Hands-on With Panasonic’s VR Eyeglasses: A Stylish Step Forward
But is it style over substance?
One of the biggest announcements relating to the virtual reality (VR) industry during CES 2020 came from an unexpected source, Panasonic. The company revealed a device currently called ‘UHD VR Eyeglasses’ – a snappy title if ever there was one – which promises not only a rich visual experience for the wearer but also a fashionable take on strapping technology to your face.
It’s certainly the design which has caught most people’s attention, offering what many hope VR headsets will become in the future, trendy and compact devices which don’t look like monolithic stones. Whilst augmented reality (AR) headsets have gone down the glasses design path due to the nature of that particular technology, the same can’t be said for VR headsets which do need a design overhaul yet are limited due to lenses, displays and other factors.
Panasonic had two units on display at CES 2020, the working prototype and one designed to portray the final unit weight. The reason for this is that the working model was hooked up to a PC with a myriad of cables, adding extra weight and pull. This meant holding the VR Eyeglasses to your face instead of neatly resting on the face. It’s a prototype after all.
On first inspection, the headsets’ fit and form factor bode well with the rubber eye surround neatly fitting around each eye. Not only did it feel comfortable but there was no light leakage whatsoever, ensuring the display didn’t have to compete with unwanted rays which could affect the image quality. A novel little feature was the manual IPD adjustment controlled via a bar across the bridge. This could be twisted to widen or narrow the glasses accordingly. It wasn’t too fiddly to use (even with the cables and weight) although, those with large hands and stocky fingers may find the process a little more awkward.
It’s also worth noting the VR Eyeglasses won’t support wearing actual glasses due to the design. The prototype did have a range of removable lenses which sat just behind the rubber cowling to cater for those that did. This will most likely be the path Panasonic chooses when catering for glasses although the company did note a final decision had yet to be made.
The VR Eyeglasses are a combination of Panasonic and Kopin technologies, with the latter providing the display panels. A 2k micro OLED panel is used per eye offering Ultra HD quality (UHD) and it certainly shows, with very crisp, vibrant video footage. Due to the size of the panel, the field of view (FoV) is far narrower than other VR headsets, offering an almost square image. The final model will use a wider panel to help improve the FoV.
Complimenting the screen will be Panasonic’s audio expertise, provided by its Technics team. The final version will have the audio provided by in-ear headphones but for the prototype small external speakers were used instead, so we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.
So how will the VR Eyeglasses work without the PC? Well, in one of the arms will be a USB-C connector which can either go to a smartphone or an external battery/processor unit – sounding similar to Magic Leap 1. No details have been mentioned at this time apart from a brief mention of 5G connectivity which was a hot topic at CES 2020 and likely so next year as well.
When it eventually comes to buying and using the glasses that’s where the real disappointment starts to set in. Offering 3DoF, Panasonic isn’t aiming the device at the consumer market as some sort of Oculus Go competitor by the looks of it. Applications will be focused towards enterprise use cases such as entertainment consumption whilst travelling.
Testing the VR Eyeglasses a couple of days after the hype certainly felt a little underwhelming, as they’re really just a fancy video viewer. With no mention of a controller or what sort of content platform would support the device, the brief demo created more questions than answers – which will probably come at CES 2021.