Overview and features
Picture the scene: you're in an aircraft cabin, pulling the long haul.
The colour is draining not only from your face but also from that cheap LCD screen in the seat in front of you. Suddenly a cinema screen rolls down and a 3D movie starts to play, but only to you – and you even manage to see the drinks trolley in your peripheral vision.
Forget virtual reality; Epson's newest innovation – on sale now in Japan, and destined for the UK early in 2012 – is designed to create a portable, transparent home cinema experience for bored business travellers, though there's more to it than mere movies.
Armed with a Wi-Fi connection, the Moverio BT-100 can get online, and though it's not possible to download apps and games, its browser does support Adobe Flash video (as well as MPEG and H-264 videos manually transferred via a PC).
The BT-100 runs an Android operating system. Version 2.2, to be exact, though it's customised so much that it will be unfamiliar to most. It is controlled using a touch sensitive trackpad, which also houses a 4GB SD card to go with the internal 1GB of memory.
Battery life is rated at about six hours, and the product ships with a neat black carry case (though the whole package is rather large).
As a portable home cinema, the BT-100 is rather behind the times in featuring a 960x540 pixel resolution for each eye, which is a quarter the resolution of a full HD image.
Is the BT-100 a direct rival to Sony's HMZ-T1? It's bound to be endlessly compared, but they're different beasts; the HMZ-T1 is about total immersion, and probably has a gaming future, while the lighter BT-100 is more mobile (the clue is in the 'Moverio' moniker) and doesn't give such a closed experience.
In short, Epson's effort is no 'Personal 3D Viewer' – it's actually marketed as the 'first consumer see-through mobile viewer'.
Performance and verdict
Put the BT-100 on and it immediately feels different to Sony's effort. For a start, it's lighter, and doesn't have as much weight on the front, something that makes it easier to wear for longer periods.
That's not to say that this headset is exactly comfortable. Most of the electronics appear to be in each side, which is also where both the headphones and the cables protrude from.
The headphones are of generic design, and quality, but could – theoretically – be upgraded. They are supplied separately as single earpieces that attach to each arm of the BT-100, each with a cable about two inches long.
As far as cables are concerned, that's just the beginning; you also have to put up with a thick cable from each arm that stretches down to the smartphone-sized trackpad.
Using that rather old-fashioned looking trackpad is easy enough, and swiping through the Android carousel-style interface is a cinch. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi was disabled on our review product – an early prototype – so we were not able to test the BT-100's web browsing capabilities.
However, we were able to call up the browser and inspect the setup process, which is almost identical to a smartphone running Android. Besides, we can't see the point of web browsing on video glasses – especially on some that are aimed at business travellers on long haul flights.
Having not thoroughly tested it, we ought not to criticise, but this does appear to be a novelty feature; we all have a touchscreen smartphone in our pocket anyway.
No, the BT-100 is all about video. Where the image appears to be in your field of vision depends on where you look; stare off into the middle distance and you'll see what appears to be a giant cinema screen about 300 inches in diameter, but you can just as easily watch the same image as TV-sized picture on a wall or object a couple of feet in front of you.
It takes a while to get used to, but it made us smile as soon as we put the glasses on – and that's always a good sign, especially for a new genre of gadget.
On our demo product we had several videos pre-installed, including trailers and an MP4 file of Knight & Day. The latter was presented in widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, and appeared plenty detailed enough, though hardly comparable a Blu-ray disc.
It's not the sharpest image we've seen, and nor was it the most steady – we noticed the odd shudder and blur – but it was comfortable enough for around half and hour of viewing, and on pure video quality actually slightly above our expectations.
It's best used in dim light, but works okay anywhere but the brightest of surroundings – though the smoked glass frontage is best left in place (it can be removed, but with devastating consequences).
Not surprisingly for a product with two eyepieces, the BT-100 can also show 3-D video. However, the native transparency of the product means that watching in 3-D is not as immersive as it could be, though we noticed none of the ghosted images, crosstalk, or brightness issues that blight some 3-D TVs and projectors.
Sadly, it's also not as 3-D as it could be, either; depending on where you aim the product, the picture can appear to be a long way away, but there is little depth within the 3-D image itself – though it is perceptible. Note that the BT-100 is only compatible with the side-by-side 3-D format.
There is, however, one problem with the BT-100 that strikes at its core usefulness for airline passengers. Is it the fact that the transparent image is projected onto random objects – typically super-imposed onto a switched-off LCD screen in the airline seat in front?
Actually, no, we experimented with viewing the image over a host of different objects and in varying degrees of brightness, and although the lines and shape of the background is occasionally obvious (and you would never 'aim' the BT-100 at a window or other light source), that's not the major problem. The big issue is sound.
Take any random long haul cabin and the ambient noise – the engines, the aircon system, the screaming children – can reach 50 decibels. That's why noise cancelling headphones have been such a success in the last five or so years, and they are sorely missed here.
We're not talking bulky, battery driven designs that cost £250; decent, and fairly cheap, earbuds that are capable of blocking out most aircraft sounds should have been provided. Regular business travellers will already have noise cancelling headphones of some kind, so using the BT-100 will mean making a compromise on sound.
Without the sense of isolation that blights Sony's effort, Epson's see-through home cinema experience is a tad easier on the senses, though we're not sure the two should be compared too closely.
While Sony's HMZ-T1 is a 3D gaming accessory, the Moverio BT-100 is a business traveller's indulgence, though both are first-gen efforts with significant drawbacks.
As a hands-free alternative to an iPad or smart phone, the BT-100 is a good first effort, though a little rough around the edges – hopefully the second generation attempt will have noise cancelling headphones and a few less cables to contend with.