Gadget review: Vuzix iWear AV920

24 Nov 2008

There are many futuristic gadgets that never came to pass, like the flux capacitor from Back to the Future, but the wearable TV screen visor has been here for a while now, and the latest incarnation from Vuzix, the iWear AV920, is aimed at users of the iPod, N95 or any other portable media player.

Essentially, what the Vuzix iWear does is play video and project it onto embedded lenses that give the illusion of watching a 62-inch VGA screen from nine-feet away.

Does it work? You betcha’, and it is very strange to be staring at a big screen projector that no one else can see, but don’t expect the same clarity and eye-popping colour as your original video.

The iWear also has built-in ear-buds, so your sound is piped straight in too.

As I unboxed the iWear, the first thing that struck me was how very much like Jordy’s visor (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) they looked, and I was conflicted between wearing them on the Luas for pure show and sheer wow factor and then wondering if I would get stared at for looking like a dork.

I chickened out and wore them in the privacy of my own home, but I would definitely wear them on a flight rather than squinting and straining my eyes for a prolonged period in front of an iPod or phone screen.

Set-up was minimal. Charging is done via USB, and once you give them a full 10-hour charge for the first time, you are good to go. They then last for about five hours of continuous video playback.

The iWear comes with a little power pack (very lightweight), which has all the connections needed to hook up with an iPod, mobile phone with video playback or a portable DVD player.

It was as simple as plugging it into my iPod and choosing a video to watch. The video starts up straightaway on the iWear, which is switched on by pressing a small dial under the right eye. This dial also controls volume and adjusts brightness, colour and balance between both lenses.

While the iWear does give a pretty cool 62-inch screen experience, as I was wearing them, I couldn’t help but notice how the ambient light affects the experience, so I would recommend using these in a darker room if possible.

I do think these are a great invention and quite unique, but although they weren’t overly heavy they did slip down the bridge of my nose ever so slightly, causing the very top of my screen to also slip out of view.

This led to adjusting them Erkel-style ever so often, and getting into the habit of leaning back and looking slightly upwards so that they rested squarely over my line of vision.

Next, on to the quality of video actually projected onto the iWear. I tested a music video (Thriller by Michael Jackson) that I knew would be quite dark to see how it would display colour and shading.

After a bit of adjustment with the dial it was fine, but making it too bright showed up the tiny lines across the screen and made it look as though I was actually watching Thriller on a TV from the same era – not ideal – so do not assume it will look good for all video – adjust and tweak until you get the right levels.

Next, I chose an animated film that I knew would be crystal clear and brightly coloured – Pixar’s Ratatouille. While I had no problem with Thriller‘s quality per se, I was slightly disappointed with Ratatouille in that some of the bright colours had drained in their journey onto the iWear.

I would definitely use these goggles for some video, but I might stick with the smaller screen of the iPod nano for clarity’s sake for others. Although, I thought it was great for video podcasts. It is pretty cool to be able to throw the latest podcasts onto your media player and watch them through the iWear.

This version of the iWear worked with a first-generation iPod, the third- and fourth- (latest) generation iPod nano and the latest iPod touch for me – all were no problem whatsoever, so I would assume it works with all recent and semi-recent iPod models.

Pricewise, the iWear goggles are expensive enough, but if I had the cash to spare I would definitely buy them – I can definitely imagine teens using this while lounging around their bedrooms – it might even solve the fight over what DVD to watch. You can sit side-by-side eating popcorn and having a totally different movie experience.

Price: RRP €349 (Please contact TNS Distribution for your nearest retailer – 01 8829777)

User experience: Novel, useful but not going to provide a crystal-clear movie experience

Set-up: Minimal, straightforward

Design: I couldn’t decide whether I looked cool or self-conscious

Innovation factor: The Vuzix iWear is completely different. Something to buy the gadgeteer who has everything

Verdict: Worth getting if you commute, fly frequently, are big into novel gadgets or just want a personal movie experience.

By Marie Boran

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