Original review text from September 2007:INTRODUCTION
The Icuiti VR920 is the latest in VR headgear to hit the consumer market. The device is small, with a slick form-factor and at only 4 oz., it is one of the lightest headsets ever released. The visor is not only a head-mounted display (hmd) but a full multimedia headset. Using 2 640x480 lcd displays the unit is able to output in stereo 3d making it appear like you are actually in the game. Along with its stereo 3d capabilities it also features a headtracker which detects how you turn your head with 3 degrees of freedom. This feature adds to the realism of being inside the game. In addition to these features the headset also includes removable ear-buds and an integrated microphone for voice communications. The gadget is available for purchase now and retails for $399, which is less that half the price of any other comparable consumer gaming headset such as the eMagin z800. Although for a casual gamer $399 might sound like a lot of money, the asking price is probably the cheapest any VR headset has ever debuted at.CONTENTS
Upon recieving the package I was surprised as to how small the box was. Inside the box contains the VR920 headset itself, the driver CD, a VGA-DVI converter, a nylon carrying case and a neck strap. Although there was a quick-start pamphlet included, the manual itself only came in pdf form (jnstalled with the drivers). There are many specific issues that you will need to read the manual for, and I am surprised it wasn't included in the package. As an advanced user I assumed I didn't need to read the manual, but this is something you really need to read first before you attempt get into the game. I suspect most people purchasing a device like this will know their way around a computer, but a casual user may run into a few issues. For example, the manual doesn't explain how to install the drivers and instead jumps right into configuring the video settings. Of course I know you have to click "choose specific driver" and choose the proper search directory, but it should be explained for completeness. In addition, it only briefly mentions the nvidia stereo driver and doesn't explain how you need matching versions of the video driver and stereo 3d driver. Again, I've been using stereo 3d on my PC for some time, but any user just getting into stereo 3d might be confused by this detail. The remainder of the manual is in fact pretty informative and explains the various adjustments you can perform to the device and also how to configure the software.HARDWARE
At its core, the Icuiti VR920 is basically a pair of miniature lcd displays. The displays themselves are nice and bright (without being blown out) and the color reproduction is pretty good, although the black levels could be better. The overall image quality was not as rich as an LCD monitor, but they came pretty close and can be adjusted via the nvidia control panel. Each screen can display a 640x480 image, however the device accepts up to a 1024x768 VGA input. In fact, it does a pretty good job of down-sampling the image. I was able to run XP in 800x600 and still read the text and navigate around Windows. At 1024x768 you start to lose some detail and text is pretty much un-readable. Of course you will get a crisper image at the native 640x480 resolution, but I found 800x600 to be a good compromise. This, however, is only really noticable when using Windows. When running a fullscreen game, it becomes almost a non-issue. I found that I was able to run most games at 1024x768 and they looked fine. Some games feature very small text (which was still difficult to read) but aside from the menus, the actual game appeared to be in high-resolution. This was a great relief because I was afraid I would have to run the games in 640x480. I believe this is due to the fact that there are 2 screens and your mind must merge them into one image thus adding the detail that would be missing on only one screen. So I would say the effective resolution would be 800x600 in Windows and 1024x768 in most games. If you are planning on playing RPGs or games involving a lot of reading you may have to stick with 800x600, but in FPS or other action games you can safely run in 1024x768. There is one small gripe I have with the displays. Although the refresh rate is solid, there is some burn-in effects. If you leave the display on a static screen (especially with high contrasting colors) you will notice the silhouette for a few seconds afterwards before it fades out. The effect isnt perminant, but I would avoid leaving it on Windows for extended periods. Also, it seems the model I recieved has one dead pixel on the side of the left monitor. It always displays pure green, although it is only noticable on a complete black screen. When playing games I have never really noticed it, so its not an issue at all, but should be noted.
The device itself is a beauty to behold. Unlike headsets of the past, this one is small and light doing a nice job of distancing it from the bulky products of the late-90s. Sporting a glossy black finish, the plastic enclosure matches nicely with other design-conscious gadgets like the Logitech Divino keyboard or an iPod video. The frame is very lightweight and the ear-pieces are rubber on the end for comfort. Each side also includes a removable ear-bud which can be adjusted by bending it. There are seperate arms that hold the ear-buds which are made of bendable metal with a rubber outer layer. They hold their position well, so much so that I was afraid I was going to break them at first until I realized how flexible they were. As expected the sound quality is lackluster, probably up to par with the ear-buds included with the iPod. As mentioned before they are removable so you can use whatever high-end 5.1 headset you choose. The device does include a volume wheel on the bottom right, which is a nice touch. The wheel also functions as an OSD (on-screen-display) button, which you can access by holding it in for 3 seconds. This allows you to adjust the brightness and contrast as well as turning the 3d stereo mode off and on or swaping the left and right displays. You can also mute the microphone by pressing in the button once quickly. The navigation was easy to use and worked well.
