Every once in a while, yet another manufacturer attempts to create the video version of the iPod personal music player, but no one has cracked it. Though famed German optics company Carl Zeiss AG deserves credit for creating the lightweight, portable Cinemizer 3D headset, ultimately it, too, misses the mark.
While the Cinemizer fixes several problems I noted with the similar Sony's HMZ-T1 3D glasses -- size, weight, lack of portability, inability to adjust each eyepiece individually -- it's a worse product overall. The Cinemizer manages to combine a smaller, lower-resolution screen with much poorer performance, and it costs roughly the same price as the Sony headset.
Regardless of whether you're watching 2D or 3D content, the Cinemizer introduces blue and red crosstalk effects, skies strobe, and movement during 3D movies flickers. The earbuds that ship with the headset are dreadful, and though there is a headphone jack, it works only with iPod viewing.
As a result, the search for the ultimate video headset continues. Perhaps the upcoming Sony HMZ-T2 will fix all that?
Design and features
In many ways, the Cinemizer is the Sony HMZ-T1 Lite. It's more than three times lighter -- 120 grams versus 420 for the Sony -- and therefore more portable. Designwise, it's a lot less like a helmet (Sony) and more like a pair of glasses -- albeit it a freaky all-white pair of glasses. Like the ones the Doc wears when he comes Back from the Future.
The headpiece has a set of adjustable clips that hold the glasses on behind your ears. As a further aid to customization, the lenses on each are separately adjustable, and therefore friendlier for both people who don't wear glasses and those who do. The Sony had only a clunky system that moved both lenses at once, resulting in blurring on parts of the screen.
The headset connects umbilically via a 4-foot cable to an included small unit that's the size of a clamshell phone. The unit comes with an HDMI adapter, but there is also an optional 30-pin iPod adapter available ($80). Like those Oakley MP3 sunglasses from a couple of years ago, the Cinemizer headset includes a set of earbuds that mount into the frame when not in use or that can be removed entirely. The unit also includes a volume control, a headphones socket, a USB port, and an AV input.
While the Cinemizer can take an input of up to 1080p, the native resolution is a much smaller 870×500 pixels (compare that with Sony's 1,280x720 pixels). The headset has a pair of OLED screens inside that simulate an image of 40 inches at a distance of 6.5 feet. That's actually a paltry size compared with what's possible, and another big strike against the Cinemizer headset. The Sony simulates a 100-foot screen, for example.
The headset includes a battery rated at 6 hours when playing back from an iPod and 2.5 hours when using the HDMI port. Our battery test found that the rating was a little conservative with the iPod, though, running out after 6 hours and 43 minutes -- almost enough for two "Lord of the Rings: Extended Editions."
If you thought people taking photos with their massive iPads was annoying, using the Cinemizer in public ratchets up the obnoxiousness factor 10-fold. When putting the headset on in public it's hard to keep a straight face, and you can feel -- and in some cases see -- people wondering what the heck it is you're up to. Personally I don't relish the feeling of being mugged, so I didn't wear the Cinemizer for very long on my subway commute.
When you first put the headset on, you are instantly struck with one problem: a lot of light leaks in. I solved this by putting on a hat, but this also ups the weird factor. I found that eyestrain was an issue with extended use as well.
The image is fairly crisp (with one major caveat I'll get to shortly), and color and black levels seem fine. There is very little adjustment available, however, with just two settings of contrast and a +/-10 percent brightness.
Choosing a darkened room for better contrast, the film "Watchmen" was conveyed with crisp edges, and blacks are as black as I'd expect from OLED, not gray, as they can be on LCDs or cheaper plasmas. There was considerable crushing in the image, though, and shadow detail became lost in the fly-by of the baddie's ship in "Star Trek." I haven't seen shadow detail that poor since the TCL L40FHDF12TA, a TV half the price of the Cinemizer headset. Shielding ambient light out with a hand or adjusting the brightness control did nothing to bring substance out of the murk.
Switching to a brighter scene such as the daytime sequences from "I Am Legend," I found found that light sections of the picture, such as the sky, flickered slightly.
The biggest problem with the image, though, is the faint blue and red crosstalk on contrasting edges, regardless of content. It's similar to analog TV ghosting and can be very distracting, especially in darker movies. It's different from typical 3D crosstalk as it's more faint, but potentially just as annoying. Funny enough, there was no "typical" crosstalk when watching 3D, though, but again, movement does tend to flicker. Gaming and a bit of "Hugo" were arguably better than any 3D TV I've seen this year in terms of traditional crosstalk. Pity the red and blue kind was so prevalent.
Meanwhile, the sound from the Cinemizer earbuds is only a little bit better than a telephone, for while it has a frequency response perfectly suited to voices, anything else is mush. Sound effects from "The Avengers" distorted at even middling volumes, and music sounds like the band is standing on either side of a deserted six-lane freeway. Thankfully the headphone jack offers better sound, but then again it will work only with the iPod attachment.
With fairly poor image quality and a high price, there is actually very little to recommend about the Zeiss Cinemizer OLED headset. While it will likely find its fans -- dentists' offices, night-owls, and frequent fliers -- it's not even a patch on the similarly priced Sony HMZ-T1. Eyestrain was a big problem, and the size of the screen is equivalent to holding an iPhone to your face, which you can do for a lot less money. The Cinemizer is a neat idea, and it looks plenty futuristic, but even Doctor Emmett Brown wouldn't come up with something this harebrained.