Wearable displays look super cool in sci-fi movies, but have failed to make a commercial success till now. Almost every year, we see prototypes shown off at exhibitions like CES, and so far, Sony is one of the only top tier brands to bring this out in the market. Epson, famous for its LCD projectors, has decided to take a shot and tap into the wearable display market with its debut launch – the Moverio BT-100. Unlike most head-mounted displays that allow you to connect it to a source, usually through an HDMI connector, Epson has decided to take the Android player route, making it the first of its kind. This makes it more of a portable solution compared to the other units in the market.
Design and Build
The BT-100 comes packaged in a sturdy carrying case, which includes the headset itself, power cable, the base unit and interchangeable nose clips. The glasses themselves are built from plastic and feel quite sturdy. The headset uses micro-projection technology using LCD lens that are mounted on the sides of the glasses in order to distribute the weight evenly. Instead of using a bulb for projection, Epson uses backlighting and clever arrangement of mirrors in the front of the headset to ‘project’ a virtual screen in front of the user. This projects a floating image of up to 80-inches projected as if you were looking at it from a distance of 16 feet. In case there’s too much ambient light in the room, you get a lens cover for a clearer picture. Unlike most wearable displays, which have the lens placed in front of the headset, this is a see-through headset, so you can actually walk around while watching your movie without bumping into things. There are earphones attached on either side of the headset for audio, but you also have the option to plug in your own pair in the control unit via the headphone sockets on either side.
The control unit is easy to operate even without looking
The headset is powered by the control unit that houses the rechargeable battery. The unit is small enough to easily fit in your hand as well as your pocket. It has a nice rubberised finish to it so it’s easy to grip. The unit runs Android 2.2 and Epson has no immediate plans to upgrade it further. The control unit features a large trackpad (no multi-touch) and a navigational D-Pad, so you can choose whichever is comfortable to navigate through the menu. Other than that, we have a dedicated brightness button, a button for engaging 3D video mode for stereoscopic 3D video and a Home, Properties and Back button, typical of any android device. There’s also a volume rocker along with the power button and key-lock switch on the side. Other than the 1GB of internal memory, the BT-100 comes with a 4GB microSD card as well. For connectivity, we just have the headphone jack, microUSB port and the dock to connect the headset to.
Features and Performance
The micro-projection LCD features a native resolution of 960 x 540, so even at 80 inches, the picture quality is really sharp and crisp. The LED backlight for the LCD is bright enough to be used even in well-lit rooms. The first issue we encountered was with the weight. At 240g, it’s slightly on the heavier side, especially when the weight of the headset tends to fall mostly on your nose. Even though the temple arms can be adjusted to fit your head, it tends to weigh your ear lobes down, which can get uncomfortable after a while. For spectacle wearers, Epson has provided a little notch on the inside of the glasses to which you can prop the headset on. This takes the weight off your nose as well as gives you a better fit. It is a little difficult to focus on the image for too long without fatigue setting in. Sadly, there’s no way to adjust the focus or depth of the projected image, so you’ll have to find your sweet-spot before starting a movie. Lying down and watching doesn’t seem to help much either with the comfort levels.
Audio quality is really good thanks to the Dolby enhancements
The control pad packs in a ARM-based CPU capable of Full HD video decoding, along with 512MB of RAM. Video playback is very smooth, provided no other heavy apps like the browser are running in the background. The mouse pointer is a little sluggish to operate, so you’re best left with the D-Pad for quick navigation. The BT-100 also packs in Wi-Fi so you can stream content from other sources directly to the headset. When it comes to apps, there’s no Play Store present, but you can dump APKs directly in the memory card and install them. Our unit had MX Player pre-installed, which did a good job of playing back all our test media files. The BT-100 easily handles 1080p content as well, but just make sure you don’t have any heavy apps running in the background, else playback is a bit stuttery. The UI is extremely easy to use since it’s Android, so finding your way around is pretty simple.
Easy to use UI
The audio quality is also very good. The BT-100 comes with Dolby enhancements, which sound really nice, even with the supplied earphones. Last but not the least, we also have Stereoscopic 3D support. This works with side-by-side 3D videos. We tried some demo videos as well as some downloaded straight off YouTube and they worked very well with very little to no crosstalk.
Since this is portable device, battery life is also equally important. Epson claim about 6 hrs of battery life, but in our tests, we managed to get around 4.5 hrs of continuous playback. This is not bad considering it has to power the headset as well. You can easily watch one entire movie in one or two sitting, depending on the length.
Verdict and Price in India
The Epson BT-100 is priced at Rs. 42,900 and is currently being sold across major cities in India through select Epson dealers and stores. While it may seem a little expensive, and no doubt it is, there’s simply nothing quite like it in the market right now. You’ll find cheaper, Chinese alternatives online, but they obviously lack the high resolution screen, not to mention the possibility of it falling apart within weeks. The BT-100 does an excellent job of giving you a personalised theatre experience wherever you are, and the best part is it runs Android. It has really good sound, the projected picture quality is really good, there's Wi-Fi for streaming content, the headset is see through so you can move around while watching and it supports 3D videos as well. On the flipside, this first iteration is still a bit bulky and not very comfortable to wear for long stretches. Battery life could have been better as well.