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Avegant Glyph Mobile Theater Is the Best Seat in the House

David Pogue
Tech Critic
Yahoo Tech

Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo let inventors appeal directly to the public for funds. They’ve made a lot of entrepreneurial dreams come true.

If you’re inspired by the inventor’s pitch video, you send some money. It’s not an investment; you don’t get rich if the invention becomes a hit. But you do get some memento — a T-shirt or a discounted version of the invention once it’s manufactured — and the rosy glow of knowing that you helped bring a cool idea to life.

Until now, there’s been only one problem: You had no way to know if the invention was actually any good. You had to trust the inventor’s video.

That’s the beauty of our Kickstarter reviews. We actually test the prototype, find out how much promise it has and help you decide if the thing is worth funding or buying.

Today’s invention: The Avegant Glyph. They look like headphones, but the headband pivots down in front of your eyes to display video.

The claim: The video image is beamed “onto your retina, creating sharp, stark images unlike anything you’ve seen before.” You get state-of-the-art noise cancellation headphones when you’re just listening; razor-sharp, vivid, hi-def, 3D-capable video when you want to watch, too.

Price: $500.

Goal: The Glyph project seeks $250,000 in Kickstarter contributions by this Friday, Feb. 21.

Status: Kickstarter fans have flooded the creators with money — about $1.3 million. The Glyph mobile personal theater is well on its way to becoming a real product.

What I tested: I tried out Glyph’s latest prototypes. The audio and video worked perfectly.

The Glyph prototypes are, however, big and heavy. Some headphones are partly supported by the band across the top of your head — but when you’re watching video on the Glyph, that band is now in front of your eyes. So all that holds up the headphones are the ear cups and the bridge of your nose. They feel heavy after awhile.

So Avegant’s hardy little team has a lot to do before these babies are ready to sell. On their to-do list:

– Reduce the weight by 30 percent. (The prototype weighs 1 pound, 4 ounces.)

– Shrink the thickness of the headband by at least 0.2 inches. (The prototype’s headband is 1.2 inches thick.)

– Shrink the ear cups by 1 inch.

– Build in a battery. (The prototype has to be plugged into power.)

– Reduce the cabling to a single micro-HDMI cord. (The prototype has individual left and right video cables.)

– Add noise-cancellation technology.

– Add a head-tracking feature, so that you’ll be able to “look around” inside a video game.

– Add interchangeable nose pieces for comfort.

– Fine-tune the design, adding sleeker, smoother, rounded curved edges.

– Add a pivot lock button that permits the band to pivot 90 degrees — from the top of your head to the bridge of your nose — with a quick click. (Each earcup of the prototype’s band has to be manually rotated.)

That’s a lot of work — especially for a company that hopes to ship the finished product by the end of this year.

I kind of doubt it’ll get to all those fixes by then. But the concept and the technology are so good, I’m not sure it matters.

What I learned: The Glyphs, even in prototype form, produce fantastic sound. I’d say they sound at least as good as the $300 Bose QuietComfort headphones that so many air travelers buy.

But the real breakthrough here is the visuals. When you first pivot the band down in front of your eyes, you have some adjusting to do. There’s an individual dial knob on the band over each eye, and individual diopter dials beneath. (As on high-end cameras, diopters allow you to adjust the screen for imperfect vision — in other words, you can take off your glasses to use the Glyphs.)

Once you’ve adjusted those four knobs, though, you’re looking at something amazing: what appears to be an 80-inch HDTV, 8 feet away.

Now, these are not the first “personal theater” glasses. But they’re the first I’ve ever tested that don’t give you a headache, don’t produce eyestrain and make it impossible to detect individual pixels in the image.

The company credits the optical technology it’s using: a greatly miniaturized version of Texas Instruments’ DLP (digital light processing) system, like the one found in many home-theater and business projectors.

Low-power LED lights shine onto 2 million tiny, rotating mirrors (1 million in front of each eye). By twisting incredibly quickly, they control which red, blue and green beams are bounced into your eyes.

Your left and right eyes see different images — which makes the Glyph absolutely amazing for watching 3D movies. Avegant’s lead hardware engineer, Aaron Eash, is a former Google Chromebook engineer. He walked me through the standard set of demonstrations: first, a 3D underwater sequence that would blow your eyebrows off with its clarity and realism. Next, a 3D sequence from Life of Pi that, as promised, effectively simulated what you’d see in a completely darkened theater sitting in the perfect center seat.

Then I watched some House of Cards, streaming live from Netflix. Eash pointed out that I was alive to see the day when I could experience a full movie-theater experience with nothing but a phone and this headset, anywhere there’s a good cellular data signal.

Finally, I tried a car-racing game on his phone. (It’s Real Racing, in which you tilt the phone to steer.) With the stereo sound in my ears (engines, squealing tires, crunching metal) and a gorgeous 80-inch screen in front of me, it was a darned good gaming experience.

Note, however, that the Glyph isn’t intended to be a virtual-reality headset. The picture doesn’t change when you look around you (in this version). It’s not a competitor for the upcoming Oculus Rift, an immersive, responsive, look-around-you virtual-reality headset that’s got hard-core gamers drooling from the corners of their mouths.

(Here’s what the final Rifts are supposed to look like.)

Avegant points out that the Oculus Rift (a) doesn’t work with just any video — only video sources, like games, that have been specially written for it, and (b) doesn’t have the Glyph’s purity of picture quality (you can make out individual pixels).

The Rift also blocks out the world completely. You see nothing but what’s inside. By contrast, on the Glyph, there’s open air between your cheeks and the bottom of the headband. You can still look down. You can see your keyboard, or your phone, or a flight attendant’s hand waving frantically in front of your face.

What I love most about the Avegant Glyph is that its design neatly sidesteps all the problems of, for example, Google Glass. There’s no debate about when and where you’ll use the Glyph.

You will absolutely not wear these things (in video mode) when you’re walking, talking or driving. You’ll watch movies on them on planes, on long train rides, and maybe in bed next to your sleeping spouse. You’ll use them, that is, when you can be fully focused on what you’re watching; at all other times, you’ll flip the eyepiece out of your face — or just put them away.

Eash noted that within weeks of Avegant’s demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, several huge electronics companies had hustled copycat gadgets onto their drawing boards.

The bad news: Giant monolithic companies could come stomping in to steal away the market before Avegant can even get traction.

The good news: Avegant truly has created — or at least refined and focused — a whole new product category. Thousands and thousands of road warriors have bought Bose headphones for $300; wouldn’t a lot of them be willing to pay $200 more to get stunning video without adding any bulk or complexity?


The Glyphs are a long way from finished. But the hard part — terrific audio and video in a single, well-conceived headset — is fully baked. Here’s wishing the company good luck and very few roadblocks on its way to making the Glyph smaller, lighter and fuller featured.

The bottom line: Fund this.

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