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It wasn't that long ago when the future was promised to us in the form of flying cars, watch phones and virtual-reality goggles. In most cases, the prognostications have fallen well wide of the mark — we're still driving around in cars wedded to terra firma; you can buy a watch phone, but something running iOS and Android is lot more practical and futuristic; and virtual reality exists today, but its uses are primarily in the fields of design, science and training.
What then to make of the Personal 3D Viewer, which does its best to look like an escapee from our future-filled dreams? Is it set to become commonplace in homes across the world, or is it just another interesting curio in our electronic evolution?
The Personal 3D Viewer consists of two main components: the Viewer itself; and a processing unit to which the Viewer is tethered. The processing unit can be, at most, 3.5 metres away from the Viewer, as that's how long the proprietary cable is.
Hopefully, the next-generation version will feature wireless communication between the processor and the Viewer, as well as support for multiple Viewers to be connected to the one processing unit. Provision for more than one HDMI input would also be nice.
In addition to the solitary HDMI input at the back of the processor is an HDMI-out port, which allows for sound and vision pass through when the Viewer isn't in use. Sony kindly supplies an HDMI cable in the box, but its 1m length requires you to either sit uncomfortably close to your Blu-ray player or console or play musical chairs with your cables.
Don the Viewer, and before your eyes are two 720p OLED displays, which combine to give you the impression that you're watching a screen as large as a cinema's from a few rows back — Sony claims that it's like being 20m away from a 750-inch screen. Concentrate hard enough, and you can pick out pixels, but otherwise the result is excellent.
OLED technology means that the blacks are black, and the colour and vibrancy on display are excellent. On some of the fast-moving, detail-heavy scenes, though, there's a bit more screen tearing than we'd like.
During first use, sound from the telescoping headphones is tinny, hollow and ever so rubbish. Switch the system's virtual surround-sound feature off, and things improve dramatically. You'll never accuse the Personal 3D Viewer of featuring reference-quality audio, but it's more than suitable for day-to-day use — bass can go up quite loud without descending into a booming mess, and speech is easily discerned.
Where the Viewer beats all other display devices is in the realm of 3D. With a screen for each eye, the Viewer is able to produce stereoscopic vision without any crosstalk. With TVs or projectors that are reliant on passive or active glasses, we sometimes suffer from double vision and headaches; not so with the Personal 3D Viewer.
In fact, the only headaches that we suffered from were related to carrying the weight of the Viewer, around 420g, on our brain box. With patience — and we're sure that wearing glasses doesn't help here — it's possible to configure the head straps and forehead rests to distribute the weight more evenly, but even then we struggled to last the 90- to 120-minute running time for most movies.
Show the unit off to friends — you'll want to, with a device like this — and all of that precious time spent tinkering with the physical settings is for naught. In all likelihood, your friends will struggle for a few minutes trying to get everything just so, and then give up once the image is clear. Failure to adjust the headset properly usually results in too much weight resting on the nose, and the only solution to that (apart from spending more time fiddling with the straps) is to hang your head down, as if you've fallen asleep on the bus.
It works! And in the case of gaming and 3D movies, it works brilliantly. But is it a game changer, and would we buy one?
On the first point, it's fairly safe to say that for the time being, it's a niche product done well. And the reason for that boils down to our answer to the second question: no, we wouldn't buy it. For an entertainment device that can only satisfy one person at a time, AU$900 is a lot of money to drop. If we wanted to do away with disputes that arise when one person wants to watch Downton Abbey while the other wants to play Gran Turismo 5, we'd elect to buy one of the many decent TVs on the market.
And we suspect that for many, the response will be similar. On the other hand, if you're single, cashed up, love 3D movies to death or need an immersive gaming experience, then the Personal 3D Viewer may just be the ticket for you.