Category Archives for "Product Reviews"

We review the latest products in the Virtual Reality space. Our comparison studies will help you decide on the best gear and accessories out there. If you are in the market to buy a Virtual Reality Headset then these reviews will help you make up your mind.

January 5, 2018

Royole Moon review – the lowdown

I had the opportunity to try out the Royole Moon briefly while on my travels in the USA. But now we have been loaned the latest version for a more detailed review. To get an overall perspective on the product, we recommend that you read both reviews. This will give you the full picture.

What is the Royole Moon

The Royole Moon is a personal cinema or movie theater. You can use it to watch movies, television, videos, internet content and even a monitor for computer games. It can receive content from any device with an HDMI, USB or WiFi output and it can store 32 GB of data on the smartphone-sized box that powers it. In other words, the box does double duty as the power source and the data source.

It can also receive data via WiFi – and in fact is WiFi -ready. Indeed, when we first started using it, the first thing we did was go to settings and set it up for WiFi. It showed a list of WiFi accounts within range, we selected ours, entered the password and that was it. We were set up and ready to go.

From there we went to YouTube and proceeded to feast our eyes – and ears – on content to suit our eclectic taste. Music, comedy and live news from various sources.

But let’s break it down into elements.

Moon_White_Angle

Navigation

The Royole Moon uses touch controls for navigation. After pressing the round button on the box to switch it on the headset, you control the unit almost entirely from the right headphone with swipes or slides of the fingers on the surface. The outer rim controls the volume and the inner circle controls the rest. Slide clockwise or anticlockwise round the outer rim to make it louder or quieter respectively. Swipe left, right up and down on the inner circle of the right headphone to move between icons on the screen. To start/stop the current content, you simply single tap on the inner circle. Double tap to go back to the previous screen or operation

Also, slide (rather than swipe) your finger along the inner circle when you are in browser mode on the internet. This moves the cursor, in much the same way as you would on a trackpad. But When you have to enter data on the virtual keyboard for the browser (or the mini-keyboard for YouTube) you must use the more awkward swiping method to move one letter at a time, whether sideways, up or down.

All of this is pretty much intuitive, and I more or less figured it out without reading the instruction manual, or even the quick start guide.

Well I say intuitive, but it was not all plain sailing. Because the swiping method (as distinct from the sliding method with a cursor) is actually quite awkward and easy to get wrong. This made it rather hard to enter letters when it came to making a specific selection on YouTube.

When you have to move a cursor one step at a time and then tap once (and only once) to select a letter, it is very easy to make a mistake and enter the wrong letter. And then, having to go to the back button to delete the erroneous letter, adds to the frustration. Then if you want to select the same letter twice and tap twice without pausing, the system thinks you have selected the go-back option and takes you to the previous screen or menu level!

In fact, it is fair to say that the single most frustrating experience with the Royole Moon is trying to correct entry errors and selection choices

Now obviously, you couldn’t have an actual touch keypad because you are cocooned inside a headset. However, they could have used the cursor and the sliding method, to enable the user to home in quickly on the relevant letter on a virtual keyboard, followed by a tap to select that letter. Hopefully. Royole will change it to this method in the future.

Moon_White_Adjustments

Eyepiece diopters

Now this is one of the cleverest features of the Royole Moon. Not everyone has the same sized head. Consequently, not everyone’s eyes are spaced equally apart. The Royole Moon makes allowance for this by enabling the eye pieces to be moved to the left or right, varying the distance between the pupils from 58 – 70 mm. You just press the button-dials gently in and slide them to the right positions for your eyes. I noticed that the one on the left was slightly stiffer to the touch than the one on the right. I don’t know if this is true of every model.

Ignoring the stiffness, however, I noticed a slight problem. If I had the eyepieces pushed close together, I could see the “screen” perfectly with no visible “division” between the two eye-views, but the corners of the screen (especially the lower corners) were truncated. This probably means I had the eyepieces too close together.

However, when I pushed the eyepieces further apart, while I could then see all four corners of the screen, I could also see two faint curved lines in the middle, separating the views, suggesting that the eyepieces were now too far apart. The best way to describe this is when you try to focus on something very close to your eyes and see the sides of your nose. A slightly better analogy might be when you are looking through binoculars, but do not press the eyepiece close to your eyes.

Royole Moon-Video+Audio in one-2

This leads to another point, that the headset doesn’t feel like it is close enough to the face. This is partly because of the weight. At times it tends to feel like it is slipping and one has to tighten it around the head to keep it in place.

In addition to being movable, the eyepieces have diopter dials that can be rotated to change the focus of each eyepiece separately between -7.0 (near-sighted) and +2.0 (far-sighted). This means most people can wear the RM without glasses! (And this is very important for maintaining a tight seal to keep out the ambient environment and make sure that the experience is truly immersive.)

I found that by shutting each eye and rotating the other, I could get the settings right. I have a slight problem related to my vision that made this a little harder. My left eye is slightly “lazy” in that it takes longer to change focus. So, when tried to set the focus right for left eye it was a little trickier as the eye took longer to settle down on what I was focusing on. Once I had it approximately right, I had to spend a few more seconds fine-tuning it to get it just right – and even then, I’m not entirely sure that I did.

But as I said, that’s a problem with my eyesight. I have exactly the same problem at the optometrist, when they narrow down the left-eye lens selection to a choice of two and then ask me which is sharper. I say, “can I try the other one again… okay, now the first… okay now the second one again…” You get the picture!

Viewing experience

Apart from the above problem of the truncated corners, the viewing experience was an absolute pleasure. The Royole Corporation describes the view as a virtual 800-inch screen. However, that is only meaningful in relation to your notional distance from that screen. And Royole doesn’t say what that notional distance is to justify the 800-inch screen size. I myself cannot put a figure on it either. But it felt a bit like sitting two-thirds of the way forward in the stalls of a large cinema with a wide, curved screen – plus the added “pleasure” of being in the middle of the row and, better still, of being the only customer!

In terms of numbers, we are talking about a 110° field of view – comparable to the best VR headsets currently on the market, but soon to be eclipsed (rumor has it) by a couple of VR headsets breaking the 200° FoV barrier. We’ll see if Royole rises to the challenge.

As mentioned, in order to be able to show 3D, the Moon has separate displays for each eye. Each display has a full 1080p resolution (i.e. 1920 x 1080). The contrast range is 10,000:1, the color is 24-bit RGB and the refresh rate is 60 Hz. This is easy on the eyes.

There is a button for switching the images between 2D and 3D button. However, the device can automatically detect whether the content is 2D or 3D. If you press the button to override the system’s choice you end up feeling like Clarence the cross-eyed lion. (Readers of a certain age will know what I’m talking about.)

Moon_White_Top

Listening experience

The unit includes noise-cancelling headphones that offer very good and faithful sound reproduction. While they did not completely cancel out ambient noise, they did such a good job that within a short time there was a feeling of being completely secluded in the world of whatever content we were watching and/or listening to. And of course, adjusting the volume was dead easy, with a simple slide of the finger clockwise or counterclockwise around the outer rim of the right headphone.

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater-4

Content

There is a big range of content available for the Royole Moon. Any device with an HDMI or USB output can supply content. You can upload videos from a computer to the device. And that means you can watch DVDs and Blu-ray disks via your computer. You can even upload them onto the box and take them with you. The box stores 32 GB, so you can load it with content and take it with you on an airline flight. (The promo video actually shows a passenger putting on the headset and secluding herself from the other passengers in this way.)

And you’ve also got the internet. For that you don’t have to connect via your computer, as the device has very good WiFi. Apart from a couple of occasions when the sound went a bit wobbly, we found it to have a very good connection and to run smoothly. And this was for YouTube, which sometimes has its own bandwidth problems. Also, there are many internet sources of content, including the many TV channels that also offer internet services, especially news channels. Plus of course, that vast world of content on YouTube.

As we reported on August 16, Royole Corporation has signed a deal with Sony to supply movies for the Royole Moon via an app called Royole Lounge. But in fact, any movie that is available on a disk or as a download can be relayed to the headset or transferred to the 32GB box, via HDMI, USB or Wifi. More generally, the Royole Moon has its own operating system (Moon OS)

I tried it out with news, music, sport and even some relaxation videos with quiet music, rivers and waterfalls. It was truly relaxing and the only thing I didn’t like was having to come out of it and back into the real world!

This leads to…

Woman using Royole Moon on a plan

Physical comfort

This is a highly subjective issue. The headset is nicely padded and contoured to fit the round shape of a human head. But it feels a bit heavy and at times there is a sense that it is “pulling downwards”. In order to ensure that it doesn’t admit any ambient light, it is important to make sure that it is fitted tightly. Both the headband that covers the top of the head and the viewing part of the unit can be expanded and contracted (like better quality headphones) to accommodate different size heads.

The padding around the eyes (together with appropriate fitting adjustments) ensures that ambient light is kept out and the experience is truly immersive. However, the bulk of the padding can also create a somewhat claustrophobic feeling. I wouldn’t call it a feeling of suffocation, but my breathing was heavy in the first few minutes of putting it on. This may have been due to the after-effects of a winter cold.

At any rate, once I got used to it, I felt fine. In fact, as I mentioned above, taking it off and coming back into the real-world was also a bit of a psychological adjustment after that wonderful feeling of immersion that I got while wearing it and watching videos.

Some people have complained of feeling sweaty. I didn’t notice that, although the lenses did eventually steam up a bit. But Royole have thought of that and provided a cleaning cloth for those occasions. I only had to use the lens cloth a couple of times and it did the job fine.

Battery Life and Charging

The device charges in a couple of hours and can run for about five hours on a single charge. This is practical in most situations. Even if you were using it on a long-haul flight, you probably wouldn’t be using it continuously. And on long-haul flights, you might even be able to plug it in to recharge it.

 

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mobile Theater-1

Physical durability

This is not a heavy-duty appliance – and probably not designed to take the kind of knocks and bruises that a gaming headset might be subjected to. However, as the unit that we received for test purposes was on loan, we couldn’t really test its durability. It felt like it could get through normal, everyday usage unscathed.

But a device like this is not always subject to “normal” usage. It is intended to be used not only at home but also “on the road” and for airline trips. In those conditions, it’s bound to take a few knocks. And because it is not really a rugged item, that could be a problem. Royole thoughtfully provides a soft bag for carrying the headset and control box. But I would have preferred a harder case for transit and travel.

But even a hard case couldn’t protect it from the hard knocks that it might take within the home environment. Let’s face it, it will sometimes be used as a pacifier for children and teenagers. As such, one would expect it to get some rough treatment over its normal lifespan.

But it’s not clear if it even could be ruggedized. To so, it would inevitably lose one of its most compelling features…

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mob

Aesthetics and design

The Royole Moon is one of the most beautifully designed products I have ever seen. When we first unboxed it, we noted that it had the kind of design features we might have expected form a product by Apple. I also noted that it looks like the kind of thing that could have been a prop in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is little more we can – or need to – say on this subject, as the pictures speak for themselves.

