Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer £800
24th Nov 2011 | 10:00
Is personal 3D the future? Probably not, but this headset is still amazing
Overview and features
The consumer electronics industry has long had a fascination with video headsets. They tend to make cyclical appearances, promising ever more futuristic delights.
From the early days of Virtual Reality to goggles with integrated TV screens, this sub-genre of oddball tech is nothing new. Even Sony has been here before, with its Glasstron eyeware, released in the US during the late 1990s.
But the Sony HMZ-T1 3D Head Mounted Display is rather different. It's without doubt the most elaborate personal viewer to reach the consumer market. It's a good deal more advanced than rival 2D/3D viewers from Vuzix, such as the Vuzix iWear AV310, and employs high-resolution OLED panels.
In short, this new Sony contraption actually works. But that doesn't guarantee anyone is actually going to buy it.
The Sony HMZ-T1 is a two-piece set, comprising the 3D viewer itself and an HDMI dual output switcher. A single cable links the two, delivering sound, vision and power. Any HDMI source can be connected, from a set-top box to Blu-ray player.
Distribution is limited to Sony stores. This is clearly not a mass market item, a fact that's reflected in the £800/ US$799 price tag.
Of course, if you're buying the Sony HMZ-T1 as an alternative to a super-large screen 3D TV or even a video projector system, the asking price could be construed as fairly reasonable. If you want a cinematic viewing experience but simply don't have the space to accommodate a physical display (perhaps your super-yacht just isn't big enough for a dedicated cinema cabin?) it's a compelling solution.
Sony says watching a movie with the HMZ-T1 is similar to munching popcorn in the stalls of a 750-inch cinema screen, with a viewing angle of 45 degrees. There's even a slight, subtle tilt to the OLED panels to emulate that big-screen effect.
It's not just about video though: a pair of on-ear stereo headphones is integrated into the headset shell. Volume, menu and settings controls are located on the underside of the viewer. Here you'll also find sliders beneath each eyepiece to adjust focus.
Remember, though, that the system isn't wireless and doesn't work on batteries. Consequently you're very much tethered to both your source and a power supply. The dual output switcher rather conveniently has an HDMI v1.4 pass-though so that it can sit unobtrusively in your equipment rack, routing signals to your headset when required.
As an executive toy, it's likely to be highly desirable. It's possible also that the system could bring big screen thrills to the infirm or bedridden.
Performance and verdict
There's something just a little bit unsettling about a total immersion 3D system such as the Sony HMZ-T1. With your head in a virtual cinema and a sound system that isolates you from the world around, the experience is just a little unnerving. But it says much for the quality of the 3D viewer's display that this happens.
Pictured delivered by the tiny OLED panels are wonderfully sharp and colourful. Sony equates the resolution to 720p, although we suspect this is more subjective than mathematical. That said, the illusion of a large screen is surprisingly convincing, and there's genuine hi-definition clarity to be had.
For a truly cinematic sensation, we found 2.35:1 framed Blu-rays worked best. Actually, in some ways the viewing experience is better than at the cinema. These days you're rarely allowed to watch movies in a dark theatre (probably due to health and safety rules), but within the confines of the Sony HMZ-T1, films play in perfect darkness. That means images are extremely dynamic, with deep solid blacks and dazzling peak whites.
The 3D experience offered by this headset is rather different to other display technologies. Stereoscopic images don't have to be filtered by an additional lens, be it polarising or actively shuttered. That means there's no difference in overall brightness between a regular 2D HD movie and a 3D one.
This is a transformational difference. Consequently, there's no detail lost during the Green Hornet's night-time escapades and the vivid colour palette of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is mercifully undimmed.
Even better, because the refresh rate of OLED is lightning-fast (just 0.01 milliseconds), there's no overlap between left and right image frames. Suddenly that old 3D bugbear of crosstalk double imaging has been put to bed. Even difficult 3D source material such as Monsters vs Aliens appears clean and deep.
Sony has done a similarly fine job with the HMZ-T1 personal 3D viewer's sound system. Even though the built-in headphones use conventional stereo drivers, the surround processing that feeds them is extremely effective. Sony calls the process 'virtual phones technology.'
There's a choice of four surround presets available: Cinema, Game, Music and Standard. Each offers slightly different virtual staging. We found Music to be particularly effective with live concert material.
There are caveats, though. The balance of the headset isn't a design strong point, which is unsurprising given the size of the forward-facing optical block that houses the two 0.7-inch OLED panels.
When watching a movie you really have to recline back, to make the HMZ-T1's 350g sit on your face rather than hang off your nose. And we're not sure we'd want to wear them for more than a couple of hours in one stretch.
The headset isn't particularly suitable for gaming either, unless you're completely adept at using a console controller in the dark. Unable to see exactly where our fingers and thumbs were made us even more cack-handed gamers than usual.
We also found ourselves becoming slightly paranoid the longer we wore them - a consequence of the isolating effect of the design.
While we really can't imagine head mounted 3D displays taking off in quite the same way that Walkmans did a generation ago, we rather like Sony's HMZ-T1 personal 3D viewer.
It's a bold and exciting spin on a familiar concept, and one that actually delivers on its promise of a virtual cinema experience. Its 3D performance is particularly mesmerising. If we could see our thumbs, we think they'd both be pointing upwards.