By Todd Bernhard updated on 02/15/2017
I had the opportunity to try iWear Video Headphones ($299.99) from Vuzix and it gave me a glimpse into the future. First, you need to understand that there are two types of VR viewers trying to take over your reality. Google's Cardboard model lets you slip your smartphone into a contraption with a pair of lenses and often a head strap, so you can view 3D content tailored for each eye. This approach is low cost, typically $20 to $40.
The other approach, favored by Facebook's Oculus Rift, is a sophisticated piece of hardware that doesn't rely on a smartphone to be placed in front of your eyes. Instead, those pricier VR devices have integrated displays with separate images for each eye and often include audio via earbuds or headphones. Some of these devices require that you remain tethered to a stationary device like a personal computer or Sony Playstation. These contraptions can cost up to $1000 or more.
Then, somewhere in between those models, there is the iWear from Vuzix. At $399.99 it's priced at the low-end tier of that higher-end style of Virtual Reality goggles. The iWear works with any HDMI source, including desktop computers, laptops, Blu-Ray devices, or even portable devices like a smartphone with HDMI output. I used the iWear with my iPhone SE and Apple's Digital Video adapter. Of course you will need access to VR content, which could take the form of 3D movies or VR apps, which are plentiful on the App Store.
While many VR apps assume the smartphone is integrated in the headset, Cardboard-style, the iWear does not operate this way. But it does support head tracking, with certain apps, primarily for Windows PCs. Otherwise, with iOS VR apps, when you turn your head left or right, the view doesn't change. You could hold your smartphone in front of you and move it as you move your head, to achieve the desired effect.
The iWear is extremely well built and offers sleek styling. There are comfortable pads all around, and it even accommodated my prescription glasses, which many competitors do not. The iWear features quality optics and the padded earcups deliver high-end sound while keeping out background noise. That is important because you want to suspend disbelief when you are experiencing a virtual reality. By comparison, a lot of VR goggle skimp on audio and only include earbuds, which cannot do as good a job canceling out background noise.
You can use the iWear to watch 2D or 3D movies in a virtual big screen, which could be fun on an airplane. They claim it's equivalent to watching a home theater’s 125-inch screen viewed at 10 feet, which seems reasonable (that's comparable to my setup in the bedroom.) Because the iWear can operate via battery, using a mobile device with HDMI, you can truly have portable, wireless capability without being tethered to a desktop. And if you want even longer battery life, the USB plug can be inserted in a battery pack for indefinite use.
- Well-built with sleek styling
- Quality optics with high-end sound
- Watch 3D movies in a virtual big screen
- Wireless capability
- Integrated HDMI and USB cable
- Expensive compared to phone-based VR headsets
- Doesn't integrate movement tracking
The iWear from Vuzix does a good job bridging the divide between compact Google Cardboard style Virtual Reality and the expensive, stationary VR offerings from competitors. And it's a great way to watch 3D movies!