A young woman wearing the Royole Moon on an airline flight

Value for money

This is a rather difficult question, because there is no getting away from one painful fact: the Royole Moon is expensive.

At $799.00 in the USA and £718.60 in the UK, it is a high price to pay for what is admittedly a wonderful viewing experience. Unlike an expensive, widescreen, high definition television that can be viewed by the whole family at the same time, this headset can only be viewed by one person at a time. Even the benefits of 3D are to a large extent outweighed by the fact that once again (as in the fifties and thirties) 3D hasn’t really caught on. This may be due to the dizzying effects of active viewing glasses or the fact that we only really perceive 3D up to a distance of about 50 feet anyway. Sweeping panoramic views and long shots are not really enhanced by stereoscopic vision. High resolution, contrast and a high refresh rate are far more important.

But that is perhaps a point in the Royole Moon’s favour. It has all these qualities and 3D. Indeed, maybe as more products like this arrive on the market, there will be yet another resurgence of 3D and maybe this time it will catch on. But at this stage, that is pure speculation.

So, I suppose the question should be: would you buy the Royole Moon if you had the money? I don’t mean scraping the money together and forgoing other pleasures. I mean if you were a man or woman of means, and could afford the best, would this be on your shopping list? As I am not a man of means, perhaps I am not the best man to answer this question. I appreciate the beauty of a Rolls Royce, but would I instead buy a  Lamborghini? Or a Tesla? In fact a Tesla is probably the closest analogy, because – like Tesla cars – the Royole Moon is on the cutting edge of technology and its appeal is based on advanced functionality, not snob-appeal. For this reason, my gut feeling is that if you’re the kind of person who can afford the latest “boy’s toys”, this would be on your list of must have items.

I know that I’d buy it!

December 6, 2017

Best VR Cameras for 2018

Samsung Gear 350

In this multi-product review, we review some of the best 360-degree, panoramic VR cameras available in 2018.

FUNBOT 360 Degree Camera VR Panoramic Camera

The Funbot is at the lower price range for 360 degree panoramic cameras. With a 210° fisheye lens, it’s quite impressive, considering that it shoots full HD (1080p) video at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. It also shoots 4MP spherical images.

There are three video modes, in fact: panoramic, flat and VR. Video can be uploaded to VR headset for a true 3D effect. It also has the option of timer shooting.

Funbot VR Camera

Funbot VR Camera

Battery life is good. The makers say “up to” 1.5 hours. We found it in the region of 75 minutes. The battery is 1400 mAh. But the device doesn’t come with a memory card. You have to buy one as well obviously. The good news is that it supports up to 128 GB (Micro SD Type 6 or higher).

It is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems and has built-in WiFi and sharing using SNS. It also features a noise-cancelling microphone. On the front, in addition to the camera is a shutter button and light for the shutter, WiFi, photo and video - so you know the state of play at all times.

The camera can be mounted onto a selfie stick via a ¼ inch screw hole. Connectivity is achieved through a Mini HDMI or Wifi, while charging is done through a micro USB. It comes with a charger and carry case.

By any standards, this is a good piece of kit. At these prices, it is excellent value for money.

Samsung Gear 360

Samsung Gear 350

Samsung Gear 350

Although designed for use with the Samsung Gear, this 360 degree video camera is compatible with iOS. It shoots 4K 360° video. Content can be live-streamed with Gear 360  and can be converted to standard video or photo format (five different viewing modes).

The kit comes with a Type C USB cable, strap, pouch, quick start guide and of course the camera itself. Battery capacity is 1160 mAh. As mentioned above, it is compatible with Android 5 or higher and iOS 10.0 or later. It works with a variety of memory cards.

The video and audio quality are good, and it is easy to use, a very shallow and short learning curve. It can even be used for night-time photography, using the time-lapse feature.

RICHOH THETA V 360 Degree Spherical Camera

Ricoh Theta

Ricoh Theta

This 360° camera has similar specs to the Samsung Gear 360: e.g. 4K and live streaming. It also has both bluetooth and wireless LAN communication. Equipped with Three axis gyro sensors and three axis acceleration sensors, it can track its position on motion with ease. It also has "360°spatial audio" for greater audio realism.

Those familiar with the THETA S, will notice a marked improvement in the specs. Transfer speed is 2½ times faster for video and 3.2 times faster for still images.

Several things make this product stand out from the crowd somewhat. One is a remote playback function. Another is the 12-megapixel resolution. A third is its ability to record images in low lighting conditions. Another is the fact that the lenses are close together, ensuring that the “dead zone” is kept small. It’s ability to sense its own motion and orientation is another strength. And when using the time-lapse facility, it takes a picture every four seconds instead of the more usual seven. It comes with a carry case

The battery is charged by USB and can handle high-amp as well as low-amp connections without overheating. On the down side, it can only record for 25 minutes and you can’t add an SD card. Also, it has no image stabilization, dispute having gyro and motion sensors. At this price it really ought to.

Insta360 Nano Compact Mini Panoramic Camera

Insta 360 panorama

Insta 360 panorama

This 360 VR camera has one-touch sharing and live-streaming. There’s no need for separate export or manual stitching of images. The whole process is automatic

It is compatible with iPhone 6 up and clips neatly onto your iPhone (connecting via the lightning connector) to turn it into a 360-degree VR camera. When it is running the Insta 360 App while attached to the iPhone it shows you a preview of the live image and gives you total control of settings and modes.

However, it doesn’t have to be connected to the iPhone. It can be used as a standalone camera. When used in standalone mode, everything is controlled by a single button. A single press of the button switches it on. Pressing again (after two seconds) takes a still photo. If you want to record a video you press twice in rapid succession. And to stop the video recording, you just press again. Finally, if you want to take a picture with a 10 second timer, you press the button three times without pausing in between.

The resolution is impressive: 3040 x 1520 both for still images and for video at 30 fps. It has a MicroSD expansion slot that can take up to a 64GB memory card.

 

In this multi-product review, we review some of the best 360-degree, panoramic VR cameras available in 2018.

FUNBOT 360 Degree Camera VR Panoramic Camera

The Funbot is at the lower price range for 360 degree panoramic cameras. With a 210° fisheye lens, it’s quite impressive, considering that it shoots full HD (1080p) video at 30 fps and 720p at 60 fps. It also shoots 4MP spherical images.

There are three video modes, in fact: panoramic, flat and VR. Video can be uploaded to VR headset for a true 3D effect. It also has the option of timer shooting.

Battery life is good. The makers say “up to” 1.5 hours. We found it in the region of 75 minutes. The battery is 1400 mAh. But the device doesn’t come with a memory card. You have to buy one as well obviously. The good news is that it supports up to 128 GB (Micro SD Type 6 or higher).

It is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems and has built-in WiFi and sharing using SNS. It also features a noise-cancelling microphone. On the front, in addition to the camera is a shutter button and light for the shutter, WiFi, photo and video – so you know the state of play at all times.

The camera can be mounted onto a selfie stick via a ¼ inch screw hole. Connectivity is achieved through a Mini HDMI or Wifi, while charging is done through a micro USB. It comes with a charger and carry case.

By any standards, this is a good piece of kit. At these prices, it is excellent value for money.

 

Samsung Gear 360 

Although designed for use with the Samsung Gear, this 360 degree video camera is compatible with iOS. It shoots 4K 360° video. Content can be live-streamed with Gear 360  and can be converted to standard video or photo format (five different viewing modes).

The kit comes with a Type C USB cable, strap, pouch, quick start guide and of course the camera itself. Battery capacity is 1160 mAh. As mentioned above, it is compatible with Android 5 or higher and iOS 10.0 or later. It works with a variety of memory cards.

The video and audio quality are good, and it is easy to use, a very shallow and short learning curve. It can even be used for night-time photography, using the time-lapse feature.

 

RICOH THETA V 360 Degree Spherical Camera

This 360° camera has similar specs to the Samsung Gear 360: e.g. 4K and live streaming. It also has both bluetooth and wireless LAN communication. Equipped with Three axis gyro sensors and three axis acceleration sensors, it can track its position on motion with ease. It also has “360°spatial audio” for greater audio realism.

Those familiar with the THETA S, will notice a marked improvement in the specs. Transfer speed is 2½ times faster for video and 3.2 times faster for still images.

Several things make this product stand out from the crowd somewhat. One is a remote playback function. Another is the 12-megapixel resolution. A third is its ability to record images in low lighting conditions. Another is the fact that the lenses are close together, ensuring that the “dead zone” is kept small. It’s ability to sense its own motion and orientation is another strength. And when using the time-lapse facility, it takes a picture every four seconds instead of the more usual seven. It comes with a carry case

The battery is charged by USB and can handle high-amp as well as low-amp connections without overheating. On the down side, it can only record for 25 minutes and you can’t add an SD card. Also, it has no image stabilization, dispute having gyro and motion sensors. At this price it really ought to.

 

Insta360 Nano Compact Mini Panoramic Camera

This 360 VR camera has one-touch sharing and live-streaming. There’s no need for separate export or manual stitching of images. The whole process is automatic

It is compatible with iPhone 6 up and clips neatly onto your iPhone (connecting via the lightning connector) to turn it into a 360-degree VR camera. When it is running the Insta 360 App while attached to the iPhone it shows you a preview of the live image and gives you total control of settings and modes.

However, it doesn’t have to be connected to the iPhone. It can be used as a standalone camera. When used in standalone mode, everything is controlled by a single button. A single press of the button switches it on. Pressing again (after two seconds) takes a still photo. If you want to record a video you press twice in rapid succession. And to stop the video recording, you just press again. Finally, if you want to take a picture with a 10 second timer, you press the button three times without pausing in between.

The resolution is impressive: 3040 x 1520 both for still images and for video at 30 fps. It has a MicroSD expansion slot that can take up to a 64GB memory card.

 

December 6, 2017

Royole Moon 3D Virtual Mobile Theatre

A young woman wearing the Royole Moon on an airline flight

Although this product is a video viewing headset and not a VR headset (that is to say, it does not have any head-tracking), we have reviewed other such products before – notably the Avegant Glyph. The manufacturers themselves call this product a 3D Mobile Theatre. And that’s exactly what it is. But an extremely good one!

We have in fact given some advance information about the Royole Moon, on August 16 and August 31. Now, as Christmas approaches, we would like to give you our impressions of it. First of all, what we said in our multi-product review about the Sony PlayStationVR resembling something out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is even more true of the Royole Moon.

Royole 3D Moon Virtual Mob

The stylish design is not only pleasing to the eye, but also highly functional. It folds up with the viewing section over the user’s head. This is similar to the Avegant Glyph, except that the Glyph doesn’t have a separate headband. When you wear the glyph as an audio headset, the viewer doubles as the headband. When you use the Glyph as a viewer, there is no overhead band.

