First announced in 2014, available in the US in 2016 and now shipping in the UK, has this innovative video headset been worth the wait?
In order to describe what the Glyph is, it is important to understand what it isn’t. This is not a VR headset. You won’t be lurching around on your sofa like a drunk on a see-saw while a virtual world spins around you. This is, instead, about as close as you can get to the experience of sitting in a movie theatre (just without a sticky floor or distressing stains on the seat.) Since the Glyph is not a total enclosure, you do not lose spatial awareness and are unlikely to suffer from motion sickness. It’s also useful to be able to see your hands when reaching for the popcorn or diet cola.
The Glyph is roughly the same size of a large noise cancelling headset – I have a set of Bose headphones that are a similar size and weight. It covers the ears with soft, padded speakers and the eye piece rests on the bridge of the nose (there are 5 different sizes of bridge to accommodate different nose shapes.) There is also a head strap to further take the weight off one’s nose, although I didn’t feel any discomfort during my time with the device. I suspect that may be more to do with my giant head.
Once the Glyph is on, the position of the eye pieces can be adjusted and the focus tweaked to the point where even glasses-wearers do not need their spectacles. This is a very simple process, with a test image shown to help get the settings correct. Unfortunately, the controls are manual so if you want to pass the Glyph around you will have to reset them every time. Once set up, it is a simple case of plugging in a HDMI source and enjoying the experience.
The specifications of the Glyph are initially nothing to shout about: 1280 x 720 over each eye. This is not even full HD. However, thanks to the innovative way that the Glyph projects the image onto the user’s retina using millions of tiny mirrors, the image is astonishingly sharp, clear and bright. This is a long way removed from staring at a LCD panel and as well as the startling clarity, there is also a feeling of comfort rather than the vague eyestrain I usually associate with headsets.
The display is limited to a rectangle in the user’s field of view (it has a 40-degree field of view). I would compare it to sitting in a darkened theatre which, to be fair, is the intention of the device. The ratio is 16:9, so the letterboxing effect will be further pronounced when watching widescreen content.
From an aural perspective, the cinematic effect is enhanced by 3D audio, and background noises are muted by those big headphones.
3D visuals are also supported, and while 3D at home has gradually faded from importance, the implementation on the Glyph is effective. I find 3D video difficult to view, but was impressed with the visuals on the Glyph to the point where I ducked at a particularly pointy bit of the video.
The Glyph has been designed with a very specific market in mind – the airline traveller. I’m not sure I would wear it on my train journey home tonight and I would a feel a little self-conscious slipping it on in a café to watch some video. I can imagine using it at home, perhaps plugged into a games console or to catch up on some TV. And with a 4-hour battery life, proximity to a power source (the Glyph takes power from USB) is also a consideration.
In conclusion, I am very impressed with the Glyph. I can see plenty of potential here for anyone who travels and is tired of squinting at smart phone screens. The innovative imaging technology feels much kinder on the eyes and the audio immerses the user in the action. The simplicity of the device is appealing – plug in a HDMI cable and away you go – and Avegant are very clear on what this device is for – a movie theatre experience, not VR. On the downside, it is expensive compared to more basic LCD solutions. However, as a personal viewing experience, the Glyph does pretty much everything right.