I was young I read Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and as I’ve mentioned before, that story was real gasoline on an already visionary-bent mind. Since then, I’ve watched the babysteps of online virtual worlds enthusiastically. I’ve also been haunted by a childlike desire for a head mounted display (HMD), for several reasons. Most notably the immersion these displays add to the computing experience, but also the comfort of not having to accommodate myself to the screen but having the screen accommodate me. Today I seem to have finally found one that might be worth buying.
In my annual check-up on HMD technologies, I’ve come up empty handed. The wearable displays that’ve been available so far are either (a) too low resolution, (b) too damn expensive, in the $3000 USD range, (c) too damn headache-causing or (d) a hellish combination of these.
Last year, though, things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction. The rise of the iPod has been a good motivator for innovators to focus on wearable computer gadgetry, and the video iPods have directly affected the market. I found a startup company that was about to introduce an iPod HMD for the general consumer, I forget what it was called which doesn’t matter really, because it seems it went under before it even launched. The point is that it was there, with okay resolution and a nice price (~$300 if I remember correctly).
Today I decided to do this year’s search — and was happy to discover a new display that’s almost been released (expected launch is this month, June). The Headplay Personal Cinema System has received some great reviews as reported by various online sources. The HMD makes it seem you’re watching a 52″ screen at a 6 feet distance, sports a resolution of 800×600 — and is compatible with a myriad of different devices (Mac, PC, Nintendo Wii, iPod, etc.). They also have a control unit that allows you to insert memory cards to watch recorded videos, and a control piece to easily navigate and select content. Unfortunately it’s lacking a headtracker, so you won’t be able to control where you’re looking in whatever virtual world/game just by turning your head.
Nonetheless, it sounds and looks great — and it’s price will only be $499 USD. I say only because I’ve seen so many deadly prices on these things that I’m clapping for anything under $600.
ZDNet has a nice, personal account of its usage. Not really a rain of praise, but an honest review which makes it sound worth the purchase. Amongst other things, they report that:
[...] picture quality is a lot better than you might think. You can imagine eventually getting acclimated to it to some degree. In one test, I watched the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan, a frantic action sequence that includes lots of splashing water and quick edits. Although not nearly as enjoyable as watching it on a real big-screen TV, the picture was clear and didn’t blur during rapid scene changes or sudden movement onscreen.
They also report that the headset didn’t produce much discomfort, aside from a vague feeling of disorientation when removed. It’s also nicely designed (reminds me of a Batman accessory), and when contrasted with some of yesteryear’s models it’s aesthetic level is way up there.
I must say I’m intrigued. Aside from the lack of headtracking, I think it’s one of the first systems that appear good enough to purchase (I’m intrigued and keeping an eye on the Trimersion headset as well, less resolution but headtracking included). I’ll be watching the launch with enthusiasm and look forward to some reviews from the general public.
Links & Related Stuff
- Headplay’s Website
- Headplay Specs
- Banal Trimersion HMD Advertisement (The HMD tech looks pretty good, though)