CES 2014: Avegant Glyph Prototype Hands On

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Avegant invited Road to VR to have an early look at a prototype of their new transforming virtual retina display based HMD, targeted squarely at the portable entertainment market. Paul James goes hands on with the Avegant Glyph.

Obsessively Designed

“Yes, there will be a cover for the lenses”. This comment from Grant Martin, Avegant‘s Head of Marketing and Product Strategy in response to comments from Road to VR users. The statement belies a certain amount of weariness and frustration. The Avegant team have been working on 3 hours of sleep or less for weeks. They’ve been obsessively honing, measuring and tweaking their prototype in readiness for a near tidal wave of events they’re slated to be involved in over the CES period. The frustration isn’t directed at the commenter, it’s an indication of  the obsession the Avegant team have with their new product and that they simply can’t get their ideas integrated into the product quickly enough. It also highlights how keen they are to listen to constructive feedback.

Having already finalised the optics and formulated what they determine an optimal image, they’ve moved onto the product itself. That is, producing something that people want to buy. When I glibly ask what demographic Avegant are targeting with the Glyph, Ed retorts “People who watch movies and listen to music”, I probably deserved that. However, the Glyph certainly isn’t aiming for lowest common denominator when it comes to the AV experience.

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What’s It Like?

I sit down to test the unit, looking just like the target renders we featured recently. The unit is designed to shift between Audio/Video and pure Audio mode. It accomplishes this by pivoting the bridge by 90 degrees, bringing the optics, mounted into the underside of the bridge to rest in front of your eyes. The pressure exerted by the bridge keeps the unit in place, with a little help from the user’s nose of course. It’s a neat idea and it looks great, but I had difficulty getting the unit to sit correctly on my ‘challengingly shaped’ head. The unit also allows you to move the bridge as an assembly in and out, in a similar way you’d tighten your headphones. Doing so certainly improves things and I can focus on the image in front of me. The unit produces an image with a 45 degree field of view, the visible portions of which give the impression of a 70-80″ projected image.

The team freely admit they’ve not yet spent enough time addressing ‘Human Factors’. These will be ironed out over the coming weeks as they continue to iterate design changed ahead of the final version.

The unit is designed to be universal, that is to fit as many heads and as many eyes as possible. To this end Avegant have implemented both IPD (Interpupillary Distance) adjustment and individual focus controls for the optics. IPD can be adjusted by two dials, one for each lens. Rotating the dials shift each lens left or right as required. Once you’re comfortable you can lock the adjustment in place by depressing a button between the two dials. It’s another example of attention to detail evident on this still early prototype. After tweaking for a little while, I found an extremely comfortable position.

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So, what about that display? Ben Lang tried the development unit Avegant at the recent Engadget: Expand event in New York. To put it mildly he was impressed. As an old AV enthusiast from way back though, I have a tendency to nitpick. In truth, once the video started I found it difficult to criticise what I was seeing.

The first thing to note is the pixel structure – there barely is one. The Glyph benefits from using a brand new type of display VRD (virtual retina display) technology which is essentially an evolution of the now decades old DLP technology (Digital Light Processing), which uses thousands of controlled, spinning mirrors to reflect light into a user’s eyes. Texas Instruments saw what Avegant had in mind and chose them to be the first to integrate their newer, more advanced chips – now with reduced distance between each adjacent mirror. This means the screen door effect you get with other displays when viewed at close range is almost eliminated. Because the separation of pixels are almost eliminated, the perceived resolution is actually much higher and more realistic. The current prototype utilises 2 x 720 displays (one for each eye) but my perception of the image would have put it far beyond. The image sparkles as a result.

One interesting thing to note is that the team have designed the unit with a deliberate ability to reconnect with the real world easily. To explain, your vertical FOV is not entirely occluded, so those who are worried about being disconnected from reality when using the Glyph in public be assured the compromise on show here works quite well.

DLP displays were always hailed for their brightness, that is evident here in spaces. Colours too are incredibly vibrant, natural and, ignoring stereoscopy, have a three dimensional quality to them. It feels as if you’re gazing at an open window in a darkened room as light spills into your eyes in a way that feels extremely natural. My only criticism would be a tendency for bright whites to look a little hot, but in fairness this could be due to the source video.

