To stand out from the avalanche of new technology at IFA, you need something really special -- like Sony's HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer. With a futuristic design, it's fast become an iconic image for both IFA 2011 and Sony's growing 3D ambitions. But is it actually any good?
Design and feel
While it may look like an homage to Geordi La Forge, the shape of the HMZ-T1 has been dictated by a complicated multi-lens optical block and the electronics required to mainline 3D direct to your peepers. These ingredients also contribute significantly to its weight. It's a relatively hefty 350g, although much of this weight is borne by a padded forehead rest.
The unit itself offers basic user controls which can be operated even when wearing the headset. In addition to power, there's a main menu button and +/- navigation keys. There are also sliding focal adjusters beneath each lens to fine-tune the image to suit individual eyesight.
What may not be immediately apparent is that the headset has no battery power and lacks Wi-Fi, so you're tethered to both a power supply and the source. The HMZ-T1 is sold with a mains-powered switching box. This is roughly the size of the company's SMP-N100 media player and has two HDMI inputs, allowing you to connect, for example, a Blu-ray player and a set-top box. This routes sound, vision and power via a single output direct to the headset.
The viewing experience itself is quite remarkable. We've tried a number of HUD-style devices, from inexpensive Vuzix goggles to more elaborate virtual reality headwear, and never really felt we were watching anything other than a small screen just centimeters from our eyes. The HMZ-T1 is quite different -- and much more effective. The most immediate impression is one of clarity. The twin OLED display is extremely sharp and offers high levels of contrast.
Sony says the HMZ-T1 simulates the viewing experience of a 700-inch movie theatre, as seen at a viewing distance of 20 metres. This may be over-egging it somewhat -- and the illusion is swiftly broken by the fact that you can see the floor below the headset itself. We suspect it could well be more convincing if you used the headset in a room with low or no light.
When it comes to 3D, the HMZ-T1 outperforms the company's Bravia LED TV lineup by some margin. The OLED panels have a super-fast response time of just 0.01 milliseconds, which is 100 times quicker than a conventional LED panel. And as there's one panel per eye, there's no opportunity for image overlap. Which means no irritating ghosting, or 'crosstalk' in industry parlance. Sony says that, subjectively, the resolution of the 3D Viewer is akin to 720p HD.
While the clarity of the display is a major talking point, it's worth noting that the audio quality delivered by this headset is also extremely good. The characteristic is unlike traditional headphones -- it's more open and expansive.
There may only be a single driver in each earpiece, but Sony's proprietary virtual surround processing -- dubbed 'Virtualphones technology' -- creates an effective sonic illusion. There are actually four virtual surround presets available: cinema, game, music and standard. A concert sequence by the Berliner Philharmoniker sounded dramatically wide and spacious.
We have no hesitation in hailing the HMZ-T1 as a tour de force of engineering and an innovative way to enjoy both 3D and 2D video.
There are caveats, however. If you already feel Active Shutter glasses are a bind to wear, then Sony's 3D Viewer will seem unrepentantly uncomfortable. It's also deeply immersive, so much so that it's difficult to perceive others around you. We dread to think how freaked folks will get wearing a pair late at night, watching something truly horrific like REC 2 or The Smurfs.
Sony says the HMZ-T1 will be available before the end of the year. There's no confirmed price at this time, although whispers at IFA suggest it could be in the region of £800. Whether that sounds good value or not largely depends on how keen you are to shove your head into the stalls of a virtual, micro cinema.
Edited by Nick Hide