For the third straight CES, we sat down with Avegant, makers of the Glyph personal theater. With the Avegant Glyph just about set to start shipping to the public, what we found was a much more polished headset, about to launch in a world that may need some time to warm up to it.
Up to this point, we've been of two minds about the Avegant Glyph. On one hand, the tech is fascinating and the idea itself is an original one (though it's since inspired some copycats, which are in full bloom at CES this year). It's a seemingly innocent pair of headphones that you can slide over your eyes for a private theater experience, courtesy of a unique "Retinal Imaging Technology," which reflects light from a single LED through a series of mirrors that end up as a high-res image for your eyeballs.
On the other hand, though, we couldn't help but think how awkward it would be to wear the Glyph over our eyes in public. Putting wacky headgear on my noggin is par for the course in this line of work, but "regular" folks today may only know how to gawk at people wearing these across from them on the subway.
After this third go-round with the Avegant Glyph (second for me), though, that hesitation has shrunk some as we see the product gaining polish.
Another factor is VR. The Glyph isn't a virtual reality headset, but as VR moves closer to the mainstream this year (the Oculus Rift ships in March, with the HTC Vive coming in April), people may start to grow more comfortable with this kind of headgear, even if it starts in the privacy of their own homes. This isn't going to happen overnight – the first-gen Glyph is going to be extreme early adopter gear – but a few years from now could be a different story. Maybe.
The Avegant Glyph strikes a nice balance between immersion and awareness. This mockup we did last year gives you an idea of what you see while wearing it with the visor down:
Focus your eyes on the content and you're going to be fairly immersed. But when you need to take a sip of coffee or make sure nobody stole your carry-on bag, you simply glance down; no need to remove the headset.
I wouldn't be brave enough to wear the Glyph over my eyes on, say, a Chicago El Train or NYC subway, but I would give it a go on a flight. Avegant's Chief Marketing Officer Richard Kerris says he wears it on flights regularly, and, while it does draw its share of attention, it's largely enthusiasm. By the time his in-flight neighbor gives it a quick try, they're asking how they can get one themselves (devil's advocates will say "of course he'll say that," but we wouldn't be surprised to see wide-eyed curiosity for a product like this).
And if you're in a public environment where you don't feel comfortable wearing the Glyph, you can always just slide it back up into headphone mode. Most people will think it's a pair of Beats. Albeit one with some curious bulges on top.
There could also be some private uses, like people living in small apartments or single-room dorm rooms with roommates (though those same people may also have a hard time with its US$599, soon to be $699, price tag). And though you'll need a smartphone or tablet capable of HDMI out to use it on the go (unfortunately Samsung's 2015 flagships are excluded from that list), you can also hook it up to a game console or PC at home. If a family member is hogging your main TV and you want to, say, get some PS4 gaming in, the Glyph could be one answer.
Another use for the Glyph, an unexpected one, is drone piloting. Fire up the drone control app on an HDMI compatible phone, and you can pilot your flying robot inside your own mobile theater.
Image quality is excellent; you won't see any pixels. It's also capable of 3D and head-tracking, for content that supports either.
Questions of social acceptance aside, the Avegant Glyph looks like a smart and innovative piece of gear that we're going to continue watching closely. We've seen huge progress in the last year, as it moved from a functional, but clunky-looking prototype, into something that's much more polished and ready to ship. If you're a frequent flyer or simply wish you could have your own head-mounted theater in other environments – and are brave enough to risk making a spectacle of yourself – it looks like the best of its kind.
... and as far as those questions of social acceptance go, that's a moving target. Any conclusions we jump to now could be completely different in a year, and different yet again in another year. Today's early adopter dweeb could look completely "normal" five years from now. Or not.
The Avegant Glyph starts shipping early this year. You can pre-order it now for $599, but that will jump up to $699 in about a week.
Product page: Avegant