The modern home cinema is not just one thing, but many. It’s the primary display, which could be anything from a small monitor to a gigantic 4K beast of a TV; it’s the audio system, whether that’s the usually awful built-in TV speakers or a booming woofer leading a 7.1 assault on the senses. It’s the 3D glasses you choose not to wear because they’re uncomfortable, the sofa you’re sitting on for the duration, the people around you. And from a gaming perspective, there are things like VR headsets and communication to consider as well. Or at least, that was the case, if we are to believe that devices like the iWear are going to become The Next Big Thing. An all-purpose head-mounted display that comes in markedly cheaper than the sum of all those individual components (all apart from the seating and company, in any case), Vuzix’s all- in-one solution is certainly an interesting and exciting prospect and one that offers excellent value for money for those who stand to make use of everything that it offers. But just who is that, exactly?
The first thing to consider is that while a plug-and-play HDMI input is certainly welcome, it limits usability within a shared or family home without investing in an HDMI splitter or similar device, or having additional systems with HDMI outputs that other people aren’t using. To suggest that was the intended use for the product would be folly, however – seeing as it places the user in an audiovisual cocoon, it’s clearly designed for solo use, whether that’s a bedroom or office, in a single-person home or even on transport. We live in a world where people take Wii Us on flights in order to play via the GamePad’s screen on the go, so to suggest that head- mounted displays could be the next logical step for on-the-move entertainment isn’t exactly a huge leap of logic.
“iWear’s headphones are surprisingly impressive, for an all-in-one device”
Form factor might not particularly help the iWear in that regard, however. Its design is neat and it’s about as discrete as two head- mounted TVs and a set of quality headphones combined could be realistically expected to be in 2016, but the bright, green stripe that runs across the whole headset just cheapens it a little. There’s a reason Oculus and HTC went with pure black for their headsets, and that reason certainly isn’t likely to have been a shortage of green strips in the factory. In solid black, you could mistake a flight passenger using iWear to be rocking headphones and an eye mask – the strip serves only to draw attention to the fact that face-mounted gadget action is in progress, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s also the fact that the black-and-green motif has already been claimed by gaming accessory firm and eSports sponsor Razer – a connection it’s unclear whether Vuzix is attempting to piggyback or ignore but either way, you have to hope the creators look at the likes of Sennheiser and Bose headsets in order to make future designs a little more elegant and, for want of a better term, professional.
Not that appearances really matter once you’re jacked in and beaming your media of choice directly into your eyeballs, of course. At that point, you become more concerned about the quality of the tech and while iWear might not quite match up to best-in class equivalents in individual areas, it has versatility on its side. The display, while only 720p, is decent and perfectly serviceable for most media, with little trace of ‘screen door’ effect (where individual pixels can be seen, producing the sensation of looking through a gauze) and a generous viewing area. Add 3D into the mix and things improve further, the extra level of depth serving as a genuine and sometimes worthwhile distraction from the lower resolution, even if the non-filled field of view can cause some 3D effects to lose impact (a problem with any display that doesn’t completely fill field-of-vision, to be fair).
Sound is a different story – integrated audio solutions don’t tend to be up to much but iWear’s impressive, device. VR and 3D support means it could stand to benefit from a true surround- sound option, sure, but the stereo sound offered is clear and rich, and even more impressive when you consider what an equivalent standalone set of cans would cost in comparison to the price of this one- stop option. Integrated mics also allow it to compete with high-end gaming headsets
(if not those of the 5.1/7.1 variety, perhaps) and for those that live or play alone, iWear certainly presents a viable and intriguing alternative to getting a new TV/headset/both.
That said, occasional use probably better suits this product. While not what you might call ‘heavy’ – in fact, it’s well-weighted and comfortable for the most part – the idea of wearing it non-stop for more than the length of a movie isn’t one we’re entirely on board with. Its rechargeable battery delivers around three hours of use from a full charge and while you can use it while plugged in and charging, this is probably a fair indication of the maximum time you could realistically spend isolated within your entertainment before any discomfort set in and the admittedly modest weight and pressure of iWear took their toll.
On that note, it’s also worth mentioning the insanely shot stock HDMI lead. Obviously designed this way to prevent having metres of trailing cable when used with mobile devices, it does still mean that home use is impractical without an HDMI extender – not the end of the world, sure, but worth noting to save you picking up the headset on a whim then having to stand right next to your console or Blu-ray player in order for the cable to reach.
Unlike some similar devices, iWear comes with an optional clip-in light shield. Without, there’s a fair area underneath the viewing area that can still be seen, which can be useful if you don’t want to end up covered in food and drink by the end of a movie or game. With the padded light shield on, though, you’re fully immersed – better for VR-type experiences and anything that benefits from complete audiovisual immersion, but expect it to get quite warm in there.
Like the Avegant Glyph, Vuzix’s iWear is part of the first wave of commercially viable portable head-mounted displays. It’s good right now – especially comparing the cost against the sum of its parts and uses – but this kind of tech is only going to get better and cheaper over the next few years, just like 4K TVs have already tumbled in price in a similar time frame. If you think you’d use every facet of functionality, so personal viewing for video, gaming, 3D media, travel and VR, it’s a joy to mess around with and shutting yourself away inside of an experience really does feel futuristic. And that’s because it is… this is the first tentative step into a new way of enjoying media on your own terms, so those who want to experience this before anyone else can happily jack in today – the rest of us will be right behind you soon!
What does iWear do best?
A passive activity like watching movies or shows usually means you can do other things at the same time, but being enclosed in the action can make this awkward and/or uncomfortable. Using iWear with the light shield attached (the best option for full immersion) means even things like eating or drinking during your chosen viewing are out… without risking getting food and drink everywhere, at least.
Console gaming with the headset feels a little redundant, in all honesty – modern games are usually made to be run at 1080p so dropping to the iWear’s 720p display noticeably hurts image quality. 3D-capable games fare a lot better – the illusion of depth distracts from the lower-than- usual resolution – but PC players get the best deal, as you can also use it as an entry-level virtual reality headset.
An extension of mobile usage, really – by using iWear with something like the Parrot drones’ AR.FreeFlight app, you’re able to soar in a captivating enclosed first-person mode. Given that FPV solutions for drones can be expensive and/or complicated, this could prove to be iWear’s trump card, although using on-screen controls without being able to see the actual screen will certainly take some practice.
Use With Your Mobile:
You can connect iWear to your smartphone with an adapter. You’re limited to apps that work in landscape mode if you want the full experience, but this could be iWear’s strongest area otherwise. Pack your phone or tablet with stuff to watch or play and iWear becomes a travel-friendly cinema experience, provided you’re not too bothered about looking like a Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge on a coach or plane.
The Vuzix iWear costs £480 / $625. For more information visit vuzix.com
This article first appeared in Gadget issue 12. To buy the latest issue, click here.