Since the device is so light, it is relatively comfortable to use, and can be adjusted to accomadate different people. The nose-piece can move in and out and also flipped upside down (which they don't tell you in the manual) which can help to get it to rest on your nose comfortably. Unlike most of the older headsets this one does not put any strain on your nose which is great. I have worn the device for an hour or more at a time and didn't feel the weight at all. At times it can almost be too light, as the cord on the left side can pull the device down slightly. I found giving the cord some slack and resting it on my lap to allievate the problem. Even so, I was able to use the device standing up without too much issue.
A great feature is that it is powered by USB so there is just one single cord coming out of the bottom left corner of the device so it doesn't require a power outlet (useful for mobile applications for example). The cord itself appears to be around 8 feet long and splits one foot from the end into a VGA adaptor and the USB plug. Luckily this allows for the USB to be plugged in to any port less than 2 feet from the back of your computer. I've got USB ports on the top of my machine and it reaches fine but it looks like it should just make it to the front. The reason this is such an issue is due to the fact that the device (as far as I can tell) doesn't have any way to shut it off once its on. There is no hard power button on the unit itself and I couldn't disable it using software tricks (such as unmounting the USB device from XP). So once you plug it in to the USB it is automatically powered. Without a live VGA signal it will just display black, but you can see the backlight is on. So when you are finished gaming you will want to unplug the USB cord which is why it is easier to plug it into the top or front of your machine. I would have liked it if the little dongle on the cord included a hard off-on switch.
One gripe I have with the form-factor of the device is that it doesn't accomodate users with prescription glasses very well. Although Icuiti claims you can easily wear glasses with the device, I can tell this will be an issue for some users. I, myself, wear prescription glasses and had some initial trouble getting them to fit while still resting the headset on my nose. After adjusting the nose piece a bit (by removing it and re-inserting it upside down) I was able to have the device stay on my face comfortably. However users with thick frames may not be able to adjust the device to be comfortable while keeping the image centered properly. I found that one of my glasses (the ones with a thin metal frame) fit well, although I had to press both the glasses and the headset pretty close to my face to get a clear focused image. The other pair of glasses I wear have a thick plastic frame and were very difficult to use with the device. Although I could technically use them, it wasn't very comfortable and I found myself constantly adjusting them to stay on my face. Again, the headset fits great if you are not wearing glasses or if you wear contact lenses. This is only really an issue if you wear prescription glasses that are particularly thick, but even so, it is something potential buyers should be aware of.CONFIGURATION
The package comes with a driver CD you must install before being able to use the headset with the headtracking enabled. You must also install the nvidia stereo 3d driver with the corresponding video driver (as of writing the latest version that works is 91.31). If you've used stereo 3d on your computer before this should be no problem. If you are new to stereo 3d you might have to read a bit online before understanding how to configure the stereo properly. If you need help just check out my guide to the nvidia stereo 3d driver.
After all the drivers are installed and you reboot your machine, you can now start the iWear VR920 Calibrator to adjust the headtracking. Unlike the Nintendo Wii, the VR920 uses an absolute positioning system, so there are no external sensors necessary. The tracker can recognize movement with 3 degrees of freedom (3dof) and is surprisingly accurate. After being burned with shoddy controls from the P5 data-glove, I was delighted to find that the VR920 headtracker actually worked as advertised. Keep in mind the headtracking will only work on the supported titles, although the stereo 3d will work on almost all games.
I did experience some issues with the Half-Life2 patch and getting the iWear Monitor to recognize my Steam installation. This was due to the fact that I had moved some of the HL2 folders around (to a different had-drive) and the driver was still looking for them in the default directory. Due to this problem I was unable to test the compatibility with HL2. I did contact Icuiti and they are helping me fix the problem right now. However, the other games I tried did work great with the headtracking and I'm sure this issue will be worked out soon.EXPERIENCE
If you've never experienced true stereo 3d, then you have no idea what you are missing. I would say the difference is almost as big as going from black & white to color television. When most people think of 3d they probably remember the old school red & blue glasses from their childhood. This technology is much better than that. Unlike anaglyph 3d (red & blue) the head-mounted lcds display 2 seperate full color images. So the picture looks very clear and solid. Once you configure the stereo seperation and convergence ratios you will get a very good sense of depth. Even old games will take on new life when you see them in 3d. It really takes you into the game. Since the displays are so close to your face, you don't really get any 'out-of-screen' effects like you do at the IMAX 3D. The experience feels more like you are peering out a small window. While its not quite real, it does add realism and the sense that you are in a real space and not just looking at a computer screen.
