How silly are you willing to look in order to have your own personal home theater? How much are you willing to pay?
Those are the two questions at the heart of the value proposition of the Avegant Glyph. You look very silly while you're wearing the device and, at $699, it's not an inexpensive piece of technology. But after using a review loaner headset for two weeks, I'm enthusiastic about the Glyph's chances at carving out a niche for itself.
What it does, it does very well
The Glyph isn't meant to compete with devices like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, although it's similarly priced to those two platforms. This isn't a virtual reality headset that's designed to blot out reality and replace it with a virtual world, and in many ways the fact that it doesn't do those things is one of its strongest features.
You see a screen in the middle of your field of view when you're wearing the headset, but you maintain full situational awareness and can see your environment both above and below the middle band of your vision. You're not removed from your surroundings, although by focusing on the screen you can still get lost in video content or games.
This means you'll be able to watch a movie on a flight while still ordering a drink from the flight attendant. You can wear the headset in bed while your partner watches something else on their laptop and still have a conversation. You can watch a movie on the subway without worrying about someone stealing your bags, and if someone is silently judging you for looking like a character out of Star Trek? At least you'll know.
I was surprised at how many use cases I've found already, outside of the obvious ability to watch Game of Thrones on a plane without scrubbing past the sex scenes. There's also the ability to connect the device to your phone to play games on a larger screen, or to connect it to your gaming PC and use the Glyph instead of a larger monitor during LAN parties.
You may have greeted that last bit with some skepticism, but the 720p resolution only tells half the story. You can watch the below video that explains how the Glyph gets the image to your eye, but the practical effect is that the image is almost too bright — even after cycling through the three pre-set brightness levels — and the colors are clear and crisp. The hardware delivers an image that's more than sharp enough to allow you to read and work with text without any strain on your eyes.
That sharpness and brightness, combined with the fact the hardware will accept any 720p HDMI input, means that nearly all your devices should work with the headset. So I was able to work on my MacBook using a Mini DisplayPort adaptor, and my iPhone likewise worked using an HDMI to Lightning port adaptor. The included HDMI cable means that any of my gaming consoles and gaming PC also worked, and there's no installation or fiddling required; you just plug in and you're good to go. Colors looked great and the screen was more than sharp enough to see even fine details in games or films.
This was actually one of the rare cases of PR underselling the experience. I was told to be careful of trying to view content that wasn't natively set to 720p, but in practice it just worked when I connected it to every device I tried. My laptop saw the Glyph as a 720p display and thus scaled every bit of content I attempted to watch. My phone likewise ran everything from games to media just fine. My gaming consoles had no issues with it. Outside of making sure the source device can output to HDMI, no adjustments are needed for your media; it just works.
One quick note: The headset won't fit over your glasses, but you can get a sharp image no matter your prescription by adjusting your inter-pupillary distance and then twisting the lenses to focus. There is a built-in calibration screen that makes this process simple.
But what it's like to wear?
I've shown the Glyph to multiple people, and have had differing opinions on how comfortable the device is to use. The secret, just like with any hardware that rests on your face, is to spend a good amount of time upfront making sure everything is adjusted correctly before then getting used to wearing it. The Glyph comes with your choice of four nose pieces, along with an optional strap that can take some of the weight off your nose. I didn't find the strap necessary, but the fact remains that you have a few options for fit and how you'd like to wear it.
It took me an hour or so to try each nose piece and learn how to position the hardware on my ears and nose, and you can miss a bit of resolution on the sides of the screen if it's not sitting just so. It takes a bit of time to get used to wearing it, but once you figure out how it should fit and where to rest it on your nose, it becomes a snap to put on or remove. But there is a bit of a learning process, and if it sits askew on your face you can lose a bit of clarity in the image.
I also found it stays in place very well, even when turning my head or looking up and down. You don't have to worry about it, which is important on a personal screen you're hoping to enjoy instead of fussing over once you begin to watch something.
The audio sounded fine, on par with a higher-end set of headphones. In fact you can depress the optics into the band and wear it just like any set of headphones if you don't want to watch video. The internal, rechargeable battery delivered a bit under four hours of play time and passive audio works indefinitely.
You can also view content while the device is plugged in, although being tethered to an outlet this way can be a bit awkward. The instructions say it should take around three hours to get to a full charge, and we found that to be the case.
So why do you care?
Because it's super cool, easy to use and is much more flexible than it may seem at first. There is something wonderful about relaxing flat on your back and watching a movie on a beautiful screen without having to twist around to look at your television or laptop and again, the screen is crisp enough to handle standard computing tasks without increasing the font size in order to read text.
I wrote this review while wearing the headset, in fact.
Being able to handle gaming or standard computing on a completely personal screen is also enjoyable when traveling, or when someone is using the television in the room. If you really want to try something neat, you can connect a drone and fly in first-person mode. Using your laptop or phone to deliver video content or games also means you're completely plugged in when watching a movie on a personal screen; you remain able to send and receive texts and messages, and it's a simple thing to hold your phone under the field of view or glance down to see the keyboard if you need to type.
That ease of use and flexibility are what make the Glyph such an interesting and fun product. You can do everything from play video games to edit a Google doc, and the display excels at both tasks. You don't need to mess with proprietary file formats or fussy hardware, as the HDMI connection means that all your devices are already compatible, or will be with an off-the-shelf adapter. There are no hidden "gotcha" moments here, and for a first-generation device the fit and finish is impressive.
The demo at CES wasn't a fluke; after weeks of at-home testing I'm just as enamored with the $699 device.