Avegant’s Glyph Headset Is a Movie Theater for Your Face
When I put on the Glyph, the $699 headphones-meets-face-computer headset Avegant’s been working on, Ed Tang didn’t put on a game. Avegant’s founder and chief strategy officer didn’t drop me in some immersive other world, where I could look around and explore or interact with a robot.
He put on The Avengers.
The Glyph looks like a VR headset, but it’s not a VR headset. It also looks like an overgrown pair of Beats headphones, but it’s not an overgrown pair of Beats headphones. It’s something else. Avegant calls it “Mediawear,” which is terrible. It amounts to this: a pair of great-sounding headphones, with two eyepieces on the underside of the band. Flip it down over your eyes, and suddenly it’s like you’re sitting dead center in your own movie theater. It’s kinda like Oculus Rift meets Bose meets holding your phone inches from your face. After years of development, a $1.5 million Kickstarter campaign, and lots of user testing, Avegant is getting ready to ship the Glyph this spring.
I first saw the Glyph almost exactly two years ago. It was a mess of circuitry and plastic ties, like futuristic sunglasses someone might wear in a campy 1950s sci-fi flick. All Avegant had was concept art and a line about it looking like a pair of headphones. Now it’s far slicker than even the concept art, thought it still looks like a pair of headphones. The cans go over your ears, and the band rests on your nose via an interchangeable nosepad. (User testing revealed that people have crazy-different noses, so the Glyph ships with four options.) It looks silly, like you’re wearing a crappy Geordi La Forge costume, but Avegant is betting we’ll all be comfortable wearing face-computers soon enough. It’s probably right.
Put it on, adjust the two eyepieces to suit your vision, spin the dial on the lens to match your prescription if you have one, then sit back and watch. It’s almost boring, in a way—it really is just a screen on your face.
Let me say this one more time: It’s not a VR headset. It’s not designed to take over your entire field of vision and make you feel like you’re somewhere else. Maybe it’s meant for travelers who want a better screen than the scratched and smudged slap of polycarbonate on the back of 17D. Rather than build something you play while sitting on your couch, Avegant’s trying to build something you can take out into the world.
Whatever you watch in the Glyph takes up the same amount of your view that a 65-inch TV in your living room does, or the huge screen in a theater. But you can look down and see your hands, or up and see the sky. This helps keep your eyes from tiring, and prevents some of the motion-sickness virtual reality has dealt with. It’s a personal movie theater, the headphones and screen giving you a private and high-end experience.
One more clarification: It’s not really a screen. It’s called Virtual Retinal Display, and it’s actually a projection directly onto your eyes, light reflecting off of small objects just as it does in the real world. In my experience, it’s also much faster for my eyes to get used to, and much more comfortable over long periods of time.
Those long periods are exactly what Avegant is after. Nearly any device you connect it to—your computer, your phone—will see it as nothing more than a big television. Just about anything you can display on another screen is compatible with the Glyph; you can play second-screen games, you can watch Netflix, you can play YouTube videos. It’ll play 2D content just fine, or 3D footage without any other requirements. All you need is an HDMI cable. (And probably an adapter.)
The initial vision is small, probably because Avegant already has enough to explain. No, it’s not VR. No, there’s no screen. Yes, it works with your phone. Yes, you do look silly. And Avegant might have a hard time finding enough hardcore travelers willing to drop seven Benjamins on a better way of watching movies. But there are hints of more in the Glyph already, from the head-tracking support to the dormant Bluetooth chip. Avegant has big plans that involve exclusive and optimized content, and its already working with Jaunt to enable 360-degree video (with 360-degree sound) in the Glyph. They have ideas about gaming, sports, and more. Eventually, Avegant probably will venture into virtual reality, but not with the Glyph. The Glyph is about taking you somewhere else, while still comfortably keeping you where you are.
Avegant promised to ship a year ago, but it seems like the company skipped the first version altogether and is shipping the second iteration. It’s remarkably comfortable and usable, it’s compatible with all the movies and games you already play. It’s just like having a television on your face. Which is weird, because who wants a television on their face? But weirder still, it works.