So you’ve invested in a video iPod, and it’s great to download television shows and rip videos and convert them to the iPod yourself. But it’s also a pain — literally — to hold your hand up a few inches from your face and watch the iPod’s display for an hour or two. The MicroOptical Corp. has developed a solution — the $269 Myvu, which debuted at Macworld Expo in San Francisco this January.
Myvu is a wearable headset that displays a video image in front of your eyes. It resembles a pair of space-age sunglasses. Inside the front of the unit is MicroOptical’s patented display system, which the company has adapted from hardware it’s developed for the military — for tank drivers and others that can benefit from seeing more information at once.
Westwood, Mass.-based The MicroOptical Corp.’s display systems are also used in medicine, for specialists who need to monitor the vital signs of their patients while remaining mobile around the operating room. Those systems cost thousands of dollars, however, while The MicroOptical Corp. has scaled Myvu — its first consumer product — to be more affordable to regular end users.
The thin height of Myvu does more than provide a striking, futuristic look to the unit — it also provides the user with “situational awareness,” according to Bruce Lampert, MicroOptical’s vice president of sales and new business development.
“The optical bridge is very thin, so you can see over and around the viewer,” he explained. “There are also windows that allow you to see through the viewer. It’s the experience we have from developing this technology for the military. Tank drivers need situational awareness.”
The image inside Myvu produces a 320-line picture that appears about a yard away from the user’s face. The ability to see over, under and through the optical bridge means that you can continue to be aware of what’s going on around you while still viewing the iPod’s video. Integrated earbuds let you hear the iPod’s audio.
An immersive headset system — something that blocks you from seeing anything but the screen — has limited use, perhaps for a gadget-happy executive on an airplane, for example.
“But when you consider that you can use Myvu on the train or the bus and on the go, then you can make it an invaluable tool like your cell phone,” said Lampert.
Designed with eye safety in mind
Myvu’s also been designed in mind for users who need corrective lenses. The MicroOptical Corp. has partnered with French ophthalmics giant Essilor International to develop the optics used in Myvu, and users who need glasses can order a prescription clip that will correct their vision.
Lampert also claims that Myvu won’t cause any excessive eye fatigue.
Lampert points out that unlike some head-mounted displays, Myvu isn’t immersive, so the user’s focal length is constantly readjusting when he looks away at objects in the distance, saving the user’s eye muscles from straining from being in one position for too long.
“Our product is the equivalent of a monitor,” he said. Lampert points to research done by cell phone maker Nokia, Harvard University, even Essilor itself, that suggests that eye fatigue is no better or worse wearing a system like Myvu than it is staring at a conventional monitor.
Beyond the iPod
Although Myvu works well with the video iPod, and the kits sold include a carrying case designed to work with the iPod, Myvu’s functionality extends beyond Apple. The device works with any product capable of outputting an NTSC or PAL video signal, so it’ll work with portable DVD players, other digital video players and more. It’s compatible with RCA composite video or S-Video connections.
The optical bridge and earbuds are connected to an interface pack that also holds three AAA batteries. The batteries last for about six hours, according to the manufacturer — or almost three times what the video iPod’s battery life is when you’re watching videos.
The battery pack connects to the iPod using a special mini-plug that attaches to the iPod’s headphone jack; the iPod’s headphone jack can carry video and stereo audio signals. The MicroOptical Corp. also provides a soft carrying case that accommodates both the battery pack and the iPod, with an attached belt loop — the case has a soft plastic screen protector and a cut-out for the click wheel and dock connector.
Looking down the road
While Myvu has been designed to work with more products than just the video iPod, The MicroOptical Corp.’s decision to debut the product at Macworld Expo is telling — Lampert says they made that decision because of Apple’s dominance in the field.
“Apple certainly wasn’t the first company to market with portable video device,” said Lampert, “but they’ve got the lion’s share of the market and they’ve set the standard for ease of use and design.”
The MicroOptical Corp. was thrilled with the reaction Macworld Expo showgoers had to their product. They brought a limited supply with them to sell at the show.
“By Friday, people were lining up right when the show started to buy them,” Lampert said. The company quickly sold out of the units they brought with them, and have been following up after the show to make sure that people get their orders.
What’s more, The MicroOptical Corp. is also working with early adopters to understand how the product is being used, so they can make improvements in future designs. While Myvu may be the company’s first consumer product, it’s bound not be the last.
The MicroOptical Corp. is still in the process of ramping up production, and expects to be getting retail sales of Myvu underway by March or April. Myvu has also gotten a lot of attention by distributors and retailers interested in carrying the product, so Lampert expects that consumers will find Myvu on store shelves before too long.
For more on iPod accessories, please visit the Accessories Product Guide.