With the Royole Moon, the headband and viewer are separate – and we prefer this. It means that you can easily push the viewer up over your head when you need to interact with the real world, or you can pull it down and it covers your eyes and cut yourself off from the world, when you want to immerse yourself in the content of the video. All in all, we just have to say, that when it comes to design aesthetics, the Royole Moon sets the bar extremely high. Competitors – both old and new – will have to put in a lot of effort to catch up.

It comes in a custom-made box, with a controller box, various custom-branded adapter cables and a carrying bag. The control box has inputs micro-HDMI, micro-USB, the headset itself and a power cable. The adapter cables enable you to connect full-size USB and HDMI to their micro siblings.

The headset itself is a highly sophisticated affair. In addition to a 2D/3D switch button above the eye display, it also has a volume control around the right ear. This is a capacitation touch control – meaning you just slide your finger round the ring in one direction or the other and it gets louder or quieter. You can also tap the middle part of the right ear to start, stop or pause what you are watching.

As the Royole Moon is designed to be work without glasses, it has to make provision for user vision issues. It does this with diopter adjusters for each eye which can be varied from -7 to +2. This is a good enough range to cover most users. If you press the eyepieces you can move them to accommodate different distances between the eyes (58mm – 70mm), but the scope of this feature was just slightly more limited than we felt it ought to be. Maybe that’s just because this reviewer is a bit of a Big ‘ead (in more ways than one), but we would have preferred a larger range.

Moon_White_Adjustments

When it comes to content, the device can be connected to any HDMI source. It also has its own basic operating system, with some neat features including its own browser. It also WiFi and Bluetooth connection. And it has 32GB of internal storage, so you can actually upload content. This is very useful if you are going on, say, an airplane journey and want to use it as a standalone system.

The fact that the device has no headset tracking does not mean it cannot be used for gaming. Like other video headsets, it can be used with game-controllers. You just don’t get that added dimension that head-tracking offers. But then again, this probably matters only to hardcore gamers.

Royole Moon_2

The video quality is excellent, although a very slight second to the Avegant Glyph, if not better. Each eye sees a 1920 x 1080 image. The refresh rate is 60Hz. That is less than the 90Hz that is par for the course in true VR game-oriented headsets. But it is perfectly fine for video,  matching US television and exceeding the 50Hz of British TV. Furthermore, while the video sharpness falls very slightly short of the Glyph, the overall immersive experience is much better, free of the light leakage that plagues the Glyph.

This immersive experience is further enhanced by the audio quality, which beats the competition any day of the week. The Royole Moon has built-in, over the ear headphones with active noise cancelling. The sound quality is superlative in all area of the audio spectrum: high, low and mid-range.

In the portability department it again comes second to the Glyph, both because of its larger size and the need to carry the additional control box (albeit a box that is about the size of a mobile phone). However, this is to some extent offset by the Royole Moon’s storage capacity (or that of its control box), which means you don’t have to carry a second device storing your movies or other content.

Another advantage of the Royale Moon is that it is extremely comfortable for a device of its size. This was quite surprising, considering that it probably looks somewhat suffocating. But looks and feel are two different things and this device is actually more comfortable than the Glyph.

Woman using Royole Moon on a plan

On the other hand, it is somewhat more expensive than the Glyph and this might count against it, depending on how price conscious you are. One thing you can be sure of is that notwithstanding the Glyph’s unique video technology, it is the Royole Moon that is the most advanced product in terms of its overall use of technology. It is excellent for discreet viewing and it gives you a wonderful feeling of privacy in a public place.

OUR VERDICT: The best video viewing headset on the market – but it comes at a steep price.

PLEASE NOTE: At the time of writing, the Royole Moon is not yet available in the UK.

 

December 4, 2017

HTC about to offer TPCast wireless adapter for the Vive – available for pre-order

Vive with TPCast RX receiver

One of the problems with all the high-end VR headsets is that they don’t merely need the processing power of a high-spec computer, they have to be tethered to the computer. Whether it was concerns over latency or just plain bad forward planning, the purveyors of VR thought we’d be happy running around and flying our arms, while tethered to a machine.

Just try spinning round to shoot an enemy who’s creeping up behind you, to realize how awkward (and stupid) that is! Can you imagine if soldiers on the battlefield had a rope running off the back of their head tethering them to their field HQ? That wouldn’t make for a very mobile war would it? If anything, it would turn them into sitting ducks for the enemy to pick off at will. That’s assuming they managed to avoid tripping over the cables like they were booby-traps and landmines!

TPcast receiver

But in the case of the HTC Vive, that’s all about to change, thanks to the TPCast adapter. The adapter – or rather this iteration of it – has been specially designed for the HTC Vive will be available in the Unites States and Canada from 24 November. However, it is already available for pre-order.

Instead of using a so-called “cable management system” to suspend your cables and wires to the ceiling – which merely changes the risk from tripping to strangulation – you can now have the signals sent from the computer to the headset via a wireless system connected to the computer and a wireless receive attached to the headset.

It has been available in China since December 2016 and was available for pre-order in europe since September of this year. But now it is available in North America.

The kit consists of an HMD receiver that is mounted on top of the headset, where the cables plug in, a powerbox that user’s put in their pocket (this powers both the RX receiver and the Vive itself), and a PC Transmitter that plugs into the PCs HDMI port. (Note: the PC Transmitter must also be connected to an electrical outlet for power.)

However, while that deals with transmitting the audio and visual information, the player’s movement and positional information also needs to be transmitted to the headset. This is done by a pre-configured wireless router that is also included in the kit. Simply connect an Ethernet cable from a LAN port on your current router to the WAN port on TPCast’s router, and then connect the parent PC via Ethernet to a LAN port on the TPCast router. The PC must then be configured to automatically obtain an IP address and DNS server address from the TPCast router. It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. Not for a serious games enthusiast anyway!

This delivers 2K resolution with a latency of 2 milliseconds. This ensures smooth image rendering and position tracking, without frame dropping.

And free of the constraints of the cables, the player will have additional freedom of movement without any cost in smoothness of the viewing experience!

The powerbox lasts 5-6 hours. The one downside is that it takes 9-12 hours to fully recharge!

October 12, 2017

The 5 Best Augmented Reality Glasses for Christmas 2018

Smart glasses

The big rush to release all sorts of products - and even mere announcements - in the field of Augmented Reality - can only mean one thing: Christmas is fast approaching. All the big companies, and many of the little ones, want to stake their claims to a share of this rich and fertile market. The trouble is, not many of them actually have a product.

A little backpedaling is necessary here. Many years ago - decades in fact - there was a headset that consisted of a small display that sat a couple of inches from one-eye and created a virtual image of a screen in front of one eye. The screen was monochrome (red specifically) and the image was produced by red LEDs that scanned up and down very rapidly. The product was never really a success, whether because of the price or because it was monochrome.

But now as augmented reality slowly but steadily hits the market, it looks like a case of plus ce change, plus la meme chose. Accordingly, in this review and comparison, we take a look at some of the new crop of augmented reality products and offer our recommendations.

The AR Glasses

Vufine+

1_Vufine+ - 1

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the Vufine+ is a wearable display that connects to your glasses, or the plain glass pair that comes with the display, if you don’t wear glasses. It creates a 720p virtual screen 4 inches across, about 12 inches from your eye, either in your principal line of sight or just below it. Okay, 4 inches might seem small, but it is no different to all but the biggest mobile phone displays and at about the same distance or less.

It can be connected via a micro-to full HDMI cable to a smartphone, computer, camera or drone. The unit is basically a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) projector that projects the image onto your eye. It has three degrees of freedom: up-down, tilt, left-right.

The unit comes with a magnetic docking station, so that it can be attached to the glasses when needed and put in your pocket when you don’t, without having to remove the glasses or fiddle with them extensively. It also comes with a standard (non-magnetic) docking station and a carrying case. Best of all, it comes in both left-handed and right handed configurations (or rather left eye and right eye) and is available in the US and Britain. And because we are coming up to Christmas, it can be gift wrapped.

There are three viewing modes: Standard (for unaltered 16:9 viewing), Fit (for 33% increased landscape viewing in 4:3) and Zoom (for 77% increased portrait viewing in 4:3). The stated runtime from the internal battery is 90 minutes, which we found to be about right. We would have hoped for longer as it is a small device, but that of course also limits the room for batteries. However, while the makers claim that the resolution is clear enough for both video and text, we found that it fell considerably short in the text department. It is just too small and at this resolution can’t be read.

While it can in theory attach to any glasses, if the glasses frame is light (or loose fitting) it can pull down on one side, so you might have to use a counterweight. You can also purchase a separate hat or head mount, if you prefer this to mounting the unit on glasses.

In practical usage, this unit is extremely versatile. You can use it as an alternative smartphone screen to protect your privacy when viewing sensitive (or embarrassing) content. You can use it as an alternative screen for close-up or macro photography, when you need to get the camera into an awkward position but are unable - or unwilling - to squeeze your head and torso into that awkward position.

Perhaps the most obvious and enjoyable usage is when flying a drone. Instead of merely watching the drone, you can see where what the drone’s camera sees. If you try this through a mobile phone or laptop, you face the dilemma of whether to look up at the drone or down at the screen. It is very hard to do both simultaneously. But with the Vufine+ it’s a breeze! You just look up at the drone with both eyes and see what the drone’s camera sees on the virtual display through one eye, just below your main line of sight.

You can also use it as a virtual cinema. Although it may not be fully immersive, there are times and circumstances when you need to be aware of your surroundings, but still want to enjoy a private viewing of a movie. This is the ideal solution. And unlike viewing the movie on your smartphone, you do not have to worry about the issue of aching arms from holding the phone out in front of you.

Another obvious use, is for working on-the-go. It is lighter than a laptop or even a tablet. Now of course, you still need to input data, whether it be on a keyboard, screen keyboard or phone. But by using the Vufine as the screen, you can keep the phone or tablet on your lap and enter data, without having to stare at the phone or tablet screen. Of course, it would be nice if you could type your input on a virtual keyboard in mid-air - and also nice if the unit was cordless - but you can’t have everything. Not yet, anyway.

Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses (Grey)

Smart glasses

Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses

Vuzix describes these Smart Glasses as “an Android-based wearable computer.” In addition to pre-installed apps, it features an integrated 5-megapixel camera (16:9 ratio) that can capture stills and 1080p video. It has Bluetooth 4.00 connectivity for pairing with other Android devices, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 1GB or RAM and 4GB of flash storage - expandable to 32GB.

