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For Your Eyes Only

A heads-up display with an eye-opening price

3 min read

Apple’s video iPod and iTunes Store put legitimate downloads of commercial movies and television shows on the map. They made it possible for an entire movie collection to be carried around in your pocket, ready to help you while away the time during a long train commute or plane trip. Now seeking to capitalize on this new video market is the Myvu personal media viewer from The MicroOptical Corp., in Westwood, Mass. The company is promising users of its wearable head-mounted display a ”large-TV viewing experience.”

The idea behind Myvu is that instead of watching your movie on the video iPod’s 2.5-inch display, you don what looks like a pair of thin, wraparound sunglasses with attached earbud earphones, and the resulting image appears to hang in front of your eyes. The iPod’s video signal is piped to two LCDs—one for each eye—with a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels, which is the same resolution as the video iPod’s screen. The Myvu relies on the iPod to generate the image, so it can’t be used to view movies stored on other iPod versions.

Looking for the best eyes around, we asked members of IEEE Spectrum’s art department to try out the Myvu, and Assistant Art Director Brandon Palacio took it home for an extended test.

In the end, the Myvu turns out to be something of a curate’s egg. (For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from a 19th-century cartoon, in which a curate—a junior clergyman—is having breakfast with the local bishop. The bishop worries that the curate has been inadvertently served a bad egg, to which the curate, not wishing to embarrass his superior, replies, ”Oh no, my lord, I assure you, parts of it are excellent!”)

The excellence of the Myvu comes from its technical execution. Installation—which requires encasing your iPod in a housing unit that contains the rechargeable battery driving the Myvu dual displays—is straightforward. Video control is provided by a pendant integrated into the cord that connects the headset to the iPod housing. A number of interchangeable nose rests are provided to ensure a comfortable fit for the headset while being worn. Tinted transparent windows are also built into the Myvu so that you can look around you without having to remove the glasses, allowing you to spot just where the flight attendant is with the meal trolley. The displays are bright, providing a sharp and clear picture, and the sound quality is good.

However, the Myvu does not really replicate the sensation of watching a large television. In fact, the image appears distractingly small when you first start watching a movie or a TV show. After a few minutes of viewing, though, you do mentally adjust, and viewing is comfortable.

But it’s still not the same as an actual large display, and even with the provided transparent windows, everyone who tried it felt somewhat vulnerable because of the loss of peripheral vision while wearing the headset. And despite the recent drop in crime in New York City, no one said they would use the Myvu while commuting on the subway, for example. In fact, the only places they said they would feel comfortable using the Myvu were in controlled environments, such as in their own homes or onboard an airplane.

Unfortunately, at home the Myvu compared unfavorably with the option of ignoring the iPod completely and instead using Apple’s iTunes software to watch video content on desktop or laptop displays. And several felt that given the Myvu’s price tag—US $300—they would rather use that money to purchase a cheaper stand-alone portable DVD player, with its larger screen for things like long plane trips.

If the Myvu comes down in price, and if it provides a more immersive viewing experience, it will indeed be a product to watch. For now, though, it just feels a little too much like a solution in search of a problem.

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