AUSTIN, TEXAS – A chief complaint about virtual reality is that total immersion totally cuts you off from the outside world. It’s one of the reasons augmented reality solutions that let you blend the real and virtual worlds, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, could gain a foothold. Avegant, though, sees things a different way.
The company’s new Glyph headset, finally shipping after a two-year-long development and Kickstarter cycle, rides the narrow line between virtual reality and personal viewing experience. It looks like a pair of Beats headphones — and can function just fine as a purely audio device — but if you flip the headgear forward so the headband covers your eyes, it converts into a display device.
“This is distinct from virtual reality,” said Avegant CMO Richard Kerris, “they take everything away from you.” The $699 Glyph headset lets you easily see both over and under the headband, which the company says makes them great for airplane rides, gaming and basically anything where a continuing awareness of your surroundings is required.
In person, Glyph is like a stealth personal theater. It really looks just like a pair of headphones. Graham Martin, Avegant product manager and company employee number two, guided me through the setup. I had to place the headset over my ears and block my eyes with the headband, which rested on the bridge of my nose. It weighs 420 grams (almost a pound) and, to be honest, felt a bit uncomfortable on my nose. When wearing Glyph as a regular set of headphones, the eyepieces retract.
Graham told me there are different nose bridge options and said, “It’s like a new pair of glasses; it takes a little bit of getting used to.” I tried two different bridge options and did find one was a bit more comfortable than another.
In front of each eye is a 720p screen (with the two lenses, that equates to 1440p across). I had to reach between my eyes and the lenses to adjust focus for each one. It was a bit awkward but necessary for crystal-clear viewing. The lenses also slide side-to-side so each one can be perfectly positioned in front of each eye.
I tried out three different kinds of content. First, a GoPro video of some snowboarders. It looked like a 65-inch HDTV floating 10 feet in front of me. I quickly realized that I could look right at the screen or below, above or to either side of it to see the real world around me.
Next, I tried out some Jaunt VR content of mountain climbers. The headset has a gyroscope in it, so when I turned my head this way and that, I saw the video from a 360-degree perspective. However, if I glanced to the left or right (or up and down), I could look away from the screen and see the real world.
Finally, we connected a Glyph headset to a DJI drone. I then used my head to control the drone’s gimbal camera. When I moved my head, the camera moved.
Glyph will actually work well with both 2D or 3D content, including YouTube. You just connect your iPhone and play. You can adjust the volume directly from Glyph through a button I had trouble finding while I was wearing the devices, but you can’t scrub forward and back in the content unless you do it through your phone.
Battery life is three to four hours, but you can also use Glyph while it’s plugged in.
Do you want it
Martin told me the company is spending the next six to eight weeks fulfilling Kickstarter supporters and pre-orders. After that, they can start delivering them to other customers. He said demand has been strong.
Even with the relative discomfort of wearing Glyph, I could see the benefit, but I do wonder about the high price (originally, they wanted to sell it for $499) and if people will prefer this viewing experience to the more immersive — and potentially cheaper — VR experience you can get from the $99 Gear VR.