The M100 does not have its own phone connection. To use it as a phone you would have to pair it with an Android phone or iPhone. However, it is packed with pretty much everything else you can think of: 

  • Integrated 3-degree of freedom head tracker (gyro, accelerometer, magnetometer),
  • 3 DOF gesture sensor (L/R, U/D, N/F)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • GPS
  • WQVGA 24-bit color display (also 16:9 and 2000 Nits brightness) This looks like a 21-inch screen at 4 meters with a 42 pixels per degree.
  • Noise cancelling microphone
  • Voice recognition
  • Ear speaker,
  • 550 mAh rechargeable internal battery (> 6 hours hands free w/o display or 2 hours hands free with display, 1-hour hands free + display + camera + high CPU loading)
  • External 3800 mAh rechargeable battery pack that attaches with an ultra-thin USB mini-B cable and increases battery life by up to 6.5 times.

These are impressive specs on paper. But how do they stack up in performance?

Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses

The answer is is that they work well once you figure them out, but getting everything to work just right can be tricky. Think of the first time you got a smart phone and had to learn how to use it. That’s how it is with this product. It’s a steep learning curve, unless you’re a natural techie. And it’s not cheap.

The real question then is how much added value you can get from a product like this? If the product was a complete standalone device, without the need for a phone, it would be great value for money. Instead it is merely a good product, for those who want to get the technology quickly, at a high price, before it goes from being the latest “must have” to a stale old “everyone has.”

Google Glasses XE V2

Google Glasses XE

Although already on its second life - and still far from all it promised to be - Google Glass is still the gorilla in the room of augmented reality. Or maybe that should be the elephant. The package contains Google Glass itself, RX Frames, mono earbuds, extra nose pads, a USB cable, charger, extra nose pads, a soft carrying case, a hard carrying case, a screwdriver and instructions.

The augmented reality display looks like a 25-inch television, eight feet away. It has a 5MP camera that can shoot stills and 720p videos. It also has an audio bone conduction transducer. This sounds ultra-modern but in fact is like the old-fashioned “bone fone” from four decades ago. It basically just produces vibrations in the bones (usually of the head) that are then conductive to the auditory nerves.

Various forms of connectivity are available, including 802.11 WiFi (2.4 GHz) 12 GB usable memory synced with Google Cloud. Battery life is about a day in normal usage, but with intensive use of battery-draining activities (like video) it can easily be a lot less. The kit includes a charger and micro-USB cable.

It is available for both Android and iOS. For Android it requires version 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher and for iOS, it requires iOS7 or higher. (iOS 7 was first used in the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.)

The problem is that it is not clear where Google Glass is going and there are not too many apps that use it.

Optinvent ORA-2 Augmented Reality Smart Glasses Developer Kit

Optinvent ORA

This is a developer’s kit rather than a final product. That means, there are limited apps and the price is high - although in practice no higher than the Vuzix. That statement actually has to be qualified. Limited apps, means limited dedicated apps. The ORA-2 is perfectly capable of running existing Android apps, just like any Android smartphone or tablet.

In terms of hardware, it comes with a powerful spec: front-facing 1080p 5 MP camera, 9-axis motion sensor (gyro inertial sensors, accelerometer and magnetometer), Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, GPS, a trackpad (mouse and swipe).

The 16.9 display has a resolution of 33 pixels per degree and the brightness level maxes out at 3000 Nits. Based on retinal projection, it has a feature called Flip-vu which offers two configurations: Augmented Reality and Glance. In the Augmented Reality configuration, the mini-projector is fully horizontal and in the path of the eye when focused on the distance through the upper part of the glasses lens. In Glance mode, the projector is 20° below the horizontal and you have to look down at it.

The overall system packs a punch in other respects too, with a dual-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex processor, built-in (noise-cancelling) microphone and ambient light sensor. The 1200 mAh battery lasts about five hours with the display of continuously. It is charged via a USB connection.

At present the product, comes with a disclaimer that it is not offered as a consumer product, but only as a development platform. This does not mean that you cannot buy it as a consumer, only that it is offered “as is” with no warranty express or implied and - perhaps more importantly - that it is not approved by the FCC or CE. Also, it can display the same content as the screen of the Android device to which it is attached, but it has no dedicated apps on the market just yet.

Moverio BT-300 Smart Glasses (AR/Developer Edition)

Moverio BT-300 Smart Glasses

Like the Optinvent above, this is a developer edition, rather than a consumer product, and priced the same too. Using a transparent si-OLED display it features binocular projection providing views for both eyes. This means that unlike most Augmented Reality headsets (but like Virtual Reality headsets) these smart glasses offer the option of side-by-side 3D viewing - albeit at lower resolution. The result is a virtual 80-inch screen at “distance” of 5 meters to a 320-inch screen at a distance of 20 meters. This is only a 23° field of view. But for AR (as distinct from VR) that is perfectly reasonable.

But first, what’s in the box?

  • Moverio BT-300 (Headset and Controller)
  • AC Adapter (100 – 240 V AC, 50/60 Hz, 0.15 A)
  • USB Cable
  • Carrying Case (semi-hard type)
  • Inner-ear Earphone with Microphone
  • 1x Shade (40%)
  • Inner Frame for Optical Lenses
  • 2x Temple Grip
  • Quick Setup Guide
  • Nose Pad (OTG type)
  • User Manual

The glasses are unquestionably light. Indeed, according to the manufacturers, they are the world’s lightest Si-OLED-powered, binocular, transparent smart glasses, weighing in at only 2.5 ounces or 69 grams. They are powered by an Intel® Atom™ x5 1.44GHz Quad Core CPU.

In many respects, this product ticks all the right boxes, with a front facing 5MP camera, head-tracking, choice of wireless connectivity, six-hour battery life, etc. The display’s 720p falls short of the 1080p, but is par for the course with most AR glasses currently. With 24-bit color and a 30Hz refresh rate, the image is very clear, even in bright, sunny conditions - a key test for augmented reality glasses.

As it is a developer kit, it is again in the position of not having many dedicated apps. But it can be used out of the box for a multiplicity of functions, including pretty much anything you can do on your Android smartphone - and of course getting a bird's-eye view when you fly a drone!

Moverio BT-300 Smart Glasses

You can wear these glasses over prescription glasses, so no problems there. They even have their own apps market from which you can download games, like Protocol Zero, and practical apps, like VR Architecture Walkthrough, a Virtual Reality Architectural Visualization app. These apps, and many others there, are free. There is even an app for drone control.

On minor drawback is the trackpad, which is rather tricky and fiddly to use. But once you get the hang of it, the inconvenience is minor.

Conclusion

While people speculate on the future of AR and ask questions like “Will Apple enter the fray with its own headset?”, “Will the Microsoft HoloLens become an affordable consumer product?”, “Will Google Glass come down in price and hit the mainstream?” and even “Will Amazon bring out an AR Kindle?” we are missing the point. AR, in some form, is already here.

Yes, it is expensive - although the Vufine+ challenges even this assumption – yes, it is a bit rough around the edges, both figuratively and literally. But it is here! There is a market for it. For those who really want it, the technology is affordable. And there is an element of choice.

You can be the owner of an AR headset this Christmas - ditto for your loves ones - if you’re ready to dip your hands into your pocket. Of course, it’s not for everyone. Some people may prefer to hold out. But there are no breakthroughs around the corner. And all products eventually wear out and need replacing. So, unless you are hoping for some big announcement in a year’s time and are willing to hold out that long, now is the time to buy a cool-looking pair of AR glasses.

September 26, 2017

5 Best Accessories for the Oculus Rift

No matter how good computer and gaming hardware is, it can always be improved with the right accessories and peripherals. This is as true of Virtual Reality headsets as any other electronic gadgetry and as true of the Oculus Rift as any of its competitors.

So in this review, we take a look at the five best accessories for the Rift, including a spare sensor, a headset stand, foam implants for the facial area, a ceiling-based cable management system and a tension clamp for attaching the sensor to a shelf or door.

As with any cross-section of useful accessories and add-ons, we have tried to give you a fair assessment of the pros and cons. There is no one, single perfect solution for any of the problems that these accessories seek to address. But we have found them to be good overall and believe that in all the examples below, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Oculus Sensor

This is a third sensor for the Oculus Rift that offers 360 degree and room-scale tracking. It requires an additional USB 2.0 port or higher, however the makers note that these features are experimental and “not all experiences may work as expected.”

It comes with a 5 meter USB extension cable (although it appears that some customers have complained of not receiving the cable with it). It is identical to the sensors bundled with the Rift, but some customers have complained that it is screwed onto the base rather too tightly and not easy to unscrew.

As an additional sensor it works well, enhancing the gaming experience as you move around. It eliminates blind spots and facilitates a larger playing area, or “room scale tracking” as it is called (sometimes shortened to room scaling).

BUENTEK VR Stand, Universal VR Headset Holder and Cable Organizer for HTC Vive, PS VR and Oculus Rift

When you have a car you want a guaranteed parking space. If you buy a guitar, you like to put it on a guitar stand when not in use. And when you have a VR headset you also also want to store it somewhere that it is safe, but easily accessible.

That’s what the product is for. It is stores the headset in a way that leaves it easily accessible to you. And it also provides space for organizing the cables. Made of ABS plastic - the same material that lego bricks are made from -  it is not exclusively for the Oculus Rift, but can - as the name implies - store any of the major VR headsets.

It arrives in pieces and must be assembled. However you will probably have to figure out how to assemble it yourself as the instructions are not clear. Once assembled, you will find that it is designed to sit on a suitable surface, like a shelf or a desktop. It cannot be wall-mounted.

The design is “cool” and stylish. But the plastic is not all that strong. It is not designed to handle rough treatment. It does however carry a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty.

As a headset stand it is quite good, but it has nowhere to put the controllers. Also, the cable management that it offers is not that great. You might find it more convenient to use it just as a headset stand and let the cables dangle at the back. This is good from another point of view because when you wrap the cables on it along with the headset, it has too much weight on the front and can even overbalance and fall.

Oculus Rift Facial Interface (Standard Version) & Foam Replacement Set

These PU foam leather foam replacement masks are designed to offer the user a comfortable alternative to the material inside the headset and also to offer better hygiene. The hygiene comes from the fact that the masks can be easily wiped down with an antibacterial wipe - or indeed a damp,soapy cloth. It is also soft and reasonable comfortable, with air holes that allow the skin to “breathe” - a concept that James Bond creator Ian Flemming exaggerated somewhat in Goldfinger.

The package consists with a solid frame to hold the foam inserts, two PU leather foam inserts themselves and a machine washable cotton cover. The hygiene element can be enhanced by using different foam replacements for different users. The machine-washable cover has the advantage of absorbing sweat, which tends to increase when using the PU leather, as compared to the default Rift headset on its own. If you sweat a lot when wearing the headset, you will be grateful for the added option of the cotton cover. Unfortunately the cotton cover doesn’t wrap around properly except near the proximity sensor, which it then activates. (That’s why it’s called a proximity sensor.)

