Epson Moverio BT-200 smart glasses
7th Jan 2014 | 02:44
Twice the display, half the price of Google Glass
Epson finally unveiled the successor to its Moverio BT-100 smart glasses at a pre-CES press conference, and understandably it's called the Moverio BT-200.
But somewhat contrary to Epson's message up until now, this version of the Moverio is by no means focused solely on enterprise purposes.
That is what the company was showing off in December, but with the new BT-200 comes a swathe of consumer-directed capabilities, from games to a full version of Android.
The obvious changes
There are several important physical improvements in the BT-200.
The new Moverio smart glasses project a transparent 960 x 540 resolution display (yes, it appears the resolution has been decreased from the BT-100) in front of wearers' eyes using two projectors, and are capable of projecting 3D images. Motion sensors detect the movements of your head, and Dolby Digital surround sound pumps noise into your ears.
They also have a front-facing camera with an LED indicator light, though we didn't get to test that out yet. It also has a microSDHC card slot and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support.
The touchpad controller is technically new, although it's more or less exactly what we saw Epson and APX Labs experimenting with late in 2013. They wouldn't confirm then that the touchpad would be the final input solution, but here it is.
Unfortunately that also means you're constantly tethered to a big, awkward cord when you're wearing it, so that's one down side.
As a result of having a reliable and consistent input source the BT-200 is also confirmed to be running a full version of Android. The versions available to test after Epson's CES press conference ran Android 4.0, and apps could be selected easily using the touch pad to move a cursor.
The BT-200 is also much easier on the eyes, and on the face - though it's still extremely awkward to wear it with glasses.
One thing Epson has done to alleviate that is to create a special nose piece on the BT-200 that can fold down to rest on the bridge of your nose, or - this is the interesting part - fold upward to rest on top of your glasses. This won't work for all glasses, particularly bigger, bulkier frames, but should for some.
Mixing business with pleasure
But beyond those physical changes, it's fascinating that Epson is not focusing on enterprise like it said it would be when we spoke with representatives just weeks ago. Clearly this was the plan all along, but they were determined to keep it under wraps until now.
Then, the Moverio was touted as a niche device that could be used in offices and by manual workers like delivery people and field doctors.
Those applications are still present, but now they're being mentioned in the same breath as games and entertainment.
During its presentation Epson also showed off applications that could do things like helping a mechanic tear down an engine, reading QR codes, and navigating indoor spaces.
After the press conference we tried out a game in which you move your head in 360 degrees of space to target enemies and tap the Android track pad to shoot them. It works well, though the fun of spinning in circles for extended periods of time is questionable.
But there were several other games on display as well, including one from Namco Bandai.
We also got to play around with the OS itself, and it really does appear to be a fully-featured version of Android, albeit an old one.
And as before, the display that the Moverio BT-200 projects in front of your eyes is of decent quality. It appears to be further away than it is, and if the glasses aren't on properly each 960 x 540 image appears distinct. It's jarring and a potential weakness for the device, particularly to those who wear prescription glasses.
Epson's Moverio BT-200 is certainly a unique device. With the smart glasses strapped to your face, it's easy to imagine a host of possible applications.
But there are some serious obstacles facing the BT-200, not least of which are lack of content and wearer discomfort. And the market for this type of wearable has yet to be proven, particularly if it doesn't have a "Google" logo on the box.
We'll find out either way when the Epson Moverio BT-200 launches in March 2014 for $699.99 (about £436, AU$780).