“You look like someone who doesn’t know how to wear headphones.”
My friend Mark had summed up the problem with the Avegant Glyph in a simple sentence, and I really couldn’t disagree. Then again, Mark does have an unhealthy obsession with GM cars of the 1970s and big diesel engines, so what does he know?
I had a quick look at the Avegant Glyph headset at the UK launch earlier this year and had come away impressed. The question is, would I remain as impressed after a couple of weeks of real world usage?
What is it?
To recap the quick look, the Glyph is a pure video headset. It is categorically not a VR device, but is designed specifically for watching 2D or 3D video in as close to a cinematic experience one can get without someone spilling their drink over your lap in the dark or the teen sat next to you spending the entire film texting on their phone.
The technology within the headset is highly innovative. Rather than the usual LCD panel, millions of tiny mirrors beam light directly onto your retina (don’t be alarmed – this is kind of how eyesight actually works) giving an effective resolution of 1280 x 720 over each eye. And since there is no LCD involvement, there is no mesh or ‘screen door’ effect. The visuals are as clear and crisp as though projected on a cinema screen with none of the headaches or eyestrain that come from squinting at a screen pressed close to your eyeball.
The Glyph is designed specifically to allow you to see above and below the screen (to reach for a drink, for example) which works well for a video viewer and means that you do not lose spatial awareness, thus also do not experience the nausea I usually associate with fully enclosed headsets, when the horizon starts to tilt alarmingly. Of course, this also reduces the immersive nature of the experience, but again – total immersion is not what the Glyph is about.
The earphones are roughly the size of a large pair of Bose sound cancelling headphones and are equally as effective. The 3D audio (where supported) is particularly impressive.
Power-wise, Avegant claim 4 hours usage from a full charge (charging is via USB). I managed 3.5 hours in my testing, so the claim seems fair and means you could expect to be able to watch a couple of movies of normal length (I regard anything longer than 90 minutes with deep suspicion). Since the headset charges from USB, finding a power source shouldn’t present much of a problem thanks to mobile phone makers such as Apple getting us all used to carrying battery packs or chargers wherever we go.
Finally, connectivity is via HDMI, with a short cable supplied. This worked well with my iPhone (using the Apple adaptor) but I needed a longer cable to be able to connect to my PS4.
Living with a Glyph
The Glyph itself comes in a handsome box with a large carry case that has space for the headset, nose pieces (4 are supplied) and cables. Following charging, the first, and potentially most frustrating task, is to get the eyepieces aligned and focussed for comfort.
Without a HDMI signal, the Glpyh shows a simple pattern, which can be used to focus and line up the eyepieces. Each eyepiece may be focussed individually with further adjustment for eye position. It took me quite a while to get the image just right (failing to do so will result in what could charitably be described as a ‘sub-par experience’ once video is piped in). However, once configured, the clarity of the image is impressive. Unfortunately, the manual nature of the controls means that if anyone else uses your headset, the settings will need to be worked through again. As this is a premium-priced device I would have hoped for something a little more automated with saveable profiles.
The headset is a curious mixture of high and low-quality plastics. It feels solid in the hands, but perhaps a little brittle when placed over the head. Maybe it is just my massive head, but the creaking of the plastic as the headset went on didn’t inspire confidence. Once on, the headset is comfortable and over a few sessions of several hours of usage I didn’t experience any discomfort although I can see how some might find the 400g or so a bit much. A head strap is available if necessary, but I didn’t find myself needing it.
Plugging the helpfully colour coded HDMI cable into the headset instantly brings up the video with no additional tinkering required – this is truly plug and play.
I have to confess at this point that I primarily used the Glyph indoors, and mainly connected to my iPhone to watch the likes of Netflix. It also worked well with my PS4, but the short HDMI cable did present a challenge. Once connected, the gaming experience was good but anyone who is more than a casual gamer will need to consider the power requirements of the Glyph (although one could argue that the headset cutting out after 3 or 4 hours might be a handy way of preventing 12 hour GTAV marathons). I can certainly see the Glyph being a very handy tool in a household where there are frequent arguments over who has control of the television remote.
I was tempted to try it on a train and bus, but I don’t think British society is ready to have a person looking like a chubby Robocop or a Star Trek character anywhere outside of a cosplay convention. However, I would be happy to use it on a flight, which is where I think it would come into its own with its great visuals and excellent headphones blocking out the airplane noise. And, of course, one would still be able to deal with cabin crew thrusting tiny packets of peanuts at you or tipping scalding trays of steamed slop onto your tray table.
Unlike my friend Mark, if I had to summarise the Glyph in a few words, it would be “ahead of its time”. The display is hugely impressive (once adjusted for your eyes) and the concept is great. However, it also feels very much like a version 1.0 device – it certainly could do with slimming down a little and getting a beefier battery. And it has to be said – one does feel a little self-conscious when wearing it. However, if you are a frequent traveller or need a second screen in the home (but lack the room for yet another television) then the Glyph could be for you. So long as you don’t mind the premium. Or looking like you have forgotten how to wear headphones.