Video glasses for gaming and watching movies aren't new by any stretch. But while others are large and still quite heavy, the Zeiss Cinemizer OLED sits on the opposite spectrum: it's lightweight, works with a compatible head tracking attachment and looks very sleek. In other words, with the head tacker, these video glasses should be great for gaming, in theory.
Let's be clear again: the Cinemizer is not an Oculus Rift alternative. It's a pair of video glasses aimed at helping you focus on the entertainment directly in front of you. It's an immersive personal viewing experience, but not to the extent of VR.
Plug And Play Setup
The Cinemizer works with any media device that can output via HDMI; so PCs, gaming consoles, and Blu-ray players all work. It can also connect to an iPod Touch/ and iPhone via the A/V input port.
Getting the Cinemizer up and running is a very straightforward affair. The left side of the Cinemizer is attached to a battery box that also houses the power button, A/V in, mini USB port (for recharging) and a volume dial that also doubles as a button for switching between 2D and 3D.
All you have to do is connect the battery box to the included HDMI adapter, and then connect the mini HDMI-to-HDMI adapter. Then, plug in a full-sized HDMI cable into the adapter on one end and the other end into your system of choice. If you want to connect a non-HDMI-ready device, you can use the included composite cable adapter and the AV input port.
There's no software to install, which is great. Finally, pop in the included earbuds into their respective slots and hit the power button to rock and roll. It's that simple.
Comfier Than Expected
The primary complaint for wearable displays is that most are just too bulky and heavy. For instance, Sony's Personal 3D Viewer (second-gen model included) weighs you down so much, you end up with neck cramps after just a few hours of usage. Not so with the Cinemizer, which weighs only 120 grams. In comparison, Sony's head mounted display weighs nearly four times that. We were able to use the Cinemizer comfortably for as long as the battery lasted, which was around 2-3 hours.
Everyone has a different shaped head, which is why I was really happy to see the Cinemizer come with two nose adapters for fitting the soft rubbery nose pad. There are also ear sliders to help keep the video glasses from slipping off your face.
Two wheels beside each screen can be used to adjust visual focus. The lenses can be adjusted from -5 to +2 diopters per eye, but I realized it was just better to wear contacts (if you have) for maximum clarity and video sharpness. Wearing the Cinemizer over your glasses is also next to impossible unless you have very small frames.
A Portable 40-inch Display
Unfortunately, it's impossible to show you what it's like to look through the Cinemizer. Zeiss says wearing the Cinemizer is about the same as looking at a 40-inch display from around 6.5-feet away.
Inside, the Cinemizer has two bright OLED displays inside; one for each eye. They're OLEDs, so blacks are deep and colors are very saturated. It's not pixel-perfect, though. The resolution on each OLED is only 800 x 500. Comparatively, the Sony Personal 3D Viewer has OLEDs with HD 1280 x 720 resolution and also has a wider field of view — 45 degrees versus the 30 degrees in the Cinemizer.
For gaming and movies, the Cinemizer's picture quality is fine. The Sony visor is sharper, but again, it's also a lot larger and heavier. The lower resolution is not immediately noticeable unless you are trying to read onscreen text. Games and movies with tiny subtitles are very tough to make out due to the sub-720p resolution.
The 3D is surprisingly good, but it'll mostly depend on the content you're watching. Obviously, watching AVATAR is going to yield better 3D effects than Clash of the Titans.
One visual shortcoming is that the Cinemizer's display is marred by a blue-purple-colored glow around the edges. This oversight often ruins the viewing experience and distracts from the fantastic black levels the glasses' OLEDs produce. It's also disappointing that the Cinemizer doesn't come with any eye shields to block out external light from seeping in. Instead, you can buy a rubber eye shield that snaps on for around $40. (Yet another additional cost.)
Unlike other video glasses, the Cinemizer is battery-powered, which makes it very portable. An included travel bag practically begs you to bring it to friend's house. Zeiss's official battery ratings claim 2.5 hours via HDMI and up to six hours via the A/V in port. In my month-long testing, I was able to get around 2-3 hours via the HDMI connected to a PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (all separately, of course) and around five hours via my iPhone. The numbers match up to Zeiss' battery tests. If you plan on using it for longer periods, there's always the mini USB cable for keeping it plugged in.
By far the coolest reason to even consider the Cinemizer is the official head tracker that's sold separately for around $230.
Installation is as easy as removing the Cinemizer's right ear slider and slipping the head tracker on the same rail. Then, just plug the head tracker into another USB port and everything is calibrated and ready to go.
Again, the Cinemizer with the head tracker is not exactly an Oculus Rift, but it still does a fine job mimicking your mouse for camera control. Obviously, head tracking works best with games that play from a first person perspective. With the head tracker and Cinemizer on, I went back and gushed over Skyrim and Mirror's Edge, to name a few games. It's incredible how much more realistic the games are when you're using your head to look around instead of a mouse. You really start seeing details you'd normally have never noticed. It's like seeing for the first time again.
And even though you don't get that full panoramic view that a real virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift provides, it's still very possible to get motion sickness with the Cinemizer. In Mirror's Edge, leaping from building to building and making slides underneath objects in first-person almost made me vomit the first few times. (I had a similar experience with the Oculus Rift the first time I demoed it).
Using the head tracker is not for the faint of heart. It requires mental training to overcome the nausea during the initial break-in period. After a few days, the motion sickness does subside, but it almost always returns after a periods of disuse. This symptom is not exclusive to the Cinemizer — it can pop up with any head tracking video display.
A friend I let try on the Cinemizer told me "if you're getting motion sickness, then you're fully immersed." Video glasses and wearable displays are supposed to invoke the sense of dimensional space. In this regard, with the head tracker attached, the Cinemizer does provide a feeling of depth, even if it's not as rich and all-encompassing as virtual reality.
The Cinemizer is not quite perfect. The resolution could use a bump to HD (1080p if possible), and the glow around the screens seriously needs to be fixed, but the fit, head tracker and portability factor help make the Cinemizer something I'd be more willing to use, as opposed to Sony's own video glasses.
At $750 for the Cinemizer, $230 for the head tracker and another $40 for a rubber light shield, total cost to ownership balloons to over $1,000. I'd be more inclined to recommend it if the head tracker was bundled or built into the Cinemizer and the entire package sold for $750 or less.
As it stands, the Cinemizer is still a very niche product. It deserves merit for having all the right ingredients to making a successful wearable. Now, it's time to just iron out the kinks for the next model.
(All photos by Raymond Wong and Evan Ackerman for DVICE.)