Avegant Glyph: Hands-on with the headphone/virtual retinal display that's about to hit Kickstarter

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If CES 2014 has any say, our eyes are the next frontier of wearables and display tech. Oculus Rift, Google Glass, and a raft of new augmented and projected-display products will all fight for your precious retinas. Count the Avegant Glyph in the mix, which launches its Kickstarter campaign on January 22.

Avegant's virtual retinal display technology has been covered by CNET before, but we've finally gotten a chance to try the latest alpha prototype of the Glyph headset in advance of the Kickstarter campaign. It's an intriguing, if mixed, experience.

The Glyph is intended as mobile ear and eye display headgear, for use with your movies, games, and whatever else you'd need a display for. It's not augmented-reality, or even virtual reality, really - but it does display 3D content, and has Bluetooth head-tracking technology that could be put to use for future VR-type applications.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When the eyewear's folded up in headphone mode, the Glyph really does just look like a regular pair of somewhat enormous headphones, although the final Glyph's size should be slimmed down even more. See the illustration below.

This is what the final Glyph should look like: more like Beats-esque headphones. Avegant

Texas Instruments DLP technology is used to project a 1,280x800 display right onto your retinas. Dual eyepieces can be adjusted with dials to set focus and distance. The Glyph should work with various eye prescriptions, which is good, because it can't be used with glasses. Unfortunately, the Glyph barely worked at all with my -9, extra-curved myopic corneas. Avegant CEO Ed Tang admitted that eye curvature could effect how well the Glyph works for people.

What I could tell was that the projected image, just like my last time with Avegant's virtual retinal display tech, was exceedingly bright and vivid, lacking any sense of pixelation. A deep-sea 3D movie looked like it was projected in a tiny little movie theater in front of my eyes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Glyph is designed to not completely block out the world around you - my peripheral vision was mostly intact. That's by design, in case you wear these on a train and are suddenly blind to the world. The over-ear can headphones use titanium drivers, and sound pretty good, loud and boomy. A side panel on the right earpiece has media controls and a volume wheel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Glyph uses HDMI 1.4, and can connect to an iPhone, Android device, or any media player or device that uses HDMI, which ends up treating Avegant's headset as a mobile display. An iPhone plugged into the Glyph can be used the same way as an iPhone plugged into a TV with an HDMI adapter: I could browse menus, open apps, look at Twitter, play games, or watch movies. None of this was in 3D, though: naturally, to get 3D to work, you need to connect to 3D-compatible content like a 3D Blu-ray player.

The Avegant Glyph will cost $499 for early Kickstarter adopters. The final version promises to be even slimmer than this version, which is a good thing: the fit and feel on this model was really hard on my face, with an unforgiving, seriously painful nosepiece. But, this is the only virtual retinal display headset out there I've seen...and it really does work, even if it's not completely perfect.

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