The inserts are of different thicknesses, with the thinner already attached. This is just as well as the thinner one is a bit more comfortable than the other, which feels just a bit too big.

MIDWEC 6 Packs Cable Management for Oculus Rift Headset - Must Have Accessory

The dangling cable - with its feeling of constant tugging at the back of the head - has been the bane of VR headsets since the first hit the market. It will continue to be so until the manufacturers implement a wireless solution. This shouldn’t be too difficult in this age of Wifi and WiGig. But it seems like there may be a trade off with battery life. At any rate, VR headsets still use cables.

So what do you do when you want to move around and get the full VR gaming experience? The current solution is a cable management system, that holds the cables up by the ceiling. That’s because your feet move around on the floor. You’re more likely to trip over cables on the floor than get strangled by them on the ceiling, so hanging the cables from the ceiling is a logical solution - albeit a compromise.

This this system uses retractable cable holders that can be adjusted to the weight of the cable. The system comprises 6 hooks attached to peel-away stickers (that can be stuck to the ceiling), 6 retractable lanyards and 6 carabiners. The adhesive is strong.

The system works well, with the tension just about right to keep the cables from dangling without the feeling that it is still tugging at the back of your head. But you have to make sure that the hooks and lanyards are not placed too close together, otherwise the cable may get tangled up.

The supplier has excellent customer service and have shown themselves ready to give refunds if customers are dissatisfied. But very often it’s a case of exaggerated expectations. There is no ideal solution to the cable management problem. But this ceiling mounted system works well if used correctly.

September 22, 2017

5 Best accessories for the HTC Vive in 2018

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hardcore gamer in possession of a good VR headset must be in want of a few accessories.

However little known the views or feelings of this gamer may be on his first purchasing a Virtual Reality headset, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the purveyors of VR hardware, that he is considered as the rightful customer of some one or other of their products.

To a large extent, the reason for this is that the makers of VR headsets vary in their generosity when it comes to accessories. The Virtual Reality market is still far from mature and most of its customers are hardcore, dedicated gamers. One thing the market knows about hardcore followers of anything is that they are ready to pay top dollar to indulge their desires. That’s why tickets to major sporting events or rock concerts command a premium price. And that’s why VR and AR hardware products are so expensive.

For that same reason, the makers of such products follow a policy - at least in some cases - of not bundling those little extras that make the experience of using their products a great experience but rather let it remain merely a good one. In some cases, they develop the accessories and peripherals in-house but sell them as optional extras, knowing full-well that there is nothing “optional” about it to a hardcore gamer! In other cases, they leave the development of the accessories and peripherals to others.

As HTC tends towards the less generous end of the spectrum when it comes to the policy of bundling accessories, we have decided, in this article, to take a look at some of the best accessories available for the HTC Vive.

DELUXE AUDIO STRAP

 Deluxe Audio Strap

Deluxe Audio Strap


This audio strap, with its adjustable earphones, provides 360-degree surround sound. It has interior padding for comfort and an easy-to-use adjustment dial to ensure the right fit. This makes it very easy to switch between users. You can vary both the height and angle. The adjustment dial is also useful for taking off the headset when you’ve finished. In fact it is important to turn the dial and loosen the headset before removing it. Otherwise the act of pulling it off can loosen the screws at the back.

The cable management system with this audio strap is much better that the default version, so you no longer feel like you’ve got a pigtail that some irritating kid behind you keeps tugging. The cable path can also be altered to the side. An added benefit of the audio strap is that it facilitates better weight distribution. However, there’s still that little bugaboo of a Velcro top strap.

But the greatest strength of this accessory is of course the audio itself. Instead of the Vive’s ear buds that had a tendency to fall out - and that offered mediocre audio quality even when they stayed in - this set, with its on-ear phones, makes this deluxe audio strap the perfect accessory for a truly immersive experience.

Another good feature is that the audio strap can be used as a duplicate for the sound so that a second person can hear what the player is hearing. This is done under Settings, by selecting the “Mirror audio device” option and then selecting the device from the drop-down list.

This headset is not completely perfect. The rear section that covers the back of the head is not adjustable and may not suit every head shape. Thus, one can adjust the angle of the earphones but not the headset as a whole. Also, it is somewhat annoying to think that you still have to shell out an extra 100 for this accessory. Even after the latest price reduction, the Vive commands a high price and it’s like buying a luxury car for a goodly price only to be told that you have to pay extra if you want comfortable seats.


2 Packs Protective Frame and Silicone Protective Case for HTC VIVE Controllers MDW

2 Packs Protective Frame and Silicone Protective Case for HTC VIVE Controllers

2 Packs Protective Frame and Silicone Protective Case for HTC VIVE Controllers

Let’s face it. We all drop things from time to time - some of us more than others. (And yours truly more than most.) Furthermore, it is precisely in the heat of an action game you’re most likely to drop things. And given the nature of the activity, the thing you’re most likely to drop is of course the game controller. So a shock protector for your game controllers is really a no-brainer when you think about it - if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

This pair of shock-protectors feature all the attributes that you’d expect: shock absorption (obviously!), anti-scratch, anti-slip grip and shatterproof construction - at least in the course of normal usage. The flexible silicone protective cases slide on and off easily and the rigid protective frames screw on with a finger operated dial.

This protective arrangement reduces the risk of damage from dropping the controllers without significantly interfering with the interaction between the controllers and the sensors. I say “without significantly” because it does marginally interfere. For example, if the controllers are held very low, the sensors seem to struggle to locate them and may drift slightly. Adjusting the angle of the sensors can alleviate this problem. The problem becomes more noticeable if a controller with these protectors on moves into a spot covered by only one of the sensors. This can happen even when using the sync cable.

Another minor gripe is that the silicone protective case isn’t cut perfectly. The top part of the cutout should be just a tiny bit higher (2 mm at the most) to leave unobstructed access to the top button. It might be that one should just to push the silicone up to the top really hard, but the trouble is, even if you do, it tends to slip down slightly.

A further complaint, is that the “ears” of the trackers do extend outside the cage. This might be because the makers assume that because of the "bent" shape of the trackers, these “ears” are unlikely to come into contact with a hard surface, even if dropped. To which I say, if dropped onto a flat surface like the floor maybe. But if dropped onto, say, a desk with things on it, the shape of the frame may fail to protect them. This may seem like a petty complaint, but it is worth mentioning.

2 Packs Protective Frame and Silicone Protective Case for HTC VIVE Controllers

2 Packs Protective Frame and Silicone Protective Case for HTC VIVE Controllers


Fovitec StudioPRO - 2x 7'6" Light Stand VR Compatible Kit with Carrying Bag


Fovitec StudioPRO

Fovitec StudioPRO

These stands are basically photographers lighting stands that can also be used as stands for your HTC Vive sensors. They are 7’6” high, use a standard tripod-base support and mini-ball head mounts, giving them three degrees of freedom. The three section columns above the tripod can also be adjusted for height from 2’9” to the 7’6” maximum. And they come with a carry bag.

Whilst the Vive requires that the base stations be set at least 6” high - making the 2’9” minimum irrelevant - there is no reason why they should not be set higher. This kit allows you to set them 18 inches higher than the required minimum. And also, with this kit, you are not forced to mount the sensors on a wall. This gives you greater flexibility.

The stands are spring loaded for easy opening, however this is a liability with the Vive lighthouses as the lighthouses tend to vibrate and the vibration is then passed on to the spring where it is exacerbated and becomes noisy and disconcerting (though not in any way damaging).

Also, they are somewhat fragile. Although they can easily take the weight of the lighthouses, they can break if handled roughly. And some people can rough-handle parts like this without even realizing that they’re doing so.

Lastly the bag is not of top quality. It can early show signs of wear quite quickly. Also, it can only be hand carried. This lack of a shoulder strap can be a bit of an inconvenience.

Fovitec StudioPRO

Fovitec StudioPRO


HTC Vive Memory Foam Face Foam Replacement 6mm (Better FOV)

HTC Vive Memory

HTC Vive Memory


These foam face replacements offer a better field of view than the originals, but at the price - it has to be said - of comfort. Indeed, this is always the trade-off and one cannot shy away from acknowledging the fact.

However, aside from the FOV advantage, these replacements have other significant points in their favor. Coming, as they do, from virtual reality hygiene specialists, they are easy to clean and prevent the buildup of bacteria. The foam is made with polyurethane leather which is easy to clean with a wipe of an antibacterial cloth. This is important for users who share their headsets with others.

There are two pads, so you can swap them between users. However, you do not have to do even this. Just put in one pad and be sure to clean it between users and the problem is solved. However, it’s good to have the extra pad.

Aside from cleaning by wiping with an antibacterial cloth, you also have the option of washing it with dishwashing soap on a wet cloth. It is best to rinse it under running water after that, as wet cloths themselves sometimes harbor bacteria. Then let it air dry.

The problem is that these replacements are too wide for the headset and actually have to be bunched up somewhat to fit. This is even visible from the picture itself. This gives them a somewhat uncomfortable feel against one’s face, almost as if one is being pinched. It also undermines, somewhat, the advantage of them being thinner than the originals.

The synthetic polyurethane material also causes sweating, despite the pores on the surface. But as we said at the start of this review, it is a tradeoff between comfort and field of view - also between comfort and hygiene.

HTC Vive Memory

HTC Vive Memory

MDW VR Cable Management for HTC VIVE Virtual Reality Headset-Adhesive Drill Free

MDW VR Cable Management

MDW VR Cable Management

This is essentially a hook-and-eye based, ceiling-mounted cable management solution. And boy was that a mouthful to say. And that pretty much sums up the nature of the solution. It is quite a "dramatic" solution for the cable management problem.

At one end, you have the hooks that fit to the ceiling by adhesive pads. (This of course means that no drilling is required - the adhesive pads just stick, after you peel off the outer backing and push them into place on the ceiling.)  You then attach, to these hooks, stretchable lanyards which can stretch to 90 cm. For the benefit of the physicists among you, these lanyards are essentially springs that obey Hooke’s law (excuse the pun) of elasticity and return to their original 12 cm when the tension is removed from them.

There are a total of ten lanyards and ten hooks. This doesn’t mean you should (or need to) attach all ten to the ceiling. What it does mean is that if you require greater length, you can attach two or more lanyards together. (You don’t need the hooks to string the lanyards together because they have carabiner hooks at one end and circular eyes at the other.)

You also don’t have to worry about the ceiling hooks coming off the ceiling. The adhesive is very strong. But that means that once you have stuck them in place, they are equally hard to remove.

Having said all of the above, the system is still far from perfect. It stops you from tripping over the cable but at the price of getting tangled up in it. It avoids the feel of the cable pulling against the back of your head, but it doesn’t give you the same true freedom of movement that a cordless headset would give you.

But then again, cordless headsets are what we’re all waiting for.

