The evolution of the TV might be ongoing, but one thing that’s constant is the desire for as big an image as possible. Granted that we’re all spoiled with our flat panels and front projection systems, compared to the days of the 19-inch TV tube, but “bigger is better,” continues to dominate our minds. The biggest barrier between “bigger” TVs and us is having to buy a new display — you can’t “upgrade” from a 42-inch to a 55, 60 or larger. And if your recently purchased HDTV doesn’t do 3D and you want it — again you’re stuck with buying a new set or going without.
Okay, there’s a third alternative: the Sony Personal 3D Viewer. It’s a headset that brings any video being fed to it up close and personal, giving you the equivalent of a 750-inch screen from 65 feet away to glom at. And not just a high-definition image either because it also does 3D. Difficult to use? Nah.
Physically setting up the Viewer is simple: to start, you plug a video source (like a Blu-ray player) into the HDMI input on the back of the stand-alone box that houses all the electronics, with another HDMI cable going into an output to go back to your display (if you want). The box is about the size of one of those audio amps you place in a car’s trunk and only has a single light to verify that the power is active; there are no controls on it.
A 12 foot cable is permanently attached to the Viewer and goes into a connector on the front of the box; it’s a proprietary type, which explains the cable’s length since you can’t extend it. Then you insert the AC cord in to its corresponding socket and plug it into the wall outlet.
All the controls are on the right underside of the Viewer, consisting of a click wheel with a center button and two smaller buttons side-by-side for volume. The power button is farther away so as to avoid it being accidentally pressed. Because of its placement, I recommend you press it prior to putting on the Viewer (a red light on the box will change to green to indicate “On”).
Putting the Sony on for the first time is a bit involved because a correct fit is vital to seeing a uniform image. Place it on your head as if it was a catcher’s mitt or, for those less sports inclined, as if you were putting on a baseball cap starting from behind the crown of your head. Pull the Viewer forward and down until your nose meets the bridge at the front. Now you make two adjustments — one changing the distance between the two lenses and the front of your eyes using push-in tabs for forward/backward movement; then readjusting the clips attached to a plastic strap framework that grips the side of your head. Once this is done, look straight ahead at the “Welcome” screen that now consumes your view. Reach under each eye and move the protruding tab on the Viewer in/out until the text is in focus. Then press the wheel’s center button to move to the next screen and confirm another image, this one of horizontal and vertical lines. Continue on through a warning screen, disengage the menus and see whatever video is being received.
In my case, I’m using a switcher to start with HD television through a Dish Network satellite receiver. I’ll now adjust the Viewer’s settings to “average” and go from there. The menus include an information screen, which shows the controls the Sony uses and a “Lens-span adjustment” for physically readjusting the two lens panels you’re looking. The “3D” setting lets you set the 3D so that it kicks in automatically or not just when a signal is received, while the “Picture” menu lets you adjust brightness, contrast, color temperature and the like (leave the digital noise reduction off unless you are viewing standard-definition video, is my recommendation). The “Audio” setting lets you set the multichannel controls for surround, along with treble and bass levels. There’s also a general menu to do such things as turn off the Viewer if you remove it or activate/deactivate the HDMI pass-through.
Once all this is done, you’re ready to enjoy a humongously big picture. I don’t know how to measure it, but it’s certainly bigger in perception compared to my 100-inch projection screen when I stood before it and flipped the Viewer on/off my head.
That picture you’re seeing is really something too, especially when watching high-definition (you get an indicator of the resolution feed when it first appears at the screen’s upper left corner). It might be 720p, not 1080p, as far as your eyes go — but does that matter? No. There’s no light fall off from the corners as the entire image is uniformly lit and, obviously, you’re always seated in the “sweet spot” in relationship to the lenses.
The Viewer uses OLED panels, rather than LCD, resulting in what is, to me, an obvious improvement in the clarity, color intensity and brightness (I’ve worn a lot of these LCD glasses over the years so I feel comfortable making this assessment). While the Viewer is fairly lightweight, there is some discernible strain on the bridge of the nose to get used to. This is especially true for those of us who wear eyeglasses, as there aren’t optical adjustments to eliminate the need for prescription lenses. Here’s a tip — patient adjustment of the two earphone cups can help in reducing the pressure on the nose.
Switching from the Dish to my PlayStation 3 (which does 3D), I brought up Netflix to see how a streaming video would look. I had expected to run a few minutes of “Iron Man 2,” but an hour went by before I put the brakes on. The image was rock-solid 2D and there wasn’t any smearing when the iron guys flew across the screen. To say streaming looks impressive through the Viewer, even though it’s not high-def, would be an understatement. I also ran a cartoon to check out whether solid panels of color were bleeding, but again had no complaints.
Keeping with the super hero thing, I popped in the 3D disc of Green Lantern and powered through some of the scenes that I’ve watched many times on my 3D TV. Besides having a much bigger view, the 3D effects were much more obvious to my eye; not to say that there was a lack of subtlety at times, just that tracking the 3D didn’t require any effort — it was just there “in my face.” I also found the 3D version of Toy Story 3 a good exercise in catching the 3D “moments” and for fans of the series, 3D is really a much better way to watch (“the claw, the claw!”). Colors were outstanding too and I never ran across any noticeable image flickering either. Yes you should take it off every now and then to rest both your eyes and face, but once the viewing starts, you pretty much forget all of that.
The Bottom Line: It’s not hard to tout the obvious benefit of the Sony Personal 3D Viewer, even at a $800 price tag: you get your own movie theater screen without needing a “man-cave” or having to readjust your living room. For those without 3D in the home, this and a sub-$300 3D-capable Blu-ray player are all you need. Those already invested in 3D can up their viewing size without having to buy new equipment. And in both cases, the one wearing the Viewer will be enjoying themselves immensely. Plus the front of it has a cool blue glow to impress anyone looking your way.
- OLED panels provide clear, bright and colorful video
- High-resolution view that is many times bigger than most home theaters
- Proprietary cable permanently attached to the Viewer
- Headset weight will be uncomfortable to some
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.