Remember several years back, when the pundits were predicting that virtual reality would take over our lives and humans would roam the earth wearing motion-capture gloves and skull-encasing helmets? No? OK, perhaps your childhood was a little different, but regardless, the predicted virtual future has thus far failed to arrive (Second Life notwithstanding).
What has arrived is the virtual display, which can be housed in a pair of snazzy video glasses to offer a screen size equivalent to a 48-inch monitor located two metres away. Such is the case with i-Vision's 922 specs, which connect to devices that have an AV output (say, a video iPod, portable DVD player, or a games console) and deliver the images direct to your eyeballs. It's not quite the cyborg-laden future the movies promised us, but it was enough to register a flicker of the needle on our Scale of Cool.
Though they provoked comparisons to Star Trek props, the 922 glasses aren't quite as sleek as the eyewear sported on the sci-fi series. The white plastic specs look like a cross between sunglasses and, with their chunky front section and square lenses, an old-school Fisher-Price ViewMaster. An earbud dangles from a curled, springy cord on each arm of the glasses -- the buds nestle into circular hollows at the ear part of the arms when not in use. A rubber nose bit cushions the bridge of your nose and allows the glasses to sit snugly, although the fit would be better if the arms were more adjustable -- the only possible position change is at the hinges where they meet the display housing.
To connect the 922s to your device of choice, you first must attach the remote, which is around the size of an iPod Nano, and houses an inbuilt rechargeable battery, volume controls and an on/off slider. The remote is plugged in with a grey cable just next to your left eye, which rather spoils the sleek effect of glasses' minimalist front section. Your AV device is then plugged into a tiny Video-In port on the remote. Every cable configuration is accounted for, with an adaptor for composite video, AC charger and car charger thrown into the mix. When everything's connected, there's a chance you'll trip over one of the cables that adorn your body like tinsel on a Christmas tree. We did once or twice.
The first test for the 922s was to see how they fared during an energetic gaming session. We connected the remote to a Nintendo Wii via the included component video adaptor, donned the specs and loaded Wii Sports. The Wii made for a particularly challenging console choice, because it uses a motion sensor to monitor gameplay. Swinging wildly at an imaginary baseball is fun when all your friends can see the results on a huge plasma TV, but when the screen is housed in a pair of glasses not dissimilar to those worn by Geordi aboard the Starship Enterprise, you look like ... well, a bit of a tool. Not that you'd notice at the time -- playing tennis or boxing with the glasses on is a surprisingly immersive experience. In fact, it's probably best to clear the immediate area of objects and people before beginning a round of Wii tennis, as you're likely to become engrossed in your own world of digital mayhem.
Using the eyewear for an extended period -- say, over 30 minutes at a time -- made us feel a little seasick. It's best to take frequent breaks to re-acquaint yourself with reality and prevent headaches.
After our wild Wii ride, it was time to test out the 922s with a different device. It's all very well looking like a Star Trek reject in the privacy of your own home, but what about using the i-Vision glasses in public? We filled a video iPod with clips and ventured out onto the crowded streets of the Sydney CBD to test how the 922s performed with a portable device in daylight. Sitting at a tram stop in direct sunlight -- and trying to ignore the bemused looks of passers-by -- we went through our video playlist, which contained music clips and a CNET.com.au video review. The display appeared very washed out, and the suddenly-visible refresh rate caused stripes to appear across the screen. We wouldn't recommend the glasses for use in daylight, as the reduction in image quality is too great.
In terms of target audience, the i-Vision video glasses sit alongside the Pyramat Sound Rocker in the novelty tech toy category. They're quirky, they'll impress dinner guests, and it's a bit of a cheap thrill to use them with a games console, especially the Wii. The main problem is that there is a limited number of situations in which they can be used. Gaming with them is fun for a while, but it is by nature a solitary experience. Part of the fun of having an Xbox 360/Wii/Playstation is the communal factor -- being able to laugh at your fellow players' triumphs and follies as they are writ large in plasma pixels for all to appreciate. Similarly, using the glasses on public transport would only work if you had a long, unbroken journey, and enjoyed the attention that comes with wearing an item from the Star Trek cast wardrobe on your melon.
The fast pace of consumer tech means gadgets are likely to be coveted, bought, used a few times and then forgotten about, which is all very well if you have the cash to spare. But despite their appeal to tech-toting eccentrics, at US$350, the i-Vision 922s will likely be too expensive a novelty for most.
The i-Vision glasses can be ordered from the 22Moo Web site.