MDW VR Cable Management

MDW VR Cable Management

IN SUMMARY

A good audio headset (or rather component of a headset) is pretty basic when it comes to virtual reality. It should not be subject to an extra charge. And when you’re talking about something like a VR headset - which is pretty expensive to begin with - a customer has the right to expect good earphones as part of the basic setup. Just like a car should have seats and a steering wheel as well as an engine!

That said, it could be argued that leaving the option open to attach alternative peripherals and accessories actually opens the market to third party partners who might actually make better accessories. Audio is, after, all a specialized area. And some of the major players in that area may have more experience than those in the VR field who tend to focus on the visual, for obvious reasons.

But in that case, it would be better if the VR companies were to form partnerships with the makers of audio equipment and then bundle the whole caboodle together. Even if that is reflected in the consumer price that would still be better than selling something second-rate and expecting the customer to leap through hoops trying to upgrade it. Worse still, they should certainly not make their own improved version and expect people to pay more for it. There is a case for selling different versions of a product. But at these prices, the choice should be between a good and a great version, not a mediocre and a good version.

With the other accessories, there is more of a case for leaving something on the field for others to supply the value-added products. Hence the controller protectors, the sensor stands and the face-foam replacements.

The cable management question is a bit more thorny. There is an obvious market for it. But in this age of Bluetooth, WiFi and WiGig, it ought to be unnecessary. If the headset needs a computer to feed it, the mobility requirement of gaming makes wireless a necessity. It’s something that should have been delivered already. In the meantime, as long as cables are used, we need a suitable management system for them.

All of these accessories are worth buying by HTC Vive owners. It’s just a question of how much you’re willing to pay.

June 1, 2017

BEST Virtual Reality Headsets 2018

Avegant Glyph

In this article, we review the best Virtual Reality and video headsets of 2018.

As a concept, Virtual Reality has been around for years. But as a reality, it has only recently started to make inroads into the consumer markets. Once the stuff of science fiction, it first appeared in the real world as military technology for combat or specialized, hi-tech training. And much of it was enshrouded in secrecy.

But now it is starting to penetrate the high street - and in a big way!

Whether it’s just for viewing 3D movies, getting a bird’s eye view from a drone or playing ultra-realistic games, VR and video headsets are now available to buy. And the prices are within the reach of millions of consumers. So, what then are the options? And what are the differences between them?

The key difference to understand is between true Virtual Reality (VR) and personal 3D video headsets. Both create a virtual 3D view in front of the viewer’s eyes. But true VR is designed to create the illusion of an interactive world, whether for gaming or training. A full-blown VR headset will show the view panning sideways when you turn your head and panning up or down when you raise or lower your head. In short, it will have Head Tracking. That is what makes it virtual reality: it not only recreates the world, but also mimics your presence within that world. Just as in real life, with true VR, moving your head changes your view. And the best VR headsets have low-latency: in layman’s terms, this means they respond quickly, so that there is no noticeable time-lag between you turning your head and the view in the headset panning to match the movement.

In contrast, a video headset will show the same moving (or still) image whichever way you turn your head. Of course, the headset will show you a 3D stereoscopic video image - if the movie/video/TV-show has been shot in 3D and is being broadcast or otherwise transmitted in that format. But what you see will be independent of your head movement. This applies even if you are playing a video game. You might be able to control the direction of the view with a gaming handset or joystick. But the system will not track your head. If it did, it would be virtual reality!

Another difference is that true VR will seal you off completely from the outside world. Not only will the earphones cover your ears and insulate you from ambient sound, but your eyes will see only the virtual image. No light or real-world views should leak into your world via your peripheral vision. Some non-VR movie/video headsets do this too. But not all.

Both true VR and video headsets are different from augmented reality. Put simply, Augmented reality superimposes additional views and information over your view of the real world. This can be anything from virtual monsters attacking you in your own living room, to data overlays, like street names and house numbers appearing over side streets as you drive and try to navigate. It could even be name labels popping up next to people. (Those familiar with the US TV series Person of Interest or the British modern Sherlock Holmes, with Benedict Cumberbatch, will know what we’re talking about.)

In this review, we will be looking at the best true Virtual Reality headsets and some of the best video headsets that lack head tracking but can be used for gaming.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift-6

The Oculus Rift is the fruit of a Kickstarter campaign that generated both cash for a prototype and a great deal of publicity. In the end, the publicity proved to be a bigger asset than the cash, because that publicity was skillfully leveraged to make the Rift a hot topic, long before it came onto the market.

But what is the Oculus Rift? It’s basically a headset designed to let you truly immerse yourself in the video gaming experience. It can be used for other things like watching a 3D movie or exploring a place without being there. Imagine going on a walking tour of an active volcano without getting burnt alive! Or SCUBA diving - even if you can’t swim! You can also use if for remote meetings, if that’s your bag.

The key to it all is not just the 3D stereoscopic vision, but the head tracking system. It works by monitoring the position and orientation of the headset. This is done through a series of infra-red LEDs in the headset that are tracked by two sensors on small poles. These sensors (shaped a bit like a desktop microphone) are supposed to be placed at least two meters apart. The tracking system could, in fact, work with only one sensor. But because your hand or forearm might move between the sensor and the headset, in the normal course of play, they require two sensors. We should also point out that the sensor cables are only 2.5m, although you can of course buy extensions.

Setting up the sensors requires you to run the setup wizard. But this is a simple matter of following the instructions. This arrangement goes by the somewhat pretentious name of the “Constellation Tracking System”. That said, it is quite a sophisticated system, so maybe it is worthy of such a grand name.

In the early, development version of the Oculus Rift, this system suffered from the major drawback that you couldn’t turn your back on the sensor. This was because the LEDs were only on the front of the headset and would therefore not be in the sensor’s line-of-sight when you turned one-eighty! However, this design flaw was remedied for the consumer version. There are now LEDs on the back as well as the front of the headset, so the sensor can tell which way your head is turned.

In addition to the IR transmitters and sensor, the Rift incorporates some technology that was initially developed elsewhere. The "Adjacent Reality Tracker" (developed by a former Apple software engineer) uses a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer to give the system an accurate picture of the orientation and movement of the headset. It originally sampled the position at 250 Hz. But Oculus engineers have pushed this to 1000 Hz, giving it a latency of one millisecond.

The combined power of the IR Constellation Tracking and the Adjacent Reality Tracker is quite awesome. It is this built-in redundancy that enables the system to change what you “see” according to which way you are looking or going.

Like the Avegant Glyph, when you first get your Oculus Rift, you must set it up to suit you. The headset has a dial that enables you to adjust the lenses to match your face - and more specifically, the distance between your eyes. This is important, because the Rift can be worn with glasses. Once it’s all up and running, you can indulge yourself. Whether it’s shooting the bad guys, flying an airplane or driving like a maniac.

To get the most out of the Oculus Rift, you’ll need 3 free USB3 ports on your computer. If necessary you can get a 4 port USB3 card that plugs into the PCI-E interface.

One of the strengths of the Oculus is its ergonomic design. (We are talking only about the physical feel here: the look is actually rather kludgy in our opinion.) When worn, it is well-balanced for comfort. Compared to others it is no strain to wear, not even for long periods. It has only a single cable running off it (to the left), so you don’t really feel it. The cable splits into four at the end, but by then it is well away from your face.

An Oculus Rift in its case

An Oculus Rift in its case

The earphones are integrated into the arm bands on very convenient hinges. This avoids having additional leads and cables floating around your face.

You can wear glasses with the Oculus Rift. However, we have to qualify that by saying that this applies only if the frames are smallish, otherwise they may rub against the fresnel lenses and scratch them. On the other hand, the variable fresnel lenses may in fact remove the need for glasses depending on the strength of your prescription.

In visual terms, the Oculus Rift is impressive, producing images that are sharp and clear. This is due to the combination of the fresnel lenses, the high refresh rate and the low-persistence of the AMOLED displays. All this - together with the wide 110° field of vision - adds up to give you a great sense of “presence” in the virtual world you are seeing.

The audio enhances this sense of realism. It uses some clever “surround sound” technological enhancements to make the sound seem as if it is coming from where it should be coming. Although the headphones are integrated, they are also removable so you can use them separately. It also has a high-quality built-in microphone.

One thing it does not have, unfortunately is a front camera which could have been used for additional functionality - e.g. switching over to it, to see the room, without having to take off the headset. But with an overall strong spec, and a similar price to the other strong contenders, the Oculus Rift is a useful and fun piece of kit, and it’s the leader of the pack for a reason.

OUR VERDICT: The best VR headset in the mid-price range in the market.

HTC Vive

HTC Vives

HTC Vives

The HTC Vive is the Godzilla of the Virtual Reality world - or perhaps I should say the Dragon, as HTC is a Taiwanese company.

The HTC Vive is a VR headset with head tracking that creates the most realistic virtual reality experience you could imagine. With intuitive controls, state-of-the-art head and controller tracking and an incredible collection of games, the Vive is the VR set to own if you can afford it. If is the operative word here. For the HTC Vive is not only expensive, it also requires a powerful computer spec to run. An Intel Core i5-4950K and an Nvidia GTX 970 should do nicely. If you’re part of the AMD family, then an AMD R9 390 also packs enough power.

But another thing you’ll need, to get the most of this system, is plenty of room. You may not quite have a USS Enterprise size Holodeck in your living room. So, you may have to move some furniture to create enough room to take advantage of what the HTC Vive has to offer.

The Vive creates a virtual experience with two high resolution eye screens and tracks the user’s head with 32 sensors mounted in the headset and a further 24 on each of the two controllers. These sensors pick up the light from the two base stations or “satellite lighthouses” that you must set up in the corners of the room, preferably above 6ft. This is the opposite to the Oculus Rift. Whereas the Oculus Rift send out light from their LEDs to the mounted sensors, the Vive Lighthouses send light to sensors inside the headset.

This setup gives the Vive incredible tracking accuracy and allows you great freedom of movement in playing interactive games in the virtual world that the headset creates for you. It is this freedom of movement that puts the pricier HTC Vive ahead of the competition. In fact, 2m square of free space is the absolute minimum you would need in order to use it. You could in fact set up the detectors 5m meters apart. But remember that the two detectors effectively form the opposite corners of the play area.

When your first get your Vive, you’ll need to set it up for your personal use. This involves choosing the right foam insert and nose pad for the size and shape of your face. (Note: the Vive can be worn with most glasses.) Once you’ve configured the headset for your face, you’ll need to run the setup wizard. This enables you to test the position of your sensors and map out the room. We found it very straightforward, but depending on your skill and dexterity, you might find it either easy or tricky.

The important thing is that once you’ve got it right, you should stick to your guns (excuse the pun) and not move the sensors any more. The makers have very thoughtfully provided screws, to fix the sensors permanently to the wall. Alternatively, they can be fixed to high shelves with clips.

