Alison K. Lanier
The age-old problem of awkward eye contact on a packed commuter train, early in the morning or at the end of a dusty tired day, may have finally been resolved. The folks at Avegant, a Michigan-based company, catapulted their vision into a prototype via Kickstarter and are on their way to making peace and quiet possible even in the bustle of a crowded commuter train or a wobbly city bus. Or anywhere, for that matter, that you can sit comfortably.
A Portable, Private Cinema
The Avegant Glyph is a device that is nestled around the user’s head in the form of noise-cancelling headphones and a wrap-around visual display. It looks something like an overlarge Cyclops—à la X-Men—visor attached to large, cushioned headphones.
Miraculously, the tool does not look quite as strange as it sounds. In publicity photos and on the product homepage, the design looks as glossy and cool as an Apple device. With images of the Glyph in action accompanying one Tech Crunch article, the cheery users smile broadly underneath the headset, amazed at their video game that only they can see and hear.
The function of this odd little mechanism is fairly straightforward. Instead of bending with craned neck and tensed shoulders over individual eye-straining iPhone screens or flipping through a popular novel, the visor allows for an individual cinematic experience. Users can watch their favorite television show or rip through a new video game in the privacy of their personal Glyph.
Games Made Personal
The experience of using the little device for gaming, is, improbably, fantastic. Darrell Etherington, a test user—and the author of the popular Tech Crunch article—could only rave about the experience of entering into the video game via his X-Men machine.
“The opening sequence of ‘Call of Duty 4’ involves a spacewalk,” Etherington wrote, “so it proved perfect for looking around with the Glyph, which features essentially one-to-one head tracking. The experience of looking around was smooth, and though not fully immersive like the Oculus Rift, you can see how it would be good enough for most uses, especially those that don’t involve core gaming.”
The object of the tool, Grant Martin, Avegant’s head of marketing and product development, said is to provide the user with the cinema/gaming experience typical of the privacy of their living rooms, without the inconvenience of being at home already.
Rallying Popular Enthusiasm
A January Kickstarter campaign propelled the project forward, with the mantra “See is Unbelieving,” the promise blazoned across the sleek black-and-neon-blue product homepage.
The “Pre-Order” button appears in bright, cheery blue right on the homepage. For $499, the commuter can order the Glyph to arrive in the first quarter of 2015, according to MacRumors. The average eye-contact-fearing commuter can now look forward to replacing their tiny smartphone screen or slow-moving novel with the bigger, better, and brighter tool of anywhere, anytime entertainment.
The Avegant’s Glyph headset Kickstarter campaign wrapped up in February with a round $1.5 million. The product is still in the alpha phase of development, according to MacRumours, with beta versions shipping to Kickstarter contributors later this year. MacRumours also reviewed the little headset’s underwater view of a floating jellyfish saying, “The image seemed much clearer than traditional 3-D images, though the display itself felt a bit small. According to the company, the device is designed to emulate an 80-inch screen approximately 8 feet away with a 45 degree field of view.”
The Nitty Gritty
This nifty tech’s homepage details a myriad of almost too-good-to-be-true details. Weighing only 16 ounces, the Glyph’s battery might last only three hours video runtime, but it boasts an iPhone-snubbing 48-hour battery for audio. With active and passive noise-cancelling headphones, a display with a 120 Hz refresh rate, a micro-USB charge, a built-in microphone, and an HDMI connection, the compact little gadget seems to promise a neatly packed-up vessel in its forthcoming beta rendition. “ONE CORD + ALL MEDIA,” says one of the minimalist info-graphics on the product homepage. And it even comes in color, albeit limited to blue, white, or black.
The truly innovative aspect of the Glyph, though, is how it lets users see. Says the Verge, “Part Google Glass, part Oculus Rift—part Beats by Dre, it’s that display that makes Glyph matter.” The website draws the comparison that “It’s like watching an 80-inch TV, except the picture you’re seeing isn’t on an LCD screen—it’s being projected directly into your eyes.”
While Oculus Rift and Google Glass give you screens, pictures to look at, according to the Verge, the Glyph’s Virtual Retina Display does not need a screen. Rather, the image is projected directly onto the viewer’s retina, allowing you to see “naturally,” just as you would processing sensory data from the real world. As Edward Tang of Avegant said, “You can see 3-D. And you don’t get nauseous or get headaches around the normal world.”
Innovative, exciting, and the realization of many failed 1990s wearable televisions, the Glyph may not be cheap, but it is one of the coolest, most exciting steps in wearable tech that’s doing something that just looks plain fun.
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