But this is an HMD of dual functionality. Next to the first rate image, any shortcomings in the audio would of course be amplified, so the team designed and built custom titanium drivers. These drivers are complimented by ear cups with cavities sculpted to produce exactly the kind of found the team were looking for. The team iterated over many designs before they found what they were listening for, something that works well with music of all genres and movies too. Has all that work paid off, yes indeed it has. I listened to various audio tracks and bass felt taught and fast whilst low frequency response still low enough to give depth. Vocals were transparent with no sibilants (despite that titanium) and good stereo imaging was evident. The limited movie time I had showed the headphones capable of an excellent soundstage, but in truth I’d need to sit with full length movies to give my full verdict here. One thing is clear, they sound damn good. Volume is controlled via a neat dial on the right

This is a prattle device of course, so what of battery life. The eventual target is to run for 3 hours on a single charge, that’s in AV mode. Enough for a movie or a decent gaming session for sure, albeit falling some way of the requirements of long distant travellers for sure.

Gaming and What’s Next for Glyph

The Glyph includes an accelerometer based head tracking unit for the purposes of providing possible input to attached mobile devices. It employs Bluetooth 4 to pair with and exchange data. The Glyph isn’t being designed as a gaming headset, but the team felt strongly that giving developers the ability to customise or develop games that work with the HMD was important. It certainly isn’t the team’s primary focus however.

Avegant are gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign due to kick off January 22nd. The Glyph is being pitched at $499 per unit, but neither reward tiers or a target amount for the campaign have yet been decided. On the subject of a future versions of the Glyph with either an increased resolution or an increased FOV, ultimately targeted at Virtual Reality, the team remain open minded.

The Glyph is an intriguing package with a dazzling display and top tier audio capabilities. Avegant are working very hard to ensure that bleeding edge design can work effectively in reality and have their eye on the desirability factor that makes consumer electronics. It’ll be intriguing to see how the Kickstarter fairs with the unit at that price point and beyond how the general public receive such a unique product. We wish Avagent the best of luck with the project.

We’ll also have an interview with the team up for you soon.

Comments

  1. Kemic says

    Hmm, as intriguing as this whole thing sounds, $500 seems like a bit of a steep price point. I mean, part of their main target audience is going to be people who spend long periods of time travelling, probably by plane and maybe train, so it could work out. But, as a general consumer item, it may have a bit too much of a niche factor
    Like all kickstarters that have good VR or user interface implementations, I’ll be following this one as it goes, but it’s probably more likely I won’t be backing it, as VR gaming is not one of their higher priorities, and I don’t have much need for a portable movie player beyond my laptop right now.

  2. Curtrock says

    The display resolution as described sounds very exciting. The headphones portion of this device, is irrelevant. I think it is a HUGE mistake, for this company to NOT be targeting gamers. Especially considering they are going to run a Kickstarter campaign. Nobody is going to buy this because of the headphones. It’s all about the display. Whether they know it, or not, they will be competing with the Oculus Rift and Cast AR. The Glyph is too cumbersome to be portable. This is going to be something to be used, at home. At this point, it seems like a glorified version of the Sony HMZ. The Virtual Retina Display sounds like a big step forward, as far a visuals go, which does pique my interest, however; for $500, I’ll be saving my $$$ for the consumer version of the Rift. Gamers are the ones who will shell out the bucks for cutting edge graphics/tech. AVEGANT: please consider the VR revolution, and where the Glyph and your exciting display tech fits in…Oculus has sold over 30,000 low-res units @ $300 per unit, with no headphones or audio, whatsoever. We will be watching hi-def movies AND playing cutting edge VR games in the HDRift, later this year…..

    • monographix says

      @Curtrock

      I think they are going in the right direction. At this point they would stand absolutely no chance against Oculus – in generation 0 or 1 – because in this phase for the whole VR experience the display technology is actually secondary to tracking, latency and field of view. The displays might change every few months or years, but someone needs to set some standard for creating true immersive experience which is to balance all those – and many more – parameters. Oculus led by John Carmack and recently followed by Valve (working as something like a hub and main content provider/developer) and other companies are the ones doing this costly job – I think we might be speaking about a sum of at least 50-100 millions of dollars worth of cash spent to create a whole new quality of experience and actually convince us that it is not just another futile attempt at bringing VR to our homes.