Unlike using traditional methods of 3d viewing (like anaglyph or shutterglasses) you don't get any of the ghosting at all. Ghosting is when your right eye sees a bit of what was intended for the left or vice-versa. With 2 seperate displays you get a nice clean focused image. I found I was able to pump the 3d up far more than I ever could using lcd shutter glasses (or 3d gamer glasses). The ghosting is one of the main factors inducing headaches, so the VR920 are actually easier on the eyes than these older technologies. Even so, you will still want to take breaks about ever hour or so. Especially with the headtracking enabled expect to get dizzy if you are playing extended sessions.
Out of all the games I tried Unreal 2004 worked the best. When first starting the game hit 'Instant Action', choose a game type, then check the 'Mutators' menu and make sure the 'Icuiti VR920 Tracker' is enabled. Then you can choose one of the many levels and see what the VR920 is all about. I found hiding the HUD completely and setting the cross-hair to hidden to be the best way to go. The HUD will distract your eye if its on and diminish the 3d effect. After all that was setup, it was smooth sailing. There are a few different tracking methods, luckily they have one that allows you to aim and look independently of each other. I found this to be the most playable mode. The combination of stereo 3d and headtracking really brought this game to life. It almost felt like I was really walking around in some futuristic gothic landscape. When you shoot a missile you can actually see exactly where its going through a trail of 3d smoke. Even with the cross-hair hidden I could still effectly aim due to the depth cueing of stereo 3d. It also made it much scarier when some alien monster pops up in your face. Overall I was pretty impressed with the way UT2004 handled the 3d effects and the advanced headtracking.
One of the other supported games that worked great was rFactor racing sim. This is a game for hard-core racing fans, which customizable cars and online play. I found the 3d effect to work really well in this game and the headtracking was spot on. You can use the headtracker to look around the dashboard of your vehicle and out the side windows. I found this to give a really good impression of reality. Between the realistic 3d visuals, headtracking and the authentic engine sounds, it almost felt like I was really driving a car. Although I am not the biggest racing fan myself, I can imagine this would be an awesome buy for hardcore racing fans. So if you are the type of person who has built a racing seat for your computer you might want to give this game and the VR920 a shot. I didn't have Microsoft Flight Simulator X, so I can't comment on the compatibility, but I assume it works similar to this game. So the same thing goes, if you are a die-hard flight sim fan and want to really step into the cockpit, this is your ticket.
I also tried some other games and 3d demos I had on my computer with varying success. Pretty much every 3d application is compatible with the nvidia stereo 3d drivers, however not all games are optimized for it. Most of the time, the 2D HUD elements will get in the way of the 3d effect and block your vision. Some games (like UT2004) allow you to hide the HUD, which is the best option. Also, some games don't have the issue and the 2D elements are properly positioned for both eyes. But there are a couple of games which become unplayable due to this issue so be warned: not every game will work well in 3d. I found the MadOnion x-lr8r benchmark demo to have some really nice 3d effects in it. F.E.A.R. worked really well almost to the point where the game was too intense to even play. Dreamfall (available on Steam) worked perfectly with the stereo 3d. The text and HUD were readable and the 3d effect was breathtaking. And much to my surprise, the glasses worked great with Virtually Jenna, if you want to get a taste of what 3D can add to an adult game. To my disappointment the nvidia graphic demos (like dawn, dusk, nalu) didn't seem to work too well but maybe I just needed to tweak the settings a bit more. Overall the 3d drivers work with a good amount of games, just know there are some misses in the bunch.
Although I was told the VR920 model wasn't compatible with 3d video, they actually are! Using the Stereoscopic Player, I was able to test some high-res 3d video. Unlike playing games in 3d, this actually looks real since its video. When watching a 3d video is really feels like you are almost there. In fact, I found the 3d video to give a better overall sense of what VR could be one day. There isn't all that much stereo content available, so it would be hard to justify the purchase for video alone. But if you are getting this headset for games, its a nice bonus that 3d video also works. I don't have any 3D-DVDs, but since the Stereoscopic Player properly handled a few different stereo formats (side-side, over-under, and seperate r-l files) I assume that the DVDs are also compatible.
