Wearables

Hands-on with the intriguing Avegant Glyph headworn personal theater

Hands-on with the intriguing A...
The Avegant Glyph is a pair of headphones – with benefits
The Avegant Glyph is a pair of headphones – with benefits
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You can twist the Glyph's lenses to adjust for different levels of eyesight
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You can twist the Glyph's lenses to adjust for different levels of eyesight
Many will just assume the Glyph is a (somewhat large) pair of headphones
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Many will just assume the Glyph is a (somewhat large) pair of headphones
The Avegant Glyph is a pair of headphones – with benefits
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The Avegant Glyph is a pair of headphones – with benefits
The product itself is exciting, but questions remain about where owners will and won't feel comfortable looking like this
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The product itself is exciting, but questions remain about where owners will and won't feel comfortable looking like this
Those sliders let you adjust the distance between lenses, to get the image lined up most comfortably
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Those sliders let you adjust the distance between lenses, to get the image lined up most comfortably
The top part gives it away a little bit, many will just assume this is another pair of cans
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The top part gives it away a little bit, many will just assume this is another pair of cans
Audio quality sounds very good
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Audio quality sounds very good
Our mockup of what it looks like to use the Avegant Glyph
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Our mockup of what it looks like to use the Avegant Glyph

For the third straight CES, we sat down with Avegant, makers of the Glyph personal theater. With the Avegant Glyph just about set to start shipping to the public, what we found was a much more polished headset, about to launch in a world that may need some time to warm up to it.

Up to this point, we've been of two minds about the Avegant Glyph. On one hand, the tech is fascinating and the idea itself is an original one (though it's since inspired some copycats, which are in full bloom at CES this year). It's a seemingly innocent pair of headphones that you can slide over your eyes for a private theater experience, courtesy of a unique "Retinal Imaging Technology," which reflects light from a single LED through a series of mirrors that end up as a high-res image for your eyeballs.

On the other hand, though, we couldn't help but think how awkward it would be to wear the Glyph over our eyes in public. Putting wacky headgear on my noggin is par for the course in this line of work, but "regular" folks today may only know how to gawk at people wearing these across from them on the subway.

After this third go-round with the Avegant Glyph (second for me), though, that hesitation has shrunk some as we see the product gaining polish.

You can twist the Glyph's lenses to adjust for different levels of eyesight
You can twist the Glyph's lenses to adjust for different levels of eyesight

Another factor is VR. The Glyph isn't a virtual reality headset, but as VR moves closer to the mainstream this year (the Oculus Rift ships in March, with the HTC Vive coming in April), people may start to grow more comfortable with this kind of headgear, even if it starts in the privacy of their own homes. This isn't going to happen overnight – the first-gen Glyph is going to be extreme early adopter gear – but a few years from now could be a different story. Maybe.

The Avegant Glyph strikes a nice balance between immersion and awareness. This mockup we did last year gives you an idea of what you see while wearing it with the visor down:

Our mockup of what it looks like to use the Avegant Glyph
Our mockup of what it looks like to use the Avegant Glyph

Focus your eyes on the content and you're going to be fairly immersed. But when you need to take a sip of coffee or make sure nobody stole your carry-on bag, you simply glance down; no need to remove the headset.

I wouldn't be brave enough to wear the Glyph over my eyes on, say, a Chicago El Train or NYC subway, but I would give it a go on a flight. Avegant's Chief Marketing Officer Richard Kerris says he wears it on flights regularly, and, while it does draw its share of attention, it's largely enthusiasm. By the time his in-flight neighbor gives it a quick try, they're asking how they can get one themselves (devil's advocates will say "of course he'll say that," but we wouldn't be surprised to see wide-eyed curiosity for a product like this).

And if you're in a public environment where you don't feel comfortable wearing the Glyph, you can always just slide it back up into headphone mode. Most people will think it's a pair of Beats. Albeit one with some curious bulges on top.

The top part gives it away a little bit, many will just assume this is another pair of cans
The top part gives it away a little bit, many will just assume this is another pair of cans

There could also be some private uses, like people living in small apartments or single-room dorm rooms with roommates (though those same people may also have a hard time with its US$599, soon to be $699, price tag). And though you'll need a smartphone or tablet capable of HDMI out to use it on the go (unfortunately Samsung's 2015 flagships are excluded from that list), you can also hook it up to a game console or PC at home. If a family member is hogging your main TV and you want to, say, get some PS4 gaming in, the Glyph could be one answer.