      As for the focus on headphones – I obviously won’t buy it for listening only, but if the sound quality is poor, I won’t buy it at all. Not with that price and size.

      IMO for now Avegant should set new standard in HMD niche and drop Sony, Zeiss and other overpriced makers back to earth. They have the technology to do so easily. It might work as a substitute for 3D TV and even do much more than this, so it can be used for games where OR cannot at this point – consoles and smartphones. When the right time comes, they will probably show their wide FOV display and will get bombed with offers to sell or license this technology – maybe by Oculus, maybe by Valve, Sony or someone else. It will be also easier for them to create their own true VR HMD when the standards will be set, checked and proved.

      @Paul James

      I am happy they take our opinions into account and that they are willing to improve Glyph until perfection. I was obviously worried about the lens case just like many others, because that just looks like some obvious, aggressive flaw (i.e. when someone deliberately puts design over functionality with no good reason) so they NEED to make it clear for everyone before kickstarter. Some picture would do the job once for all. I would also still lean toward the optional, maybe additional headband or some support: Thanks to your great article I understand now it may be completely not needed, but it’s the choice of having it or not and the feeling of “having all bases covered” that is important when we decide to back it, to buy it or to avoid it.

      What seriously bugs me though, is that very few of the current companies that take first steps into VR have reader/user friendly way of exchanging ideas, issues, observations and discussions. Almost no forums, no emails (I often had to divide my messages into many parts for online contact forms) and only Sixense was fair enough to properly answer to all my messages. That is somewhat discouraging. I know it takes time, but almost never before a company could have unlimited, free, instant feedback from so many future customers. Oculus did their job perfectly and are ahead of everyone else. So is Sixense and CastAR, but that is only a small fraction of companies involved in VR and AR.

      • Paul James says

        @monographix One thing missing from this article is that the Avegant team have implemented hooks on the edges of the cans so that they can experiment with straps in the way you describe. In fact, it’s as a direct result of comments on this website that this stuff is being added.

        So if ever you needed positive confirmation that a company takes and uses constructive feedback, there it is.

  3. Druss says

    For people who like the HMD but are not into gaming this is awesome, maybe they could bring out a slightly cheaper version that’s just the glasses so you can use it at home and pair it with you computer/console and the high-end headphones/sound system you already own?

  4. Darshan Gayake says

    Ha ha,
    Gaming section is entirely left blank of any real gaming review of Glyph or purposely omitted?

    last review i had pointed out using MC BOOK AIR or PS3 to show gaming prowess of this device is actually doing injustice with it.

    http://www.roadtovr.com/avegant-glyph-hmd-virtual-retinal-display-kickstarter/

    sadly i can’t see reason why they are not using ACER ASPIRE V3 or MSI GT60 20C class gaming notebook install TRIDEF IGNTION with SBS mode license and show down games which are actually made for 3D like BATMAN ARKHUM CITY ,Call of Duty: Black Ops ,Battlefield 3 why did they went for PS3 at first place? if did why choose wrong game? And now totally omitting gaming demo review?

    1) Why can’t there be a device which offer 80″ screen for Stereo3D gaming and not necessarily VR
    There isn’t any competition here.
    2) Why they want to go VR when their tech has a flaw of Rainbow ghosting which will be more prominent with
    head tracker, instead just offer 80″/100″ or 150″ stereo 3D screen with current DDD drivers you are in WIN
    WIN

    Ben Lang
    “I noticed some significant color-fringing when turning my head. The discrepancy was jarring… how could the same display look markedly different from one piece of content to the next (I saw absolutely no color fringing with the prior demo)? ”

    http://www.roadtovr.com/avegant-glyph-hmd-virtual-retinal-display-kickstarter/

    -Thats because they are using single led cycling RGB on single DLP chip. this can be removed if 3DLP chip employed per eye with three saprate RGB light source. but then with six DLP chip total it will be bulky and way to costly. so my suggestion will be target 3D tv customer offer them 3D cinema hall for their favorite game and leave VR till you solve it,.(poor Avegant guy’s did not answered me(dead silent?) i got from GeekMaster & Fred from MTBS3D.com)

    3) Why contact@avegant.com is a DEAL END with NO ONE TO READ POTENTIAL CUSTOMER’S MAILs
    they just never reply.Its sad and no way to progression.

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