Avegant Glyph hands-on (2015): Fascinating tech, but prepare for stares

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Gizmag goes hands-on (for a second time) with the Avegant Glyph, which is like a head-worn private movie theater (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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Though some have described the Avegant Glyph as a virtual reality headset, we think that's way off the mark. And having demoed the Oculus Rift just a few hours before test-driving the Glyph, we can attest that the two are completely different products. Read on, for Gizmag's second pre-release look at Avegant's portable movie theater.

We got an in-depth look at the Avegant Glyph at CES 2014, but we popped in for a quick visit this year to see what's new. Apart from some tweaks to the design and some beneath-the-surface engineering tweaks (like better power management), we're largely looking at the same product. It's basically a pair of headphones (a huge pair, mind you) that you can slip over your eyes to enjoy some private entertainment.

While VR headsets like the Oculus Rift are designed to shut out the world around you, creating an illusion of being somewhere else, the Glyph lets you look above and below the visor to get a sense of what's going on around you.

On the plus side, it lets you do things like sip drinks and read text messages without taking off the headset. On the downside, it isn't nearly as immersive as the Rift, and is designed more for viewing stationary, single-pane content, like you would on any other screen.

Head-tracking is possible, and the company showed us a 360-degree photo that gave it a pseudo-VR effect. But, again, it's less like you're being teleported to a virtual world, and more like you're watching a TV that's strapped to your face. We mocked up this image to give you a better idea of what it's like:

There is, however, one big conundrum that goes along with the Glyph, and it's the same one that accompanies many other head-worn wearables: it's going to make the most sense while you're on the go (like on an airplane or public transportation), but those are the same places where it's going to draw some serious stares (even if you won't be able to see those stares).

That could change (or not) as public perceptions towards wearables evolve (or don't), but our tango with Google Glass taught us that wearables that look awkward in public are wearables that are going to have a hard time catching on. Maybe you're a person who honestly doesn't give a damn how many people are staring at you, but most of us prefer to keep a lower profile in public – and feel at least a little self-conscious when we're the topic of conversation in a public place.

... I mean, wouldn't you wonder what the hell this guy was doing?

It's possible that the headphone-like factor can help out a bit there. Perhaps someone will think you're just using your cans to shield light from your eyes, but that's a stretch. These are much bulkier than standard headphones, and are inevitably going to scream to anyone in sight that you're an early adopter trying out some wacky new gear.

Of course you could also use the Avegant Glyph in the privacy of your own home, but that's also where you likely have multiple TVs, a PC or two, and maybe even some tablets, where you could watch the same content. VR headsets like Oculus look awkward too, but they're designed exclusively for home use – and offer an experience that none of your other screens can come close to offering.

Speaking of content, the Glyph is about as versatile as can be: you can plug it into basically any device that allows for external displays (we played a game with the Glyph connected to an iPhone 6 Plus via Lightning Digital AV adapter). Developers and content-creators don't need to do a thing to make it compatible.

Its "virtual retinal display" also looks crisp and colorful, though we did have trouble keeping all four corners perfectly focused in our field of vision – the top end got a bit blurry as the headset refused to sit perfectly on the nose. And though the seeing above and below factor keeps you aware of your environment, we found the demo room's lighting to distract a bit from the Glyph's content.

The Avegant Glyph is a fascinating piece of technology, even if it is sure to make you a conversation piece for everyone around you. It's set to ship to Kickstarter backers this Northern fall, and should ship to the public by the end of 2015. It will retail for US$600, but right now you can pre-order it for $500.

Product page: Avegant Glyph

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