Out Of The Box
The headset ships with an HDMI pass-through box, and your first job is to plug this into the wall and connect your PS3/Xbox, Blu-ray player (or PC for that matter) via HDMI. The headset itself is then tethered to the box with a proprietary 3.5m cable that supplies both picture and power.
This part of the setup is pretty painless, but it also highlights two areas where future versions of the viewer can improve. Immediately apparent is the lack of portability, and that’s a shame. It’d be ideal for air travel, but short of lugging the box with you (and praying/paying for a power point), that’s not overly feasible. It’d also be great to do away with the proprietary tether: I’d love to see the headset go wireless and run on a charge.
Then it’s time to suit up. The headset is well-built and quite adjustable, and its rear head straps and forehead padding should accommodate most head sizes (that said, Angus from Lifehacker has a big noggin and said it was a little small, while Elly found it too big and had to keep it propped up with her hand to prevent it from falling forward). You’ll also need to fiddle around to get everything sitting just right and square in front of your eyes. The on-ear phones then slide down nicely over your ears to deliver virtual 5.1 surround sound.
Underside controls let you adjust the lens span. When going through the setup, you truly see the two 720p OLED screens merge into a single big screen viewing experience. You also get playback, volume and power buttons.
Video quality is great: colours pop, and being OLED, blacks are black. Try hard enough and you can still make out pixels, but that whole big screen feeling really is there. The 45-degree viewing angle also helps draw you in. This is one of the better headsets I’ve tried, and ultimately, one of the best 3D experiences also.
It’s with 3D content that the headset really shines. Sony claims that the two displays make the personal viewer crosstalk free, because the image is only merged in your head and never on a single screen. So no headaches to report, something I can’t say about some regular 3D TVs. The faux surround sound was OK, definitely directional and quite serviceable but also a little ‘hollow’ sounding at times.
So is it comfortable? Uh... not overly. The viewer only weighs 420 grams, but if you’re not lying down your neck may get a little stiff half way through a movie. At least mine did. I didn’t notice it so much when hunched over gaming. After a good hour I did tend to end up with a red mark on the bridge of my nose that looked like I’d been wearing my little brother’s glasses, or that I'd been punched in the face.
• 1280x720 (per eye) • 0.01ms refresh rate • 3.5m cable • 45°wide field of view • 2x foam covered audo earphones • 420g • Headmount: 210 x 126 x 257mm • Box: HDMI 1.4a, virtual 5.1, 600g • More: [Sony Australia]
The viewer also doesn’t completely block your peripheral vision. On the upside, this lets you glimpse down to your game controller, Blu-ray remote or box of Tim Tams — but also detracts (just a little) from the overall effect of escaping the real world around you.
Having said all that, this is one of the better headsets I’ve tried, and ultimately, one of the best 3D experiences also.
Should You Buy It?
Straight up, this is one of the most unique-looking, innovative gadgets you could have lying around your house for friends and family to drool over. It’s definitely got that wow factor. But at $900, it’ll also burn a hole in your pocket the size of a face and won’t entertain groups like a $900 big screen would.
3D gaming was my favourite use for the headset — especially Gran Turismo (side note to Sony: please seriously consider head-tracking in a future version). I'm intrigued now that the HMZ-T1 is up for pre-order, but still not quite sold. Some of that hesitation stems from price, but also because this is a first generation device. It could worth sitting round one out while we watch — with genuine interest — for a more refined successor.
Update: Check out Aussie Chris Zaharia's efforts to add head-tracking for in-game play via an IR tracker and Microsoft Kinect. Skyrim VR win!