The one main complaint I have with the headset is that the field of view (FOV) is very narrow at 32 degrees. When first testing the headset this was the first thing I noticed. It gives you this sort of 'tunnel-vision' since you are only able to see about 1/3 of your peripheral range. Luckily when playing first-person games in 3d your mind can kind of narrow its focus. So when you have the stereo 3d enabled it will actually appear that the image is larger, maybe to say 45 degrees. I found that once I started playing the game and got into it I barely noticed this issue. However it is the one thing stopping this device from being truely immersive. If you turn off all the lights in the room, it helps make the image look a bit larger. Even so, its still more like sitting in the back of a movie theater. Not quite the 'big-screen' experience that is being advertised, but still accpetable for the price range.CONCLUSION
Overall I am pretty happy with the product, being as I've never actually owned an HMD before. The 3D effect is amazing, although I wish the FOV were just a tad wider. Judging from the specs, the eMagin Z800 is a slightly better product although for a much higher price. The VR920 also has more compatible games than the Z800 (which appears development has stopped on). There are also the i-glasses which retail for around $1000 with a slightly better resolution but without headtracking. Seeing as the VR920 is the cheapest 3d headset on the market, I can cut it some slack for also not being the best. If you are the type of gamer that loves to get all the newest gadgets, this is a fine buy. As for myself, I spent $200 on the Logitech Divino keyboard and another $300 on my 22" LCD monitor, so another $400 for an innovative device like this wasn't an issue. Although Icuiti is trying to market to the mainsteam with apps like World of Warcraft and Second-Life, I still feel like VR has a ways to go before it is a mass market product. As a developer, I like the fact that Icuiti is releasing an SDK so people can experiement with homebrew VR or what-have-you, but most casual gamers will probably be put off by the small list of compatible games. I did show the headset to a couple of friends and they were all completely amazed, but they balked when I told them the price. $299 would be a much more attractive price point. For casual gamers I suggest getting a pair of 3d gamer glasses (they only work on CRT monitors) first to see if stereo 3d is for you. Those glasses only run for around $100 or less, but don't give you the quality of 3d you will get with a real HMD. But for die-hard simulation fans, WoW/FPS junkies and VR enthuseists, Icuiti might have a hit.UPDATE: September 18th 2010:
Its been 3 years since I got the VR920 and much has changed. First of all Icuiti changed their name to Vuzix, which was probably a good move. Also, much has changed with the 3D driver landscape as well as OS compatibility. Nvidia no longer supports the VR920 with their Vista/7 driver, although you can still use the 3D driver if you have an old 7 series Nvidia card and Windows XP. However Vuzix released their own driver with support for Vista and a handful of games like Half-Life 2, Crysis and Unreal Tournament 2004. The IZ3D driver also now supports the VR920 headset directly. So all is not lost. However I rarely, if ever, use the VR920 anymore. About a year after I got it, I purchased the Zalman Trimon 22" 3D monitor. After seeing the quality of a nice 3D monitor it is hard to go back to a low-end HMD. First off the resolution has no comparison, 1680 x 1050 versus 640 x 480. Modern 3D monitors are now 1080P so a VGA headset seems pretty low-end these days. Aside from the resolution, which isn't so bad, is the virtual screen size. It just seems too small. A 22" monitor at a half meter distance looks absolutely huge in comparison to the VR920 virtual screen. If Vuzix could release another headset with maybe a 45 degree or more FOV then maybe we would be talking. Anything less and its just not going to replace a monitor. In terms of the headtracking, I found it was better to not use it at all. It was very inaccurate (mainly in the yaw) and very jittery. Most of the time it just gave me a headache or made me nauseous. Additionally the headset just became somewhat of a hassle and I found using a 3D monitor with polarized glasses to be way more comfortable. Now I am not knocking HMDs altogether. I think if a headset were to offer the right resolution and virtual screen size (FOV) it might be worth putting up with the hassle. But the VR920 is not that headset. Overall its not a bad product and, if you are looking for a 3D gaming headset, its probably the best HMD to get for the price. However if you are just looking to get more immersed in games you are probably better off getting something like the Nvidia 3D Vision and calling it a day. On the other hand, if you are a VR researcher or gaming hobbyist you may enjoy what Vuzix has to offer.