Another use for the Glyph, an unexpected one, is drone piloting. Fire up the drone control app on an HDMI compatible phone, and you can pilot your flying robot inside your own mobile theater.

Image quality is excellent; you won't see any pixels. It's also capable of 3D and head-tracking, for content that supports either.

Many will just assume the Glyph is a (somewhat large) pair of headphones
Many will just assume the Glyph is a (somewhat large) pair of headphones

Questions of social acceptance aside, the Avegant Glyph looks like a smart and innovative piece of gear that we're going to continue watching closely. We've seen huge progress in the last year, as it moved from a functional, but clunky-looking prototype, into something that's much more polished and ready to ship. If you're a frequent flyer or simply wish you could have your own head-mounted theater in other environments – and are brave enough to risk making a spectacle of yourself – it looks like the best of its kind.

... and as far as those questions of social acceptance go, that's a moving target. Any conclusions we jump to now could be completely different in a year, and different yet again in another year. Today's early adopter dweeb could look completely "normal" five years from now. Or not.

The Avegant Glyph starts shipping early this year. You can pre-order it now for $599, but that will jump up to $699 in about a week.

Product page: Avegant

8 comments
Daishi
Before Xbox One and PS4 launched there was some speculation that they might support multiple displays. Not everyone has room to put 2 TV's side by side for co-op play but the possibility of VR support for co-op should give them enough reason to continue improving console hardware. They do look a tad strange but it would be an interesting use case for console gaming to flip between looking at the screen or using VR based on the game.
HensleyBeuronGarlington
I love the idea and the look isn't any different from many over the ear headphones, until you pull it down over your eyes of course. This is the mobile alternative to the Rift, and Morpheus in my opinion. I think, once transparent display technology can compete with 4K OLED HDR displays, and give the transparent displays the ability to go opaque like those windows that tint under an electric charge or lack of charge, will be when this tech truly becomes mainstream. Its obvious a lot of people do not like the sci-fi look of these wearables and prefer more traditional or subversive versions, like smartwatches instead a full blown laptop that looks like the computer the predator had in the "Predator" movies. I myself like the sci-fi looks, but due to social traditions, those looks will take much longer to gain acceptance.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Needs head support net and cooling fans for ears. Great for vehicle simulators.
milliard
As I've mentioned in relation to an earlier Gizmag post everyone seems to overlook the energy saving potential of this type of unit. My 50" TV consumes 350-400W in medium power saving mode. That has to be very many times the Glyph wattage when used as an alternative screen, though I guess 3D content is a back to the TV. I would happily sit as a lone viewer with this unit and smile at the energy I'm not consuming.
Mark Salamon
I think I would definitely enjoy using a device like this as a personal Home Theater, and the Avegant web site states that the Glyph is compatible with Samsung and LG Blu-ray payers, as well as the Roku 3 media streaming device. Unfortunately, the current Glyph model is limited to a maximum resolution of 1280x720p, and at the $600-$700 asking price, I would want to see full 1920x1080p HD. Perhaps in a future Glyph model the resolution will be upgraded.
Cora
I like this - how about on my exercise bike. Sick in bed. Stuck in a wheel chair. Tiny house living. etc.
Brian M
Think this comes under the heading too little too late. Why buy something that is not full HD resolution, worse its not going to be virtual reality compatible. The very fact that you can't use it with glass is a disadvantage, and make it useless for anyone with a more complex optics prescription Perhaps if the price break was closer to $300 it might be on my buy list for FPV flying (drones!) but not at close to $700 Dead duck me thinks! (but would like to be proved wrong!)
JimPike
I backed the Kickstarter @ $499 before our CAN $ fell off a cliff. It would be a bit expensive for me now but for my purposes it's a better fit than Oculus or other VR goggles. All broadcast TV is 1080i or lower so the 720p in EACH eye is essentially the same resolution. The contrast of DLP is better than LED displays so should give a very vivid picture compared to most TVs. There is, from all reports, no screen door effect. It should be excellent for viewing 360 3d content from the VUZE camera. I appreciate the lack of total isolation especially for travel. I would also use it for FPV drone flying where it would provide a much better view than Fat Shark or similar goggles. The focus capability would allow me to take off my glasses. I'm really looking forward to receiving my Glyph in the next month or so.