Eye-Trek glasses offer private video entertainment
By Peter Cohen
Outside of the PowerBook G4, one of the coolest gadgets this reporter has seen in the past while is undoubtedly the
from Olympus. It’s a peripheral you wear like a pair of eyeglasses, except it displays a video image inside. Surprisingly, the Eye-Trek is reasonably affordable, too.
If you’re already familiar with Sony’s Glasstron Personal Theater System, then you’ll be familiar with the Eye-Trek. In fact, if you’re a regular first-class passenger on overseas Japan Airlines (JAL) flights, you might already have seen these puppies in action. The glasses rest on your nose and ears just like a pair of eyeglasses, except the front is equipped with two LCD panels that display a video image. The Eye-Trek incorporates temple attachments that hold a pair of ear-bud headphones that can be removed and placed in the user’s ears.
An engineer we spoke with at Macworld Expo explained that the Eye-Trek is really most suitable for use with entertainment hardware like portable DVD players, video game systems, and other similar devices. The Eye-Trek is designed optimally to display NTSC video rather than the fine detail of computer images, but the engineer assured us that it would work if you have an S-Video equipped PowerBook. So if you’ve a PowerBook you’re hankering to play big screen-style DVDs or games on, this could be your ticket.
Olympus says that the Eye-Trek FMD-150W provides a picture equivalence of looking at a 62-inch TV from about 6 1/2 feet. It certainly fills one’s field of vision, that’s for sure. The units weigh approximately four ounces, which makes them heavier than the average pair of eyeglasses. They’re bulkier, too, so you can feel the weight on your face a bit more, and the controller unit itself adds a few more ounces. The price for all this gadgetry? About US$799.
The FMD-200 is a budget-priced model that sports a lower resolution (180,000 pixels per LCD versus 240,000 on the 150). It’s fixed at a 4:3 aspect ratio, and provides the picture equivalency of a 52-inch television screen at 6 1/2 feet. The FMD-200 lacks the 150’s surround sound capabilities, but at $499, it’s definitely more oriented for users on a budget. This bookends the price of the two Eye-Trek models against Sony’s suggested retail price for its $699
product, which offers some comparable features.
Normally an AC adapter plug powers the Eye-Trek, but if you’re on the road and you’re hankering to watch a video or play a game in the privacy of your own Eye-Trek, you can run the glasses off an optional battery as well.
As cool as these gadgets are, they are not without practical limitations. The resolution alone will give computer users pause. Consider, for example, that a lowly 640×480 computer display offers up a total of 307,200 pixels (compared with the FMD-150W’s 240,000 pixels), and you can see that even the high-end Olympus unit is relatively low-res compared with a CRT or a PowerBook LCD display. And although lightweight, the Eye-Treks are bound to cause some neck fatigue and eyestrain after a while, too, especially if you’re not used to wearing heavy glasses. Obviously, the Eye-Trek isn’t for everyone: If you have vision problems, Rapid Eye Motion Disorder, or if you’re under 16 years of age, this product definitely isn’t for you.
Olympus also says that there’s an Eye-Trek designed specifically for PC use at SVGA resolutions, as well. The unit is currently limited to distribution in Japan and carries a much higher price than the two units Olympus is now selling abroad.
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