By Daniel Smith
Most people have by now probably heard of Sony’s $799 HMZ-T1 HMD. When Sony first showed off an early prototype of the device at this year’s CES in January, initial reaction was that this was a glimpse into a still far-off future and not a commercial product that would hit shelves any time soon. Forget timing, many bloggers put the expected retail price in the thousands of dollars leaving little chance for any serious mass market adoption.
It came as a big surprise at IFA in late August when Sony announced that the (now named) HMZ-T1 would be available later this year, and at a reasonable list price of only $799. Sure, eight hundred bucks isn’t pocket change, but it puts the device well into reach of the ambitious stereophiles who are looking for a true way of experiencing stereo 3D in 720P high definition. All this without the cross-talk and ghosting we’ve had to put up with using other 3D solutions.
With all the HMDs released over the years, what is it about the HMZ-T1 that makes it so different, you ask? From what I have read so far, it promises to be the most technologically advanced consumer-level HMD to hit the market, and early reviews of demo units are already unanimous in agreeing that the two 0.7 inch OLED screens at 1280×720 resolution deliver amazing picture clarity and unprecedented black levels. More than that, it features 5.1 surround sound to help complete the experience.
If I’m correct, I’m hoping that the 720P resolution is high enough to make the pixel structure indiscernible, meaning there’s little need for a 1080p resolution unit. More than that, 720p is great for S-3D gaming because HDMI 1.4 is still limited to 24fps at full 1080p stereo resolution anyway, but can deliver 50/60 Hz performance at the supported 720p.
For me, the features I’m hoping for from this HMD are less about the technology itself, and more about comfort and compatibility. Let me share some of my current HMD experiences to explain.
My latest experience was with a Vuzix VR920 that I bought about a year ago, and even at a meager 640×480 resolution delivered by two LCDs, my first experience with Half-Life 2 was really impressive. Unfortunately, after about thirty minutes of use, I began to notice the Vuzix’s weight on my nose, and and it started to hurt…a lot.
I tried adjusting the metal/plastic nosepiece over and over again, but even at a mere three ounces, there was no way around the fact that wearing the unit for any extended period of time would always be a painful experience unless there were additional physical support points.
The second problem was its native support was limited to a small number of games, and although the iZ3D drivers offered a VR920 mode, it just didn’t work! Nobody really knows what happened. When Vuzix support was asked, they pointed the finger at iZ3D, and iZ3D of course blamed Vuzix, and gamers like me were left out in the cold. This is why I resisted buying the Vuzix Wrap VR1200 – I didn’t want to go through this again.
As a committed gamer, I really tried my best! I invested countless hours hunting down workarounds, and even completed (er, nearly completed) a run through of Half-Life 2 with various little contraptions made of cotton balls which I stole from my girlfriend to help alleviate the nose pain. At a minimum, I think my efforts speak volumes about the HMD experience and how rewarding it is that I would invest the time…and the aggravation…that I did to get things working. While Vuzix continues to make valiant efforts, there was clearly a new product opportunity here.
Even though I consider myself a stereophile, the shutter glasses I have used so far make me nauseous very quickly. More than that, crosstalk between the left and right images diminishes the immersion, and this cuts out the excitement for me. This is why HMDs are so appealing to me, and I’m hoping that Sony got it right.
While the HMZ-T1 isn’t light as air, Sony is trying something new by having a leather forehead and headband strap take the pressure off the nose, and I’m hoping this will let me spend extended sessions with this, and not require the use of powerful painkillers. On the compatibility front, the HMD’s HDMI 1.4 connector will let me use just about any 3D software choice I want including console, AMD HD3D compliant drivers (DDD, iZ3D), or Nvidia 3DTV Play (HDMI GeForce 3D Vision drivers).
In a way, Sony’s HMD could represent what Apple did with the iPhone. The technology was advanced – but not truly groundbreaking compared to other smartphones of the time. However, the overall experience was just smooth and comfortable for the consumer, and that’s what changed the game. Sure, everyone talked about how smartphones would put the internet in everyone’s hands at all times, but it’s the iPhone that really made it happen because it ultimately made the experience user friendly and accessible. This is exactly what I’m crossing my fingers for – the first in a series of game changing devices from Sony and others that give HMDs the much-needed push into consumer mainstream.
I expect the process of setting up the HMZ-T1 with a PS3 to be plug and play, though PC will probably be a little more challenging. I admit that I’m a pre-fan of the unit, which is why I’ve set up a blog entitled HMZ 3D Gaming, and I’m hoping this could serve as a go-to point for all PC gamers looking for help with getting started, advice on the right hardware and configuration, and any other important information for the HMZ-T1.
We’re also working on integrating this with MTBS’ GameGrade3D system which provides gamers with the best objective overview of which games work with each of the different stereoscopic solutions for PC gaming, and we’re all very much looking forward to hearing from the community what works for them and what the potential pitfalls are that need to be avoided.
Will the HMZ-T1 measure up to its hype? Will my expectations be satisfied? We will find out soon enough!