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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Wearable Tech

The future is coming, but I can't see it

Commentary: Smart glasses and VR still have a problem... my vision.

"You'll be more comfortable removing your glasses."

No matter how many times I've worn a Vive VR headset -- with glasses -- I get asked to take them off in demo after demo. I politely decline. Sometimes, not so politely. I can't see without my glasses. At about a -9 myopia with astigmatism, the world becomes a color blur. I've dealt with this since I was a kid. I don't mind jamming my glasses into VR headsets, and if I'm careful, I can get them in just fine. Taking them out sometimes is a challenge. Glasses do distort the VR experience, just a bit. Just like my thick lenses distort the real world, too.

There are headsets, however, that don't play nicely with glasses at all. At this year's CES show in Las Vegas, I jumped from smart glasses to advanced VR headsets and found a good percentage of them weren't designed for my thick frames. Or, for any frames at all.

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Spectacles on me: nope.

Scott Stein/CNET

My eyes don't fit

ODG's next-generation smart glasses project 3D landscapes onto the real world, a type of basic augmented reality. But as I put them on, they rested on top of my glasses. The images couldn't reach my eyes properly. I had to bend and twist. The representatives in the hotel suite I was in apologized, but had others to attend to. My vision was my problem.

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The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-powered ODG R-9 smart glasses don't fit on my glasses, either.

Scott Stein/CNET

I could get contact lenses. I've had to do that before, to test Google Glass. Like Bartleby, I would prefer not to. No one should have to choose what glasses they wear just to try on smart glasses or VR.

Fove 0, an experimental eye-tracking VR headset now available to buy, also didn't fit on my face. Fove's Jim Preston, who guided me through the demos, was apologetic. He said it works with smaller-framed glasses. My Warby Parker Beckett frames aren't that big, though. I tried the demo without my glasses. I couldn't see detail, but I could see the accuracy of the eye-tracking. But the real experience remained out of focus.

It happened again this winter with Occipital, a company that's developed a really clever VR headset for the iPhone called Bridge that can scan the outside world and bring mixed reality into the headset, thanks to a 3D depth-sensing camera attachment. The goggles crammed over my glasses but pressed in so tight I thought my frames would break.

And let's not forget Snapchat. Spectacles were the talk of the holidays: bright, fun, wacky. They didn't fit over my glasses. I couldn't wear them. I won't wear them. I'm not going to try to pop in prescription lenses.

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Vive's new headset strap is face-friendly (and works better with glasses).

Josh Miller/CNET

Be eye-friendly, please

Smart companies realize this and are addressing it. PlayStation VR does a wonderful job coming over the head, accommodating any glasses without pressure. The new upcoming strap and headphone combo for Vive also makes attaching and removing the headset a lot easier, and it fit over my glasses better.

Some, perhaps, will explore prescription smart glasses. I think this is a road to disaster, unless the glasses are good enough or the lenses cheap enough to make the proposition sensible. Google Glass flirted with prescription frames from Luxottica and Ray-Ban. Carl Zeiss has a concept for fitting normal-looking glasses with smart tech-ready lenses... they were demonstrated a year ago. But a year later, what I see are mostly ill-fitting, awkward frames.

It's holding me back from wanting to adopt smartglasses. My eyes aren't ready. I'm also not ready to throw out whatever frames I like and adopt smart ones. Glasses aren't like watches: they're essential tools for an essential sense. I need ones that work. I like ones that look good. Can smartglasses be either? And if VR headsets can't adjust to my eyes -- or at least help me see clearly with my glasses off -- I'm never going to wear them. Neither will a lot of people.