iPod is great for video on the go, but the small screen leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to watch a movie on the train or an airplane, squinting into your hand can get old quickly.
MyVu made a big splash at Macworld Expo earlier this year with a pair of video-enabled glasses that simulate a big-screen picture on the bridge of your nose. Now these products have started to proliferate, and two pairs from other manufacturers, Estar’s EyeCinema and EMG’s $349
iTheater, are poised to take on MyVu.
To test them, I watched music videos by Death Cab for Cutie and Madonna and the TV show Lost , all of which were purchased on the iTunes Music Store. I also connected the glasses to a DVD player and fired up The Life Aquatic . How did the video-enabled glasses do? Let’s just say neither produced eye-popping results.
The iTheater glasses are lightweight at 4.2 ounces. They come with three different nosepieces (although two are identically sized) to help you find the right fit and placement for your face. The earpieces are somewhat flexible, but I found them a bit stiff, and the hard plastic temples irritated my upper ears. Situational awareness—your ability to discern what is going on around you as you wear the glasses—is almost nil. Although the manual notes that they can be worn with glasses, the actually ability to do so is questionable—I found it extremely uncomfortable and awkward, and it was not at all practical.
Equally lightweight at 4.2 ounces and well balanced, the Estar EyeCinema sits nicely on your face. A rubber nosepiece holds them snugly on the bridge of your schnozz, and the earpieces are slightly flexible to fit your head. (However, I found them a little tight.) Although they lack the degree of situational awareness that MyVu’s video glasses have, you can see around the tops and bottoms of the glasses, and it’s quite possible to walk around the house while wearing them—very carefully, that is. Overall, they provide more situational awareness than the iTheater and are more comfortable to boot. As with the iTheater, the headphones are attached to the glasses at the temples, and can be held in place with two small clips at the end of the earpiece. I could not wear them with glasses.
Watching videos from the iPod on the two units produced dramatically different results. The video on the iTheater looks much sharper than that on the Estar. The glasses also did a great job of showing video from various points on my nose, so that I didn’t have to find a “sweet spot” as I did with the Estar. I also noticed numerous video artifacts on the Estar and the video tended to flicker.
Furthermore, I found it easier to maintain focus on the iTheater glasses, which gave the illusion of watching a far-away screen, while the Estars forced me to focus more on the image directly in front of my eyes. The end result of this is that watching longer iPod-hosted videos, such as Lost episodes, on the Estar gave me eye strain from focusing, whereas the iTheater realistically simulated watching on a TV screen set up a short distance away.
Interestingly, however, the difference between the two products was much less noticeable when watching a DVD than when watching video on an iPod. The picture quality of each was uniformly crisp watching a DVD via component cables, although the video did drop frames very briefly on a few occasions with the Estars.
Just as there is no comparing the video with these two products, so too is the sound completely dissimilar—although the roles were reversed. Although the Estar had full, rich midrange, thumping bass, and distinct high notes. Meanwhile, the iTheater sounded like it was playing through a puddle. The sound on DVDs was unacceptably shrill on the iTheater, and when watching Lost episodes it was sometimes difficult to follow dialogue. The difference was most pronounced on the Madonna track, which sounded as if I were on the dance floor at a disco while wearing the Estar. Wearing the iTheater, it was more akin to standing across the street from a disco, with a pair of earmuffs on. Compared to a pair of standard iPod earbuds, the Estar sounded about the same or even slightly better, while the iTheater sounded much, much worse.
To view videos from your iPod on the iTheater, you must plug a cable that comes off of the glasses into an external adapter. Next, you plug a small cable from the adapter into your iPod’s AV port. The adapter is beyond burdensome; to call it a kluge solution would be an insult to duct tape—it’s just plain bad. Since the cable is so short, it requires that the adapter remain close to the iPod at all times, making it awkward to hold both in your hand. The adapter also must be charged up before use via a power cable that plugs into the wall.
The pair of video glasses from Estar require no adapter to work. Simply plug them into your iPod’s AV jack and (after making sure your iPod is set to TV mode) press play, and video appears on the display. It is the easiest product of its type that I’ve used, including the MyVu. To charge the Estar, you simply connect them to a supplied USB cable and attach the other end to your computer.
Both units come with cables to hook into your iPod’s AV port, and both also include a set of component video cables. The latter will allow you to connect the glasses to a DVD player, TiVo, DV camcorder, or any other video source that uses component connections. The Estar includes both male and female cables (plus a pair of audio-only cables), whereas the iTheater includes only cables with less common female connectors; depending on what kind of connection is found on your device, you may need to invest in another cable with two male connectors.
Quite frankly, neither of these products is ready for prime time just yet. Watching video on either for more than a few minutes can be tedious, and it’s difficult to imagine using them in any situation other than on an airplane or perhaps a train. However, both have gee-whiz appeal and will interest early-adopter types. In that context, the Estar’s offering is far superior. Though its video is inferior to that of the iTheater, it was acceptable, and somewhat preferable to staring at an iPod video screen for an extended time. The iTheater’s poorly designed adapter and horrible sound quality, on the other hand, were deal killers.
[ Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based free-lancer whose work has also appeared in Macworld, Salon, Time, and Wired. You can check out his
Mac and iPod weblog. ]