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Video glasses are by no means a new concept, and though early, standalone models weren't terribly attractive, they did a good job of offering a portable, personalized video-viewing experience. However, accessory glasses made for the iPod and other personal video players (PVPs) have mostly failed to impress. Unfortunately, the Icuiti iWear, available in an iPod-specific flavor and a more generic PVP version (the AV230), doesn't improve the situation. The $250 accessory suffers from an uncomfortable design and poor video quality. It's too bad, really, because the illusion of viewing video on a large screen from a distance can reduce eye strain.
The iWear fails first and foremost in its design. Though the glasses weigh a reasonable 4 ounces, this is noticeably heavier than its closest competitor--the MyVu PMV--which comes in at 2.5 ounces. It may not seem like it, but 1.5 ounces makes a difference when something is propped on your face. The iWear feels heavy when worn and, since the weight is concentrated at the front, tends to slip down the nose--it's overall quite uncomfortable. Another irritating design choice is the built-in earbuds, which are stiff and difficult to adjust. No one in the CNET office could keep the earbuds from frequently popping out of their ears, and I couldn't even get them in my ears, while having the viewing section pushed up to my eyes (which is necessary for proper viewing). One compensating virtue is that the iWear can be used with other headphones, which you leave plugged into your iPod or PVP.
Another positive design feature is the iWear's inclusion of focus knobs under each eye screen. This allows users with imperfect vision to adjust the video to their needs--a nice touch we didn't see on the MyVu PMV. The textured rubber nose fitting is also well done and quite comfortable--if not for the heaviness of the unit, the fitting would probably do a good job of keeping the glasses in place. Coming out of the left armature is the device's final physical characteristic: a 41-inch cable, which terminates in a simple iPod adapter (or, in the case of the AV230, a 3.5mm AV connection). On one side of the adapter is a standard mini-USB port, which is used to charge the unit and an iPod (if attached). However, Icuiti inexplicably does not include a simple USB charging cable. Sure, you probably have one lying around for a camera or other device, but this omission from a $250 accessory package is inexcusable. On the plus side--yet somewhat oddly--the AV230 does includes a USB cable, as well as a wall-wart power adapter and an AV adapter cable.
Of course, I could forgive the minor cord omission--though probably not the discomfort--if the iWear offered stellar video quality. However, video playback tests proved far from this standard. The unit gives the illusion of viewing a 44-inch screen at a distance of 9 feet accurately, but it doesn't look good--certainly not as good as just watching the iPod's screen alone. First, the right side is noticeably darker than the left, which gives the same impression as a screen with a really poor viewing angle from one side. That is, details are lost and one side of the image looks dark and undefined. Also, video looks in general washed out, and it's not as sharp as I'd like. Straight up: the iWear is just not worth it.