In the dystopian future Sony wished to create, humankind will wander the globe, seeing the world through 0.7-inch OLED screens strategically placed over the eyes. Sony’s Personal 3D viewer is but the first step on the path to this science fiction future.
Originally unveiled as a prototype at the 2011 CES show in Las Vegas, Sony’s Personal 3D viewer has made the shift from awkward prototype to commercial product. Available now for $899, the Personal 3D viewer is a beacon of hope for individual entertainment, even if it’s not quite up to scratch just yet.
After a week of solid testing, it’s safe to say that the current version of the device is a promising start to a new line of products, although not worth buying just yet. From a design perspective, the Personal 3D Viewer looks like the virtual reality headsets science fiction promised us in the 1980s. White with a gentle blue glow to indicate power, the headset is reminiscent of Tron and Star Trek in the way it seems to take users to a different dimension. Looking at the device from the front, you could almost consider the unit worth buying…
But as soon as you see the headset from the side, you immediately notice it’s first major problem. It’s bulky. The plastic body that encloses the 0.7-inch OLED screens in the front of the unit is way too deep to be comfortable to wear. Picking the headset up confirms this – although it has been engineered to hold most of its bulk on your forehead, it’s almost impossible to avoid contact with the bridge of your nose. Even if you do, the weight begins to wear you down after a few minutes, putting untold strain on your neck.
Weight issues aside, the picture quality is amazing. Looking into the two small screens really does give the impression of watching a large cinema screen. Unfortunately, since evolving from the prototype at CES, the end product had lost the completely enclosed design – likely as a safety issue – which did detract from the experience, although not so much as to kill the enjoyment. Sound quality through the two headphone pads was equally superb, and the ability to rotate a single earpad up to have a conversation is inspired. But with all the weight, the idea of watching a full movie through the headset was too much.
The other major issue with the Personal 3D viewer is the connectivity. Sony’s engineers require an additional box to be added to your home theatre setup, that connects to your devices via HDMI. It offers the ability to pass through, so you can leave it connected while you watch the same content on the big screen, but it does suck up an additional power point and adds clutter to your entertainment area.
The extra box could be forgiven, perhaps, if the headset was wireless. But instead, it requires a big, long, heavy cable to be plugged in to transmit the image and audio (as well as powering the unit). While from an engineering standpoint, the additional box probably helps make the unit a bit smaller and lighter, requiring a tether undoes so much of the device’s appeal. Imagine if you could start watching a movie in another room, without being tied to your home theatre setup? Or you could take it with you should you decide to head to bed to watch the end of your favourite movie?
The best thing is that this is a first generation product, and hopefully Sony will learn from its issues with the second generation. There’s no doubt Sony engineers are already working on the second version, which will undoubtedly reduce the weight. And even if the next version doesn’t go wireless, the opportunity is there for future versions to introduce wireless connectivity.
Which, ultimately, leaves the current Personal 3D Viewer as an exceptionally promising device that isn’t worth buying just yet. Here’s hoping that Sony doesn’t wait too long before launching version two – because that has the potential to change how we watch media not just at home, but while travelling as well.
Nick Broughall is the Australian Editor of TechRadar.com, where he gets to indulge his passion for geekery and the lastest technology. He is also the Editor of EFTM.com.au, where he gets to indulge his passion for manliness, from sampling fine liquor to the joys of growing a beard. It’s a pretty good life, really.