October 30, 2008

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Eyeballs, meet video
Ignore Mom’s advice and sit real close

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Whatever you call them — video glasses, eyeglass monitors, the clunky but generally accepted head-mounted displays — these face-hugging devices are a fine idea with the fundamental problem of being tremendously unfashionable. Try wearing most of them at the same time as regular glasses or sunglasses and you’ll see why they’re pretty impractical to boot. Then there’s the raw stupidity of trying to watch a movie two inches in front of your face while you’re walking around in normal society. That’s not how they’re marketed, but you know people would do it.

Still, every revolutionary technology has its humble beginnings, and it depends on early adopters to take an interest and spur further development. It is in that mindset that I present to you some of the current state of the art in wearable video consumer electronics.

• Security Cameras Direct: The VGL1001 is designed to be “an excellent choice for mobile covert surveillance operations where it is impractical to take along a normal sized monitor,” according to the manufacturer. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to be seen outside your nondescript van with this on your face. It also claims a bizarre, uber-widescreen resolution of 800 x 226. Dual 0.7-inch square LCDs simulate a 30” screen at normal viewing distance, and the whole shebang uses either an AC adapter or six AA batteries. It hooks up to either RCA or S-video cables and can be had for $295 plus shipping at scdlink.com.

• i-O Display Systems: From the i-Theater at $179 to the i-glasses VIDEO 3D Pro at $1,299, i-O wants your portable and stationary business. The i-Theater, i-Theater XT and i-Theater HR connect to iPods and anything with standard AV jacks. The i-3D Video Glasses do the same for interlaced 3D video; that’s not the type you watch with red and blue glasses, so don’t expect to rent Creature from the Black Lagoon and have it work perfectly. i-Glasses VIDEO and i-Glasses VIDEO 3D Pro are aimed at serious users, like videographers and NASA. Seriously, NASA. i-glassesstore.com

• MyVu: Did I say unfashionable? MyVu will have none of that talk. Their $200 Shades model integrates sunglasses into the design, while the $200 Solo Plus and $300 Crystal offer clip-on attachments to approximate presription lenses. They come in separate iPod or standard AV models; for an extra $25 you can get both sets of cables. myvu.com

• ezGear: This company’s claim to fame is its products’ inclusion in the gift bags at this year’s Emmys. Their Web site is packed with pictures of stars (we’re talking Paula Abdul, Anthony Michael Hall and “Dallas, Aspiring Actress” here) wearing the $300 ezVision G1. It and the $400 ezVision X4 seem remarkably similar to some i-Theater products for more money. But don’t forget the celebrity buzz, man. ezgear.com.

• Vuzix: Setting aside the fact that this company’s $350 iWear AV920 is what that tool in the SkyMall catalog is sporting — you know the dude, premeditated five o’clock shadow, clashing tie and shirt stripes, spiky hair — this company holds the distinction of marketing not only video glasses, but one model made to connect to a PC. The $400 VR920 emulates a 62” screen for immersive gaming or really, really big Web surfing. Oddly, Vuzix’s site was down when I wrote this, and seems to have been down a while. Is that a portent of the future of this industry? We can only hope not.