Epson Moverio BT-100 review

Projector specialists Epson are exceptionally good at video projectors. But not everyone can have a projector, and they more often than not aren't portable. So the Moverio glasses are designed to give you a projector experience, with some portable glasses.

They cost around £500 and are powered by a small box-of-tricks which runs Android. The idea here is that you can play video and music while you're in a plane, or just sitting at home, in complete privacy and with a far "larger" image than you'd get on a TV.

Big and heavy

You could hardly call the Epson Moverio light. They weight a decent amount, and it's very noticeable when you have them on your face. Your ears and nose will take all the weight, and this can lead to discomfort - and the glasses slipping off your nose.

They aren't dreadfully uncomfortable though, and despite their weight, they have a decent feel when you're wearing them. Looking down with them on is a bad idea though, as they will slide off your face.

The system is made up of two parts. The first is obviously the glasses. These have their signal cable hard-wired into them. This cable leads to a proprietary port connection, which connects to the base unit. There are also two 3.5mm jack sockets on the eyepiece, these are for the supplied earbuds.

The second part of the arrangement is the Android base unit. This is small, a little weighty and contains most of the magic. On the front, there is a trackpad that forms the main navigation for the device. There is also a directional controller, with buttons for Android's standard home, menu and back controls. There is also a brightness button, and a 2D/3D toggle.

Also on this base unit are the socket to connect the glasses, a USB input, which allows the device to be charged, and a headphone socket. This is useful, because it enables you to bypass the earpieces supplied by Epson. This is something you'll want to do if you fly, because noise-cancelling headphones are essential on an aircraft.

Rubbish video support

If you only want to watch MPEG-4 files, with the .mp4 extension, then these glasses will suit you well. If you have hopes to play AVI or MKV containers, with MPEG-4 video inside then you should abandon them here.

We took an MP4 file, with 1080p resolution, and put it on the microSD card supplied. It played, although it was clearly pushing the ability of the hardware somewhat.

But give it an AVI and it won't even see the file through the gallery, and is unable to play it if you select it in the file manager. The same is true of MKVs, which more often than not is just MPEG-4 video in a more advanced container file. MKVs allow features like subtitles and multiple audio tracks to be easily contained in one file, and they're very useful.

All of this could be fixed with a software update, but we think it's a massive shame they aren't supported now. It would certainly be the biggest reason we'd avoid buying this device.

3D, picture and sound quality

Any time you have two display devices, as the Moverio does, you can easily display 3D. The system here is a little clunky though. When fed with a side-by-side 3D video, the glasses are able to turn them in to a 3D image, but only when the 2D to 3D button is pressed. There's no auto-detection.

This is fine, but the UI isn't 3D, so when the video finishes, you have to press it again, before you can actually see anything. The overall 3D effect is quite good though, but bear in mind that you're losing around half the resolution with side-by-side 3D, and it shows.

These glasses aren't HD either. That isn't actually a problem for most use, to be honest. You can tell that there is a reasonably low resolution, but it's not disruptive enough to spoil the video. Most of what we looked at was nice enough, but we're not sure how long we'd actually want to stare at it.

There is also no adjustment for how the image is projected. We suspect that people with one eye that is less capable than the other might find the process quite annoying. We felt that it was making us a little cross-eyed at times, and it certainly leaves you blinking when you take them off.

The fact that the glasses are transparent - there's a dark piece of plastic on the front, which you can see through, but also remove, to have a totally clear view - means that it's easy to get distracted. We found the glasses worked best in the dark, or when looking at a plain surface. This is fine, but perhaps Epson should supply a total blackout filter with them too.

Audio is excellent though, we used our own headphones as they're much more comfortable than the supplied buds. But sound had plenty of range and was very natural. Dolby Mobile is included, which might explain why the system sounds so good.

Android, but not Google endorsed

The big problem with these glasses is that Epson has avoided making them a "Google" certified item. This means that you won't get access to the Android Market - Epson has asked developers to approach it directly about building apps for the glasses - or any other Google apps, such as Gmail, or maps.

This is a problem in some ways, and while we don't think a lack of email on the device is a huge problem, we're a bit annoyed that you can't find a specific set of playback tools for other video types. This might be a conscious decision by Epson, or it might be a limitation of the hardware it has used. Either way, it limits the device significantly.

You do get a web browser, which uses the built-in Wi-Fi to get you online. It works well, and the built in keyboard is excellent, and very easy to use with the touchpad.

Line-in missing

We asked Epson about that ability of these glasses to take video from a third-party source. The company told us they couldn't, but a quick poke around the menu system shows that, in fact, there is an option for composite video in. There is no socket on the device for this, but there is a strange port at the bottom. Perhaps, there's a plan to add accessories later. Or perhaps not.

Either way, an input would be very helpful indeed, and would allow these glasses to be far more useful.

Verdict

The Moverio BT-100s are a nice idea. They have some problems, and are far too expensive for most people to consider. If they had better support for video playback, and could take an external input, we'd be much happier to recommend them.

We imagine that if Epson keeps developing the Moverio range, they will soon be a practical way to enjoy video when you're travelling - or if you just want to lie back and watch a massive image projected in front of you. Making them a little smaller, and improving playback support would be a valuable step toward brilliance.

At least for now, we can't honestly recommend these as a sensible purchase, but you should try a pair if possible to see if they suit your needs.