Sony HMZ-T3W personal 3D viewer review
What would you say to the idea of having the equivalent of a 63ft-tall cinema screen to watch in your living room, your lounge, on a plane, pretty much anywhere you can go - even if you didn't have the physical space?
If the answer is "yes please" then the Sony HMZ-T3W - described by Sony as a "personal 3D viewer" - will certainly grab your attention. But possibly for the wrong reasons. Can this crazy-looking, screen-to-the-face wearable deliver the goods with any success?
Big screen, small package
The Sony HMZ-T3W is a pair of futuristic-looking goggles that you strap over your head and eyes and then tighten into place with the help of a couple of clasps. Doing this lets you beam two 720p HD images straight to your retinas which gives the equivalent of staring at a 750-inch screen from 20-metres away. It's immersive, no doubt about it.
The headset also comes with headphones included so you can drown out all the noise of your partner, children, or flatmates laughing at you. And because you are completely encased in the cinematic moment you won't be able to see them either, or hear them when the on-screen action is at its loudest.
The headset itself isn't as heavy as we expected and there is a large forehead pad to help make things a little more comfortable - just make sure you don't get hair underneath it.
You'll look like an idiot
There's no getting around the simple fact that by using the HMZ-T3W you are going to look like an idiot, be it out and about - not that you can walk around sensibly, we'd imagine, we didn't try - or in the comfort of your own home.
Upon posting a picture to Facebook showing us wearing the personal 3D viewer the first response was: "Muppet". That was topped up by umpteen buzzes in our pocket as our phone lit up with various alerts of friends commenting and poking fun at us - not that we could tell at that very moment, as the HMZ-T3W made us all but blind to the outside world.
Sitting and wearing a contraption on your head will take its toll on your comfort levels eventually. One of the supporting straps goes over the top of your head, the other around the back of it, sitting just at the top of your neck. It's the latter strap that stops you resting your head back fully on the sofa and that caused us to slouch a lot more than usual.
To make the head unit as light as possible the battery has been placed in a separate box. About the size of a small portable hard drive and connected by a longish cable - it's 1m long - you can dump it next to you on the sofa, or in a bag if you're not at home. It makes sense but does mean yet more parts to the package - not that we'd want that added weight strapped to our heads.
When it comes to controls, there's no remote like with a TV - instead the Sony has built-in controls on the underside of the head unit for adjusting volume, selecting the input source, and adjusting the display to get the focus right. Considering that you can't see them by eye, because of the HMZ-T3W obviously being strapped to your noggin, they're fairly intuitive to control.
In reality, the HMZ-T3W headset is just another display device: it's the format that makes it different from everything else out there. The battery unit also has a HDMI socket for connecting to a source, and there's a wireless HDMI too so you don't have to sit right next to the output.
Simply put, anything that can be linked up to HDMI can be watched and enjoyed through the HMZ-T3W. We tested it with a Sky HD box, a PS3 and Apple TV. If you had a HDMI cable for your tablet or smartphone there is no reason why you couldn't benefit from that content as well.
Acknowledging that people have multiple devices, there is an accompanying wireless HDMI box included and this allows for three HDMI devices to be connected and then beamed wirelessly across your living room. The box also allows you to connect it to your TV so when you're not using the HMZ-T3W you can still lead a normal life.
The wireless box has a good range, although we found it varied depending on the source as to how good the signal was. Netflix via Apple TV needed a direct line of sight, a Blu-ray on the PS3 didn't, for example.
Watching movies, playing games, having fun
Once you've got the source set up there is little else to do other than watch stuff. The HMZ-T3W supports 3D playback - no you don't have to wear 3D glasses as well - and we tested it with a number of movies including Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Resident Evil, and a series of 3D-enabled games including Wipeout HD and Motorstorm.
On the 2D front we watched The Hobbit via Netflix, played The Last of Us on the PS3, watched some YouTube via Apple TV, and even connected our MacBook Air through Apple TV Mirroring to do some work - which was utterly strange.
In all cases the picture is stunning, even if it isn't Full HD 1080p. And at this distance, and given Sony's drive in 4K resolution, we'd anticipated a yet-greater resolution direct to the eyes.
It really feels like you are sitting in the cinema on your own without the annoying kids chatting, the couple next you to snogging, or someone with a donkey laugh finding everything funny. We haven't been to the cinema in ages, and you can see why, based on our interpretation of it.
One thing we did wonder was whether the screens would be fatiguing to watch. Surprisingly the whole experience didn't burn out our eyes, even after the three-hour opus that is The Hobbit, and playing games was equally amazing. Sadly our review unit went back before we got to fire up Call of Duty: Ghosts.
The sound is equally good, but we found the bundled headphones to be fairly standard fare, and even the multiple tip sizes didn't deliver as comfortable a fit for us as we'd hoped for. Because you can switch to your own in ear headphones this isn't really an issue though, so long as you don't intend to wear big, bulky over-ears.
We also found that the battery powering the head unit lasts about 3 hours on a full charge, but you can use it while charging so if you can find a power socket there is little to worry about.
Where and why?
The HMZ-T3W is presumably designed for high-earning jet-setters who want an amazing experience viewing wherever they go, without being disturbed - such as on a long-haul flight. And for the most part the HMZ-T3W delivers on that promise.
The catch, though, is that they are incredibly isolating. This is you formally acknowledging that you are going to do nothing else but focus on what you are watching and enjoying just that. There is no talking, no seeing who else is in the room, in fact you don't even need the lights on and we found it's better that way.
But there's just something wrong about sitting in the dark on your own in a room with a headset on your head. Sorry, but there is.
Then there's the price: it's £1,300 in the UK, or $999 in the US. That will instantly price it out of contention for most people. With other devices like Oculus Rift expected to cost a fraction of that when it goes on sale next year - it also has a higher-resolution 1080p display - we do have to wonder who Sony expects to buy this. Geordi La Forge fans maybe?
There is no doubting that the HMZ-T3W is impressive. We laughed when it came through the door, and others had a good giggle at our expense too. You'll probably do the same by seeing the accompanying pictures in the review - complete with mo' for Movember. Throw all inhibitions out of the window, though, and it's a great viewing experience.
The conflicting thing for us is that while it produces amazing results, and is easy to use and set up, we can't get over the fact that using it makes you look like an idiot. For many it will be something they are not willing to accept, especially if you've got to pay such a high price for the pleasure.