Sony Personal 3D Viewer HMZ-T1 Review

You can’t help but think of Tron or Robocop when you see Sony’s Personal 3D viewer in action. It’s been that way since we first glimpsed the prototype at CES 2011. So now that it’s just about hit Australia, we needed to know: does, as Sony claims, wearing twin 0.7-inch OLED screens on your face really approximate watching a 750-inch cinema screen from 20m away? An immersive 3D experience awaits, but there’s always room for improvement.

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.

Using It

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.

HMZ-T1 Specs

• 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!


    I wonder what the sensation would be like lying flat on your bed in a pitch black room. More comfortable? Less periphery distraction? But perhaps a strange sense of the world being tipped?

    After using it in a fairly crowded (albeit dim) room.... It's frigging brilliant. The screen didn't appear as large as I thought it would, but still, quite a good size, and the 3D works without a hitch.

    Mannnnn, time to rob a bank.

    If sony, nintendo & microsoft were interested in head-tracking, it would have happened by now. Johnny Lee's brilliant proof of concept using the Wii was 5 years ago, and that was even before the capabilities of the Kinect were known to us all. The gaming world is crying out for head-tracking - you don't have to look too far on the internet to see that. But for some reason, the gaming companies refuse to take even the smallest steps into it.

      Head tracking wouldnt need to work the way it would with Kinect like technology. It could probably be done very well with a gyroscope. This would eliminate any need for something external to track your movement.

      Last I checked there was head-tracking included in Forza 4 when using a Kinect.

      I am not a gaming engineer from an undisclosed company - but I can tell you that the principle problem with head tracking devices is with the economic return on the feasible concept based on realised demand, not the technology or the implied market demand.
      The problem is that head tracking only works when the player/subject is stationary. In the real world, your head sits on an xy rotation axis but then your body and legs sit on another x plane. In other words when you change your head direction to look at something and want to move towards it then your body and legs have to change to face the same direction and walk towards it.
      This is impossible to simulate in a game where there is direction facing movement (like a first person shooter) because the player does not want to have to physically change body position to move in a specific direction.
      To illustrate this imagine you were sitting and playing a first person shooter and let's say you looked to the left. If you wanted to walk in that direction too then it would require some interface interaction i.e. pushing a stick forward on the controller. The problem is that the you would be physically stuck in the uncomfortable position of looking left in order to keep moving in that direction. It is also unlikely that you could look further left without repositioning your body due to the limited 90 degrees angle you can move your head left or right.
      The only way to do this would be if you are standing and can physically reposition your body each time to face where you are looking - but this would only be possible if you were standing.
      Market research shows that the vast majority of gamers want immersion, but also want as little physical effort as possible: standing playing a shooter for 4 hours can be tiring.
      The only instance where this will work effectively are racing or flying games which only require a single axis of movement in a limited arc of view, but these make up less than 10% of total games.
      Therefore there simply is not enough return differential in this smaller market segment to justify R&D investment into these technologies - remember the real return is generated by the practical usability of the hardware i.e. games!

    Want. So Much Want. I love 3d rehashes of the old ps2 games... but unfortunately the crosstalk drives me insane - even in very very small doses, it causes me headaches.

    Pretend it has an Apple logo on it. OMG!! $900 what a BARGIN!!

      spot on!!! Apple has conned so many people- I am embarrassed for them! I can truly see Sony having one of these with head tracking for the PS4- it so simple to implement and will draw the punter like flies to Bill O'Rielly. ;P~

    What if you wear glasses? Perhaps the extra space were provided for goggle-eyes like me?

      Yes, I was wondering about the glasses issue, too. Also, can you substitute the headphones for your own? I imported a pair of Sony MDR-DRS6500 home theatre headphones, which are awesome and bound to be better than the ones you get with the headset. I'd want to use them instead. Other people might want to just use their usual home theatre set up with them, so the included headphones need to be detachable or somehow swing out of the way.

        I tried this a few weeks ago at a Sony event in Sydney, and there were plenty of people trying it out with glasses on, and none of them seemed to have any issues. I tried it myself and thought it was fantastic, but I don't wear glasses.

    After reading "this is one of the better headsets I’ve tried, and ultimately, one of the best 3D experiences also." twice, I was hoping it'd be there again in the conclusion.

    That aside, could Sony set up some sort of counterweight to the rear to stop some neck issues.

    Ive had mine for about a month now and absolutely love it!! only thing is if you dont make some modifications to the head mounting you will get the worst headaches after about a half an hour as the weight distribution out of the box is fairly terrible. Easy to fix though and since I did, this has become by far my favourite gadget :-)

    Put a couple of stickers on that and Kinect would track it VERY well ;)

    the colours pop,the blacks are black, sound can be hollow... might have to see this thing before I have any idea what this is like.

    wOuld this be ok for 4 hours of non stop gaming? Would it affect your eyes?

      Longest Ive worn it for is about 3 hours, your eyes do get tired, but only about the same feeling you get after sitting in front of a computer all day in work

    It works pretty well with the Kinect and TrackIR (head tracking) if you want to create a low cost VR simulation in your room. Here's an video showing an example of it:

    Gave this a go at a Sony store, really excited to see the next one. I found the sound and picture *quality* to be really good, but the *fidelity* of the picture just tipped it into a no-buy.
    If the next one has:
    - 1080p with better dot pitch;
    - the picture controls I was told about, but didn't get to use; and
    - slightly better weight distribution,
    then it will be at the very top of my Most Wanted list. The breakout box is no problem really; the headphones are perfectly adequate; and it's not actually very heavy at all. Not that I would complain if Sony improved those too for the next model!

    Stupid question, can you disable the headphone sound and use your home theater setup for sound?

    Odd question - can you read on-screen text? I am seriously curious about having a look at this headset for using with my 360, but wasnt sure if it would be like plugging it into a CRT Tv and trying to read the on screen subtitles in games... has anyone tried this - can you comment ? thanks

    An odd and stupid question -- can one watch 2D movies and shows on this set or does it only work with 3D product? Wouldn't mind watching "Lawrence of Arabia" on this set when it is released on bluray later this year.

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