“Do not use in a public place” says the user manual for the Avegant Glyph, a Geordi La Forge style* visor that beams video directly onto your eyeballs. I presume the warning is because you might get robbed while staring distractedly into a 65-inch virtual screen hanging in space, but it also might be because the Glyph might destroy whatever shreds of ‘cred’ you’ve amassed thus far in your nerdly life. Regardless, this face-mounted movie theatre is well worth trying — just make sure you do it in the privacy of your own home. Here’s our full review.
At first glance, the Glyph looks more like an pair of Beats headphones than a video system of any kind. The oversized cans are inscribed with sci-fi insignia, and if you look a little closer you’ll find some tiny raised bumps on each side: subtle controls.
Things get more clear once you look on the underside of the headband, which has a pair of circular apertures, bursting with bright white light when first turned on. Between these you have a space for one of five nosepieces. Attach one and place the Glyph on your head, and you’ll be met with the calibration screen, which allows you to twiddle the lenses, adjust the distance between them and generally get the focus right. It’s not immediately clear how to get the best results, but you’ll know when you can see the screen (and your eyes stop aching).
Inside each eyepiece, literally a million tiny mirrors project video onto your eyeballs, producing a virtual screen at 1280 x 720p resolution. That’s enough for watching videos, piloting drones or playing games with clarity, and without the ‘screen door’ graininess that plagues even high-end VR headsets. You can also see above and below the headset, so you can walk around without bumping into things, raise your morning coffee to your lips, and wave at your disbelieving and less nerdy friends.
The video source is up to you; you can use the included HDMI cable to connect to phones, tablets, computers, consoles and pretty much anything else with an HDMI port. Happily, that means you don’t need to deal with any kind of app or software if you don’t want to; everything just works as it does on your TV.
The Glyph has a rechargeable battery inside, which is recharged using Micro USB and lasts for nearly a full work day (about six hours).
It also comes with a head strap, which clicks easily into each earcup and helps to alleviate the significant weight of the Glyph.
To give the Glyph a fair test, I used it for watching esports tournaments on Twitch, playing games on consoles and PC, watching TV and even writing this very article. For all but the latter, the Glyph did well. After configuring the headset properly, I didn’t experience eye fatigue or headaches even after upwards of an hour of use. The weight of the headset is considerable, but using the provided head band makes it more comfortable for marathon movie sessions.
The video produced by the tiny mirrors is reasonable, although you will notice the lack of detail compared to 1080, 1440p and 4K monitors, televisions and the like. The audio side of the equation was top notch though, with satisfying bass that made war movies and videogames suitably bombastic experiences.
I wear spectacles day-to-day as I’m short-sighted, and I had no problems using the Glyph without glasses, as the distance between my eyes and the Glyph is quite small. However, my surroundings visible above and below the visor were blurry, meaning I had to take off the headset and wear glasses if I had to look at something far away. Still, the extra vision afforded by the Glyph compared to a VR headset was welcome, allowing me to easily pick up game controllers, swill some coffee and respond to other real humans in the room.
While the Glyph is certainly impressive, I’m not sure that it’s completely practical. For starters, it is quite expensive – more than £500 or $600 – and it always feels a bit risky to invest so much into what is ultimately a first iteration of a piece of novel technology. That isn’t to say that the Glyph isn’t well designed or polished, it is, but I’d bet we’ll see a second generation headset at some point that offers a more detailed higher resolution image, weighs less and perhaps supports standalone use — all of which would certainly improve the experience of using this device.
So, is the Avegant Glyph for you? It could be. If you’re an early adopter who’s after a super portable way of playing console games, watching videos or piloting a drone, then the Glyph certainly fills that niche with style and aplomb, with its novel technology justifying its high price point. For everyone else, I’d say go and have a play with it while it’s in Selfridges to decide whether it’s worth getting… and if not, stay tuned for a second generation model. This technology is super exciting, and I hope we’ll see more of it in the years to come.