Review: Avegant Glyph
I hate doing the dishes. More than is probably appropriate. In the game of “you cook, I clean,” I become an Iron Chef, willing to whip up 20 courses to avoid 20 minutes of scrubbing pans. Alas, sometimes there are dishes to be done. My saving grace for months has been Bluetooth headphones and an iPad Pro perched next to the sink showing It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’ve seen every episode 100 times, so I don’t even really watch; it’s just a nice distraction.
Really impressive, natural-feeling display technology. It’s insanely easy to set up and use. It’s a good pair of headphones, when that’s all you need.
You look ridiculous wearing the Glyph. It’s heavy, and clunky, and hard to get the fit right. Also, you look ridiculous. Did I mention how ridiculous you look?
The last few times I’ve been tasked with this arduous chore, however, I’ve had an even better setup: the Avegant Glyph. It’s a headphone/headset device that puts a TV on your face. There probably are more glamorous descriptions, but that’s what it is. It looks a little like Geordi La Forge’s Visor, or like one of those carrot-on-a-stick apparatuses. Except instead of a carrot, it’s a television. You get it, right?
The Glyph, which costs $599, is designed for media consumption. Looking at it is like watching a 65-inch TV in your living room, or sitting dead-center in a movie theater. Anywhere you can plug in an HDMI cable, you can plug in the Glyph. You can connect it to your phone and watch Netflix. It can be a monitor for your computer, if you like. I spent a night with the Glyph plugged into my Xbox One, playing Rocket League for hours without turning on my television. I’ve seen people use it as a first-person viewer for flying a drone. Avegant imagines people will mostly use it while they travel, as a better option than their phone’s tiny screen or a hotel room’s crappy pay-per-view. It has no special software, and requires no new skills or adaptation. It’s just a screen. On your face.
For all its wacky use cases, the Glyph is surprisingly sanely designed. It looks like a slightly oversized pair of Beats. The headphones are statement-sized over-ears, with comfy padding. They have a high-end, metallic, slightly space age-y appeal, as if Beats designed them with the bad guy from Ex Machina. The headphones sound impressively good, with wide, dynamic sound and enough low end oomph to kick you in the teeth. But enough about headphones.
You’ll find all of the Glyph’s unique tech on the underside of the headband. Flip is down onto the bridge of your nose and just like that you’re in viewing mode. (Well, you also must flick the power slider into the “on” position.) When it first turns on, you get a (blinding!) white screen that says Glyph on it. That might take a minute or six to figure out while you adjust the placement and prescription of the lenses and attach one of four included nosepieces. There are no real guidelines for getting focus just right, but I’ve discovered at least one: It hurts like hell until you get it just right, at which point it feels instantly and blissfully normal. (It took me a full watery-eyed day to realize I’d accidentally spun the left lens and screwed everything up again.)
The screen is the thing about the Glyph, because it’s not a screen at all. The rectangle you see is a low-powered light reflected off of two million tiny mirrors, projected directly onto your eye. It sounds creepy and maybe bad for you, but it mimics how we see sunlight bouncing off of objects in the world. Avegant calls this a “screenless display,” and it’s an amazing technology. It’s cleaner and clearer than any VR I’ve ever used, with no screen door effect or fuzziness. I watched for hours without fatigue or eyestrain, and it never took even a moment to adjust to the real world afterward. Maybe instead of a TV on your face, the Glyph is like constantly looking out a window where the actors from Daredevil are re-creating season one for me to watch.
Since it’s not a VR headset, there’s no need for the Glyph to fill your whole view. You can still see up and down. The downside is light can creep in sometimes, but the upside is you can wear the Glyph and do other things, or just find your beer on the coffee table without blindly knocking it over. You can also wear it in public and not be pickpocketed for your troubles. It’s an engaging gadget, but not a detaching one. Just because you can wear it all the time, though, doesn’t mean you’ll want to.
Even after you get it comfortable enough to look at, it’s hard to make the Glyph comfortable to wear. And I don’t just mean “comfortable” in the self-consciousness sense, though that’s a problem too; you look like a crazy person in a Glyph, there’s no two ways about it. I mean physically comfortable. Most days I wear a set of Sony MDR-10 headphones, which weigh just shy of eight ounces. The Glyph is double that. You get used to it, sort of, and the included headband helps a lot in viewing mode, but it always feels like it’s slowly pushing my head into my neck. More pressing, after about 45 minutes of Glyph time, the center of my head feels far warmer than I’d like. Not “serious problem” warm by any means, but definitely “awkwardly sweaty on the bus” warm. After about an hour, I started shifting the Glyph it around on my face to relieve my sore nose; after about two I needed to take it off. Its battery holds up about the length of two movies, and I can’t imagine wanting it to last longer.
The absolute smartest thing Avegant did was not worry about proprietary content, software, or features. There’s plenty of proprietary tech inside the Glyph, but there’s nothing to buy or learn to use it. I said it before, but it bears repeating: Anything you can see on your TV, you can see on the Glyph. Avegant has some head-tracking inside the headset that works with Jaunt’s 360-degree videos, but otherwise it’s the same as any other big screen. It’s just that the big screen follows you now, from the kitchen to the mailbox to the bathroom (I mean, obviously I tried it) to the subway. I spent a lot of time with my iPhone in my pocket, connected to an adapter, connected to an HDMI cable, connected to the Glyph, just walking around my apartment. The TV just follows you.
Does that sound cool to you? Having a TV that’s always in front of your face? If you have to mow the lawn but don’t want to miss the game, or like watching YouTube tutorials without having to rewind to see what you missed, or want something better to stare at than the bald spot on the guy in 12C, or want to brush up on your Fallout skills without people copping your strat, or want to fly a drone while seeing what it feels like to be a drone…then it might. Or you might scoff at the whole idea, calling it silly and overpriced and pointing out very rightly that it makes people look ridiculous. You’re right either way.
The Glyph is a deeply imperfect product, too big, too expensive, and too clunky in all the ways first versions always are. But don’t change that channel. There’s impressive, important technology here. The display, in particular, is better and more suited to long-term use than any virtual-reality tech I’ve tried. And like it or not, these sorts of omnipresent screens are coming for you. It could be the Oculus Rift, it could be Google Glass, it could be the heads-up display in your next pair of ski goggles, but screens are coming out of our pockets and off our desks and are arranging themselves right smack in front of our eyes. We’re all going to be Geordi La Forge soon enough.
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