The base stations themselves connect wirelessly and don’t need a data cable. They do, of course, have to be plugged into a power source.

Physically, the Vive is not all that comfortable. The makers have clearly made some effort with the design and the headstrap. But somehow that effort seems to fall short of the competition. Aside from the slight feeling of suffocation, one can feel the “pull” of the data cable behind the head when moving around. This does tend to make one feel self-conscious when otherwise immersed in the virtual reality world. It is almost like an anchor pulling one back into the real world, to coin a metaphor.

But on the positive side, there are some excellent features such as the haptic feedback that adds an extra layer of feeling on top of the visual (and audio) experience.

As for the video, it is - dare I say it? - a sight for sore eyes. After you’ve adjusted the image quality to suit your vision, you can enjoy a superlative 3D VR experience provided by the two 1080 x 1200 screens. The screens have a 90Hz refresh rate and provide a 110° field of view. This gives you astonishing clarity and no “tail” effect even when the action is moving fast and the image changing rapidly before your eyes. And the extremely sensitive tracking means that the Vive reacts rapidly to changes in your own position or movements of your head or for that matter actions on the controllers. Thus, while you are immersed in your virtual world, the system responds and updates at a pace that seems to mimic the real world.

But what about safety? Is there not a danger that when you are immersed in the imaginary world of virtual reality, you might stray outside the safety zone in the real one? After all, nothing could be worse than banging your knee on the coffee table while chasing after the zombie that disrespected your family! Well, it turns out the makers of the Vive have thought of this too. They have created something called “chaperone mode” that shows you a blue grid when you are getting close to the boundaries of your safe play area. That was why it was so important to go through the setup and then not move the sensors. Because if you move the sensors after completing the setup, it will mislead the system - and thus you - as to where the boundaries of the safe area are!

Perhaps the Vive’s strongest advantage is the front camera. This enables you to see what’s outside the headset, when you need to, without having to take off the headset. And in the future, it could no doubt be used to create augmented reality games.

The audio quality was once the Vive’s weakness, as the device lacked built in headphones. They now will be offering an optional audio strap. We do not yet know how good is the sound quality of the strap. But it does come at extra cost: an additional £99. We think that such a good VR headset should come with high quality audio as standard. But maybe the audio headstrap will be implemented as standard in new models. Time will tell.

Obviously, price will be a big issue for many potential customers. The king of VR headsets it may be, but the HTC Vive carries a king’s ransom as the price on its head. Many would-be customers might be more inclined to dream about it than to buy it.

OUR VERDICT: A great VR headset for those who love video games. If you are one of these - and can afford it - then buy it.

Sony PlayStation VR

Sony PlayStation VR

Sony PlayStation VR

The Playstation VR is one of the more futuristic-looking VR headsets, resembling something out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is designed to work with the Sony Playstation 4. If you have the PS4, think of this as a powerful peripheral or addition. Unlike the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, it uses only a single camera to track your head movement and it tracks only nine points on the headset - seven on the front and two on the back. That’s pretty minimalistic compared to the competition.

It can also track the lights on your controllers to track your gaming actions - whether it be the simpler Move “wand” like controller, first introduced for the PS3 or the more sophisticated DualShock 4 controller. But again, these peripherals were not designed for use with the PSVR. In practice, this means that Sony doesn’t plaster either of these controllers with lights like the Vive. (NOTE: Neither of these controllers comes as standard with the PSVR. The DualShock ships with the PS4. But some games require the Move and you would have to buy them separately.)

Despite this, the PlayStation VR achieves a creditable level of tracking accuracy as long as you stay within the small area that the camera is actually able to track. That area is about 2m x 3m. This is fine if you are sitting down - or even standing up as you might before a television or video screen. However as soon as you start moving around, the camera finds it very easy to lose track of you. Even changing between sitting and standing can confuse the camera and seriously interrupt your gaming experience.

In terms of appearance, the combination of black and white, distinguishes this headset from the models in solid black or grey. It’s that combination that gives it the 2001: A Space Odyssey quality that we referred to earlier.

And the PlayStation VR is certainly comfortable to wear. Unlike some of its competitors, the VR doesn’t have a strap that goes over the head. Instead, a single strap going around the head, with rubber padding at the back, comfortably gripping your head, without making you feel like you’re in a torture chamber. Indeed, it puts less pressure on your forehead and the bridge of the nose than those headsets that have an overhead strap to take the weight.

You can also adjust the visor forward and backwards. Then there is a rubber flap around the visor to help keep out ambient light. However, this design is not completely successful at isolating the user from the outside world. The “weak” point is the area around the nose. And this is even if you’re not wearing glasses. If you are - and Sony claim that you can with this headset - the effect is even worse.

Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about this and it was a real problem, as we couldn’t get a feeling of true isolation while using the device. Until Sony moves away from what amounts to a one-size-fits-all model and starts throwing in a choice of nose and facial inserts, the problem is likely to persist.

Another, equally serious drawback is that the PlayStation VR is not wireless. Instead it has a lead that connects to a separate Processor Unit for the VR. The Processor Unit in turn connects to the PlayStation. It is the Processor Unit that contains both and on/off switch and a volume control for the system’s sound.

Turning to the visuals, the PSVR has a single 5.7 inch OLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye) refreshing at either 90 Hz or 120 Hz. This resolution can handle 1080p games, but falls short of the Vive or Rift, both of which have one screen for each eye - each offering a 2160 x 1200 resolution. For this product, Sony claims that the latency is about 18 milliseconds, which is good enough to avoid noticeable time-lag. The use of one screen to deliver images to both eyes, however, limits the field of view somewhat. The VR has a 100° field of vision, compared to 110° for both HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.

Having said that, the images are crisp and sharp - although by no means out of this world.

It has to be said, also, that head tracking with the PlayStation VR fell short of its two major competitors. This was not a case of losing by a country mile. More like coming in third by a nose or a short head, to borrow a horse-racing term. This might be due to the fact that it is a one camera system, tracking a smaller number of sensors. But it was the accuracy and precision of the tracking that fell short, not the speed or latency. More noticeable, maybe, was the fact that at times the PSVR lost track of the controllers altogether.

One good point is that the VR also supports the even more powerful PS4 Pro, which should have around 45 games by the end of the year. The main advantage of the Pro is in its visual detail, but this only comes into play if the game developer has enabled Pro Mode to let the Pro “know” to make the extra computational power available. However, even when the game has Pro Mode activated, the results are barely noticeable - especially when you’re absorbed in the action of the game itself. The other side of the coin is that you’re not losing anything by sticking with the standard PS4.

As with the Vive in its earlier incarnations, audio is a bit of an orphan child with the PlayStation VR. The system comes with a pair of cheap earbuds, like many mobile phones. But this is a sort “just to get you started” solution. No one really wants to use such a cheap solution when they’re trying to immerse themselves in the alternative reality of a VR video game. The good news is that the Processor Unit also has an input jack into which you can connect any headphones - including high end ones costing more than the VR itself!

The price of the PSVR is favorable compared to the HTC Vive or even the Oculus Rift. But there’s a catch - or rather several. First of all, you obviously need the PS4 itself. You may already have one, but if you’re doing a proper price comparison then that’s one of the things you’ll have to factor in. Secondly, you’ll need the PlayStation Camera. That too does not come with the PSVR. Neither do the Move controllers that some games require.

3-VR NEWSFEED June 8 2017 - Sony sells one million VR headsets - Sony PlayStation VR-3

Sony sells one million VR headsets Sony PlayStation VR

However, if you already own these peripherals, as well as a PS4, then that certainly tips the scales in favor of the PSVR over its more expensive rivals - though not decisively so. Also, if space is at a premium, then this product has certain advantages. Conversely if you have more space than 2m x 3m - and want to make use of it for your gaming experience - then this is not the product for you.

It is also important to note that one of the great strengths of this product is the “stable” from which it comes. Sony is a major games developer, so they are in pole position when it comes to actually churning out the games that exploit this product to the full. Sony came up with some new titles for the PlayStation VR in 2017, making 2018 a great year to buy the product, if you don't have it already. Whether high speed chases are your bag or monsters or aviation, Sony has something for you in the games department.

Having said that, many of the current crop of games made little or no effort at achieving a realistic look. But this doesn’t reflect badly on the PlayStation VR itself. It is inevitable that in due course, the games will catch up with the hardware. But this hardware will also have to improve to catch up with the competition.

Another thing about the Processor Unit that we mentioned earlier is that is also provides another feature called Social Screen TV. This shows a 2D version of the player’s field of vision on a TV screen attached to the unit. This means that your friends can not only watch you play, but also watch what you’re seeing. So, when you shoot, they’ll see what you’re shooting at. When you bank sharply to turn the aircraft, your friends will not only see your frantic efforts, but also the mountain that you were about to crash into.

The Processor Unit also provides for cinematic mode, which allows you to watch movies and video in 2D, inside the unit - still in 2D, but like having a private cinema (see the Avegant Glyph above). It will also let you watch 3D Blu-ray discs.

OUR VERDICT: A good VR product for those who are already part of the PlayStation ecosystem, or those for whom space is limited.

Vuzix iWear

Vuzix iWear

Vuzix iWear

Like the Avegant Glyph, the Vuzix iWear is a 3D video viewing device that can also be used for gaming. It does not have external positional tracking. That would seem to mark this device out as a video viewer rather than a true VR device. In that capacity, it is in fact probably one of the more senior members of that tribe.

However, that is not the whole story. We must qualify the lack of external positional tracking by pointing out that it does have internal head tracking in the form of a 3-axis gyro, 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis magnetic sensor. This is similar to the Adjacent Reality Tracker that the Oculus Rift uses to supplement its Constellation Tracking System. And we found this internal head-tracking to work very well.

The iWear was developed by a company that has worked for the military, so these guys know their stuff. And the fact that 30% of the stock was acquired by Intel shows that the big boys believe in their work - of which the iWear is just one small part.

The iWear is a light product - not to mention compared to the Vive and Rift! But it is not as light, we hasten to add, as the Avegant Glyph. It has large built-in headphones, but their size does not seem to undermine the general (comparative) lightness of the product. The head support seems to most closely resemble the PlayStation VR. In general, the whole look is quite stylish.

Like the Avegant Glyph, this headset is not totally immersive. There is a certain amount of light leakage. Not as much as with the minimalistic size of the Glyph, but it is still noticeable. However, the main thing that stands out on this device is the ease with which settings can be controlled directly from the headset itself. The setup process is very straightforward. This of course is true, in some degree, of all the video viewer devices, as opposed to their VR cousins.

Sadly, in terms of video, the iWear is a bit disappointing. The display only has a 55o field of view - half that of the Avegant Glyph, although the resolution is 720p, equaling the Glyph (at the purely statistical level). The color contrast also, isn’t all that sharp and we couldn’t get the balance just right. The image still looks good: just not state-of-the-art.

