Every day, I see commuters hunched over their iPhones and other smartphones watching videos on their devices, and it looks uncomfortable and full of compromises. Michigan-based Avegant ran a Kickstarter earlier this year to address this issue, with Glyph, a head-mounted display that’s designed to both blend into your surroundings with a headphone-style design and also offer up a big-screen experience projected onto your retinas.
You’ll still probably garner a few sidelong glances when you slide the band of your over-ear headphones down over your eyes, but it’s still a lot better than wearing a full-fledged Oculus Rift on the subway. I got to try it out for myself last night at the We Are Wearables monthly meetup in Toronto, and came away impressed with the experience of a pre-production prototype that feels surprisingly far along.
The demo consisted of Call of Duty 4 running on a PlayStation 3, connected to the Avegant Glyph. The Glyph was comfortable on the head, and features manual controls for dialing in the proper pupillary distance to produce a smooth, crisp image. Mine miraculously worked without any adjustment, so I was instantly off to the races. The opening sequence of Call of Duty 4 involves a spacewalk, so it proved perfect for looking around with the Glyph, which features essentially one-to-one head tracking. The experience of looking around was smooth, and though not fully immersive like the Oculus Rift, you can see how it would be good enough for most uses, especially those that don’t involve core gaming.
Avegant head of marketing and product development Grant Martin explained that you can also opt to use only the joypad, or combine the two methods for orientation, depending on your preference. He also noted that the idea isn’t really to compete with VR solutions, but rather to give people an option for a better screen-based entertainment experience wherever they happen to be.
I asked Martin whether, since the company’s vision includes use on commuter trains and buses, it might make users targets for thieves and pickpockets. He showed me how you retain your peripheral vision and have a clear view of your own pockets and legs when seated, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem vs. just getting engrossed in your smartphone screen.
Overall, the Glyph reminds me a lot of the type of head-mounted TV goggles made by companies like Sony and others in the 90s, but it has a form factor and display tech (which uses mirrors and no screens) that make it unique. With a $500 target price, it also manages to be not much more expensive than most decent headphones, which is a big advantage in selling to users who may still be unsure about the utility of head-mounted displays. Weight is about even with some big cans, too, surprisingly.
Glyph intends to ship later this year, and Martin says that in terms of the process of building consumer hardware, one thing they learned was that you shouldn’t aim for a production look in early pre-production prototypes. Still, the company hopes to deliver on the big promise it held with its Kickstarter campaign, and based on my experience, the tech seems well on its way to delivering on that original vision.