Leadtek Xeye movie-viewing goggles
Films in your face
Review Many dubious products have stumbled on the rocky road to true innovation. Before the mobile phone reached mass-market saturation, yuppies lugged around lumps of plastic that were closer to army field radios than items of desirable personal technology, writes Jonathan Bray.
Once, Sony marketed the infamous shoulder-mounted 'ghetto blaster' as the perfect portable music companion, before kick-starting a whole industry with the very first Walkman.
And there have been numerous attempts at making TV- and movie-viewing portable, from those unwatchable pocket LCD TVs of the 1980s to the portable (and more practical) DVD players and laptops of today.
Step forward, then, Leadtek's Xeye headset, which the company claims is the next step in the evolution of the "personal cinema".
Xeye places two tiny OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display, one in front of each eye, each with individual focus controls and diopter adjustments to create the illusion that you are watching one enormous screen. But this device is the size of a pair of sunglasses - a fairly ugly pair of sunglasses it has to be said, but almost as portable and compact. There's even a pair of in-ear headphones wired into the arms to complete the cocoon-of-entertainment effect.
It certainly sounds a tempting prospect. After all, why would you want to squint at a mere 2in mobile phone screen to watch a movie while you're on the train or plane when you can have the equivalent of a 50in cinema display in your pocket?
Well, you would because the technology isn't there yet, not on the evidence of this product anyway. And even if you can get past the fact that using one of these makes you look like Star Trek: The Next Generation's Geordie Laforge on a bad-visor day, there are a multitude of impracticalities that kybosh the Xeye's likelihood of success.
First of all, the thing is just plain uncomfortable. Rather than simply hooking the arms over your ears as you might with normal shades or glasses the Xeye's arms curve out to the side forcing you to sit them on top of your ears, which doesn't make it a particularly stable or secure fit - one shake of the head and the hefty view unit at the front soon starts to wobble.
There are too many cables too. In order to wire your personal cinema up, you have to connect both power supply (via the mains or the supplied rechargeable battery pack) and video connection (Mini A/V and S-Video connections are available) to an interface box that dangles from the right-hand side of the headset. Wearing the Xeye is like being wired up to a school science experiment gone wrong and you always feel one wrong move away from knocking something loose, switching something off or disconnecting a cable inadvertently.
Second, the picture quality isn't fantastic. Though the Xeye does a passable job of processing both TV pictures, DVD movies and game signals, the image always manages to looks either over-saturated or washed out with nothing in between. And the relatively low resolution - 432 x 240 per eyepiece - is all too apparent with obvious pixellation in evidence whatever source you decide to connect it to.
Last, but by no means least, this not a device you're going to want to use for any extended period of time. After half an hour of watching telly on the Xeye you feel like the headset has been appropriately named. I'm no optometrist, but the feeling that your eyeballs are being slowly sucked out of their sockets can't be good for you. Lord knows what you'd feel like after using it to watch the entire extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Of course head-mounted displays like the Xeye are not really that new an idea. Other companies, most notably Olympus in recent times, have attempted to launch similar products to this without much success in the past and it looks, if the product ever reaches these shores - it's only available in the Far East right now - it could be much the same story with the Xeye.
Though the Xeye is a good idea on paper, in practice neither the technology behind it nor the design work to create a particularly compelling product. Put bluntly, this is not the next big breakthrough in personal cinema.
If you want to watch movies on the move, you're better off with a laptop or a halfway decent portable player. You'll at least be able to enjoy the action without having to resort to a bottle of aspirin afterwards.
|More info||The Leadtek site|