The Sony HMZ-T1 head mounted display is still almost impossible to come by right now, but my local store has one display unit. I finally made my way down, despite some nasty rain, so that I could give the HMZ-T1 a good hands-on test. I wish I had been able to spend more time with it (and perhaps I will soon), but I did get a solid amount of time to do some PS3 gaming (what else would it be in a Sony store!) on the unit and prepared a list of notes from my experience. I had hoped to bring you a video of the HMZ-T1, but unfortunately I was told that videography is not allowed in Sony stores, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Alas, my notes will have to do! If you’re interested in hearing some honest hands-on info about the Sony HMZ-T1, have a read below!
HMZ-T1 Testing Notes
- I was surprised to find that the build-quality seemed rather cheap. They did have to keep things light-weight for comfort purposes, but the ear-pieces in particular seemed to be on a rather weak and plasticy tracks. After much use, I could see these failing at some point, but I can’t really be sure without a longer-term test. Desiring the HMZ-T1 to be light-weight is only a reasonable excuse up to a point, in my opinion, the unit could have a more premium feel to it without adding too much to the weight. It does cost $799 after all!
- The cord came out of the strangest place… to the left of the left-eye piece. It seems like it would have been much more at home extending out of some outside part of the unit instead of from the inside, however it didn’t seem to get in the way.
- The power button of the HMZ-T1 is on the bottom, but for some reason the power indicator is on the front… (it’s a soft glowing blue LED array), this just seems silly because you have to flip it upside down to hit the power button, then flip it over and look at the front to see if it turned on, then spin it back around and put it on your head.
- I can’t believe how front-heavy the HMZ-T1 is. I was expecting some weight, but not this much. Why they didn’t balance it out with some weights in the back is a mystery to me. Seems like it could be done easily by adding some more padding structure and filling it with something heavy. I’m willing to bet that a popular aftermarket ‘hack’ will be to add weights to the back to make it more comfortable. It wasn’t heavy to the point that it was uncomfortable; fortunately they managed to distribute the weight to the forehead relatively well, but I could see it becoming a problem during lengthy sessions.
- Fitting was confusing on the first attempt because there are a few adjustments that can be made, and when you can’t actually see yourself putting the device on, it’s tough to know where you need to reach to get to which adjustment, though that will probably subside after more time with the HMZ-T1. I was able to put it on and take it off easily after my initial adjustments; you’ll want to put it on like a hat: back first, then pull the front down.
- The controls (power, volume, etc.) are located on the underside of the HMZ-T1. Using them is easy enough for anyone who has used a video game controller, so long as the button map is shown on the screen (as it is during calibration), but when it isn’t there (which it never is after calibration) it can become hard to hit the buttons you want without practice.
- Calibrating the HMZ-T1 for your specific interpupillary distance (that’s optometrist speak for the distance between your eyes) is quick and simple. When you power on the head mounted display you’ll be greeted with an uppercase I and you use the sliders below the eye pieces to move them until the I looks sharp, then you’re all done. After this screen there is another which tells you to ensure that all of the I‘s are on the same line, and it warns you that if they are not, you should not use the product. This is a weirdly ominous warning with no real explanation; perhaps using the HMZ-T1 when all of the I‘s are not on the line could form a black hole and destroy the Earth. I don’t want to be the one responsible for that, so I’ll heed the warning.
- Depending upon where you look, Sony will quote that the HMZ-T1 creates a virtual 150″ or 70″ display (at different distances). When using the HMZ-T1, the screen doesn’t feel big. It also doesn’t feel small. It’s somewhat hard to describe, but there is definitely not the sense of largeness that you’d experience if you walked into a friend’s house and saw a 150″ HDTV sitting in the living room.
- For those looking for full immersion, in the sense that your entire field of view is taken up, I’m sorry to say but you won’t find it here. The screen does take up a decent portion of your field of view, but no more than a regular HDTV sitting in front of you at a reasonable distance.
- While wearing the unit, I was able to focus on different planes of the scene (foreground, midground, background, etc.). This isn’t something I’ve been able to do with other 3D systems, and I think this lends itself to a much more real 3D experience.
- I was really impressed with how sharp the 720p screens were, even while 3D content was showing. With other 3D systems, you get something called crosstalk (the two different images bleed over one another because they are coming from the same display) which always leads to a serious drop in visual fidelity (and in my case, usually a headache). On the HMZ-T1 there was practically no crosstalk and it was an almost perfectly sharp image. The only exception being the very edges of the screen where it would be slightly blurry, but this was only noticeable when looking at sharp text, and definitely far enough away from the center of the screen to not be notifiable when you’re concentrating on what’s right in front of you.
- Unfortunately, putting the Sony HMZ-T1 on is not a sensory depriving experience. Light comes in from the top and bottom. There are a few light-blockers that come with the device, but even with the bottom blockers inserted, I could still see quite a bit of light. You don’t really notice it while you’re using the unit, but if you’re looking for all black except the screens, you’ll have to turn the lights off or throw a blanket over your head.
- The bottom light-blockers were rubber and seemed comfortable enough, but they didn’t fully block the light and they came out too easily.
- Update: I headed back down to the store to double check the black levels on the HMZ-T1. I’m happy to report that they are far better than you’re typical LCD display. The AMOLED displays actually aren’t quite as good as I’ve seen from some of Samsung’s smartphones, but will certainly look better than your typical LCD display.
- The audio quality from the HMZ-T1 speakers was decent (but not spectacular) and they go reasonably loud as well (loud enough that I wanted to turn them down at one point). I didn’t get any sense of surround-sound, even though there is supposed to be virtual 5.1 surround, but that could have been due to the PS3 not being set to the right settings (I didn’t have a chance to check).
- I played a game called Super Stardust HD which had 3D support and looked absolutely awesome on the HMZ-T1. In vain I’ll try to describe the game in text, but it’ll probably help if you watch this trailer before listening to me talk about it:Super Stardust HD is a lot like 3D Geometry Wars mixed with Asteroids. The game has you floating around in a ship that is positioned above a planet, and as you move, the planet rotates below you. Various asteroids and enemies will land on the plane that your ship inhabits and it’s you’re job to blast them all. The 3D effect was convincing because you can look down to focus on the surface of the planet that you’re defending, and you can see little details on it like mountains and valleys which look really good. Up where the action is happening, you’ll be blowing up asteroids and you can see particles come flying at you in 3D; they come at you, but don’t quite seem to pop out of the screen. It was fun when an asteroid would land right near your ship because it would fly from offscreen seemingly right past your face then land on the planet. Surround sound could have enhanced this effect, but it was cool none the less. You can fire your weapons and watch them whip around the surface of the battlefield and destroy enemies on the far side of the planet which looks really cool. Interestingly, when I turned off the 3D mode of the game, not much seemed to change, it still looked nearly as 3D as it had when it was actually in 3D mode.
- I also tried playing Sonic the Hedgehog which has a 3D mode that has you whipping between third-person play (where the track is coming toward you), and the occasional classic side-scrolling moments. The 3D effect was decent in the sense that there was depth, but the 3D aspect was not beneficial to gameplay, in fact, it might have detracted from it. When looking at Sonic, the background (where you’re heading) becomes unfocused which makes it harder to see where you’re going next. You can look down the length of the track and get a better view of it, but the track whips around so fast that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on. 3D is definitely not something that can just be shoe-horned into all games without regard for how it will effect the gameplay; if 3D is to take off, this must be recognized.
- I didn’t get a chance to look at the converter box as it was off-limits in the display housing.
If you’ve got any questions about the Sony HMZ-T1, feel free to drop them in a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer based on my experience and research of the device.