The audio was considerably better than the image, utilizing noise-cancelling earphones. It would almost seem churlish to complain about the barely audible buzz when no sound is being produced. But this is probably due to the noise cancelling technology. With no buzz when sound is being generated and clear sound across all the ranges, we were more than happy with the audio.

Vuzix iWear

Vuzix iWear

The battery was claimed to last 2 to 3 hours for watching video or playing games. We can confirm this, although obviously that’s a broad window and a comparatively short time for someone who’s into gaming or watching a series. But the device can run while hooked up to an external power source. It can also be used for pure audio, lasting three to four times as long. Again, it varies.

One good thing about the iWear is that because it relies solely on internal sensors to track the head movement, you can hook it up to a portable device and play games while you’re in transit. Whether your fellow passengers of that cramped aircraft will appreciate such activity is, of course, another matter!

The problem with the iWear as a gaming platform - or as movie viewer for that matter - is that the field of vision can’t match the competition. At 55o it’s just too little. It’s still 3D, but 3D on a virtual screen falling short of a truly immersive experience.

However, we’re not putting the iWear down by any means. It is still a commendable personal movie theater. And it has less light leakage than the Avegant Glyph. On a plane or train (or even as a passenger in a private car, if you want to be anti-social) the iWear allows you to watch a movie while the road or rails or sky go by. And if you live in a household where the choice of TV program is a source of strife, the iWear is the perfect solution. If you can afford one for each person, then arguments about what to watch and how loud to set the volume could become a thing of the past.

As a games platform, it can’t match the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. But having said that, the price is now low enough for it to qualify as a low-end competitor. Based on the pedigree of the developers we expect more and better in the future.

OUR VERDICT: Good for the price

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset

The Osmose is a less well-known player on the VR circuit. Not being up there with the big boys, in terms of market capitalization, can make one feel like a minnow swimming with the sharks. But the Osmose does a creditable job at competing.

Using a single 5.5 inch screen with 2560 x 1440 resolution, focused by two 38mm, anti-UV, anti-glare PMMA lenses, it gives the user a clear, sharp picture. Like the Vuzix iWear, it uses internal technology (gyro, accelerometer and magnetometer) to track the headset. Offering the usual array of USB and HDMI connectivity, it runs on a 1.8 GHz processor and has a powerful Mali-T764 graphics processor and 2GB of DDR3 RAM. So, a strong spec behind it, delivering a solid, lag-free viewer experience. It also has a facial proximity sensor.

On the comfort side, we could wear it for a few hours without it feeling heavy. But to look at, it suffers from the same drawbacks as many other VR headsets - including the Oculus Rift. And that drawback is the kludgy design aesthetic.

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset

Osmose Virtual Reality Headset

As a new, and lower-priced, competitor in the field, the Osmose clearly has a market. But it is a crowded market in which operate, and one dominated by a few big names. Osmose is based in Hong Kong, but do their manufacturing in the neighboring Shenzhen, the big city in China’s Guangdong Province. This is essentially the manufacturing capital of the world, so they are at least well-placed to take on the world.

They are being careful not to take on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive in a David and Goliath contest, but rather to focus on their core strength of making a product that is not tied to external sensors. They do not have the resources to develop primary new technology, so they focus instead on getting the maximum value out of the existing technology, whilst poised to take advantage of any new developments that come along. Judging by the product, it looks like a sound strategy.

OUR VERDICT: A serious contender in the low-price end of the spectrum. If you’re looking to buy a less pricey VR headset, this is the one to go for. And if you’re a market observer, this is a company to watch.

Stoga Tfad VGR004

Stoga Tfad

Just as the Osmose VR is a small competitor in a big field of VR headsets, the Stoga Tfad fills a similar vacancy in the video viewer market. Alas, we cannot sing its praises, even in that limited area.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, Stoga Tfad has an appealing futuristic look. And the manufacturers have thoughtfully provided nice display box which means they are conscious of the need to start off on the right foot. However, once we went from the presentation to the performance, our expectations were somewhat flustered.

But let’s back up a little. The box contains a standard USB-micro-USB cable, just like most mobile phones, another USB cable (solely for charging), a USB adapter and UK plug as well as the glasses themselves and a rubber eyepiece.

The glasses themselves have a kind of Star Trek Next Generation appearance. On the whole, it looked pretty sturdy for its small size. However, the earpieces that hang down from the sides could be the first point of failure.

The Tfad has 4GB of flash memory built in. To utilize it - and effectively use the headset - you just plug it into a computer via the USB and drag-and-drop the relevant video, audio or other files. You can also load files via a micro SD (up to 32 GB) which can be used both as a file transfer mechanism and a means of expanding the memory.

The Tfad can handle video in Real Media (RM/FLV) format, as well as AVI and the ubiquitous MPEG. However, it can only play low-resolution video, below 432 x 240. This is a really old format by modern standards. Worse still, it cannot convert higher resolution formats to something it will play. You would have to convert them yourself and then play them. And to compound the problem, the display is in 4:3 format. It’s like you’re looking at an old-fashioned television screen. The fact that you have it in front of your eyes doesn’t really help. You still feel as if you’re far away from the screen, looking at a late twentieth century TV, albeit in an otherwise dark, cinema like environment.

In the audio department, it is somewhat better. It plays MP3, WAV, FLAC and APE formats. The sound quality, it has to be said, is good - far out-pacing the video quality.

It can also display photos in JPEG, BMP and GIF formats It can even display the written word in the txt format. But it cannot handle ePub, mobi, pdf, azw (Amazon Kindle). So for reading books, it is not really practical. Also, the resolution is so low one wouldn’t really want to try using this as an eBook reader.

Aside from the sound and the external aesthetics, the most praiseworthy feature of this device is the ease with which you can get started. Just take it out of the box, fit the rubber eyepiece put the glasses on and switch on to start. You can control everything with the various navigation buttons.

That said, it’s hard to see who would use this product. It seems very much like yesterday’s technology. There are better products out there and although the price is low, it is hard to see why anyone would prefer this to sliding a smart phone into a plastic VR box.

OUR VERDICT: A novelty item, maybe a harmless distraction for bored kids

Avegant Glyph

This is a high-end video viewing headset with multiple uses. Not only can you use it for watching movies and videos, but also for playing games. You can even connect up a drone camera with a live feed and have a fantastic 3D bird’s-eye view.

But the main use of the Avegant Glyph is as a personal 3D theater and to a lesser extent a gaming platform. It has a mini-HDMI input and connects to any device with an HDMI output. For some additional connectivity, it is possible to buy an adapter separately. It does not, however, have head tracking. For that reason, we classify it as a video headset rather than a VR headset.

But there is one major difference between the Glyph and its rivals both in video viewing and VR. Most video and VR headsets use either Liquid Crystals or Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) in the display. The Avegant Glyph also uses LEDs, but it uses them to project light onto over two million micro-mirrors that then reflect the light onto the retina of the viewer. The result is an image that is remarkably clear, even though its resolution is only 720p rather than the 1080p of most of their competitors. It actually beats the competition, proving that raw resolution stats are not the only thing that matters!

When the Glyph arrives (in a stylish case) you have to set it up for first use. And this is no mean feat. In addition to removing the magnetic lens protectors, you must also take off the sticker over the nose support. This seems to have been put there to remind people in case they are inclined to disregard manufacturer’s instructions in their enthusiasm and haste!

The nose support itself isn’t actually in place yet. Instead, Apart, from the sticker, there is a “blanking plate” that also has to be removed. Then you choose one of four nose supports (depending on your nose size) and insert it. This sets up the device at the physical level for you to wear. But you’re not quite home yet.

Now you have to switch on the device (switch located behind the left ear) and calibrate it visually. Because the Avegant Glyph is meant to be work without glasses, you need to set up each of the eye turrets so that the image is in focus for your eyes. This might seem like a major inconvenience, but you only have to do it once - unless other people are going to be wearing your Glyph. This is unlikely, as once you’ve tried it, you probably won’t want anyone else to get their hands on it!

Setting up the optical alignment means not just the physical position of the eye turrets but also the focus. (Unless you wear very strong prescription eyeglasses, the focus settings should be within the range of your vision.) When you switch on, the first thing you see is an incredibly sharp alignment image. Because of the depth and sharpness of the image, it can take time to get the settings just right. But once you’ve done that and set it up for future usage, you’ll be amazed at the results.

As mentioned above, the Glyph connects via HDMI. In the case of the iPhone it can be connected via a Lightning-to-HDMI connector. One drawback to the Glyph is that it doesn’t have Bluetooth, WiFI or any other kind of wireless connectivity for video. This may change for future editions. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a personal device and if you connect it to a mobile phone in your pocket, the lack of wireless is at worst only a minor inconvenience. Also, there is Bluetooth for the audio when using the Glyph as an audio headset. But setting it up was tricky.

The manufacturers claim the battery lasts up to four hours, but that “up to” is important. It varies according to usage. In our experience, it was about three hours and a bit, give or take. But we were putting the device through its paces. It may be that, in normal usage, the four hours is realistic. In any case, you can use the Glyph while it is charging or even run it directly through the charger, which uses a USB connection.

On the pure comfort level, the Glyph does better as a video headset than an audio one. When you change the angle that it sits at, so that the band with the lenses is over your head, you actually feel the lens covers on your skull. You can push them in, as they are recessed, but you still feel their presence. That said, however, the sound quality is amazing. Clear and sharp, we could almost recommend this as a high-end audio headset, but for that small problem with the physical comfort. The earphones are also extremely good at cutting out ambient sound.

However, it is as a video system that the Glyph really comes into its own. It’s like watching a home cinema or a widescreen 3D TV only a few feet away. But it’s a very sharp and bright screen! And on the subject of brightness, there are in fact three discrete brightness settings. But even the lowest of these is bright enough. In fact, when you take off the Glyph, it takes a few seconds to half a minute for your eyes to adjust to the normal light in the room. The 720p resolution might sound like it’s going to be a handicap in today’s 1080p or even 4K world. But in fact, it doesn’t put the device at a disadvantage compared to the higher spec competition. We were mightily impressed by the quality of the image.

Unfortunately, you are not completely cocooned in your own world when you are using the Glyph. You can still see out the top and bottom. Whether this is acceptable or not is a matter of preference. On an airplane, it can actually be an advantage. You can watch a movie in private but still drink your coffee or interact with a flight attendant walking by. It is also useful when you’re out in the park, flying a drone, when you need to look down at the controller. (This applies only to peripheral visuals, however. External sound is virtually impossible to hear, with the headset on.)

The price is in the same ball-park as the competition, but when you take the quality into account, it’s more than justified - despite the drawbacks we’ve noted.

OUR VERDICT: An excellent video headset, well worth the money.

DISCLOSURE: An Avegant Glyph was provided free for review purposes, but no conditions were attached