Review: Myvu Corp. myvu Universal Edition
Last year, there was a small but real competition between several companies to produce the best wearable video display for iPods: MicroOptical, Icuiti, ezGear and others released add-on iPod screens shaped like sunglasses, and designed to be worn like them, typically in an airplane or other seat where another iPod-ready TV screen wasn't already available. The idea: provide a more comfortable and convenient viewing experience than the one offered by the fifth-generation iPod's 2.5", 320x240 display. And the best of these options was MicroOptical's myvu Made for iPod Edition, which won our Best of the Year award for 2006.
This year, MicroOptical has renamed itself Myvu—now with a capital “M”—and released two new versions of its eponymous product, one called the Universal Edition, and the other the Made for iPod Solo Plus Edition. Both sell for $200 and use a redesigned version of last year’s Myvu headset, with some noticeable improvements to the prior version, as well as some detractions from it. The Universal and Solo Plus Editions differ from each other only in pack-ins: Universal includes cables for camcorders, DVD players, and non-iPod portable players, while Solo Plus includes an iPod-specific video cable. Each unit’s pack-ins can be purchased for the other at a price of $25.
The basic shape, size, and look of the core Myvu wearable video display has not changed at all. Inside the included cloth bag, you’ll still find a pair of all-black glasses that look like a visually neutral version of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Geordi LaForge’s visor, with a cable extending from the stem that touches your left ear. In-canal earbuds dangle from both sides and fit easily into your ears. The cable connects to an egg-shaped pendant with five buttons, versus the prior version’s six, and continues running down to a Dock Connector that plugs into your iPod. Solo Plus, unlike last year’s version, contains an Apple authentication chip so that it can work with the iPod classic, the third-generation iPod nano, iPod touch, and the iPhone. It also works properly with the fifth-generation iPod.
Changes have subtly been made to each component from last year’s version. Start with the cable, which now connects directly to your iPod in the case of Solo Plus, or uses a collection of interchangeable cables for different devices in the case of the Universal Edition. This is a big change from the original myvu device, which shipped with a fifth-generation iPod-sized battery pack-slash-case that was tolerable, but not exactly tiny. The benefit of the new design is that it hides a four-hour rechargeable battery inside—almost enough for a cross-continental U.S. flight—and doesn’t look bizarre when attached to an iPod nano or otherwise not-quite-5G-sized iPod or iPhone. On the flip side, you lose the prior version’s larger six-hour battery in the process.
There are other losses, too. Myvu no longer includes a travel case, belt or pendant clips, a car charger, or a wall charger in the package. You recharge the battery by plugging the included cable into your computer’s USB port and the pendant—the same cable synchronizes when plugged into the Dock Connector—and get only a carrying bag, replacement nose bridges, and eartips for different sized heads and ears. The earphones, while apparently by Ultimate Ears, don’t have the bass richness of their predecessors, though they look a little nicer. Volume is now controlled on the iPod itself, rather than on the in-line control pendant, which is now used solely for power, screen brightness and contrast adjustments, the latter more diverse than the prior model’s limited settings. Myvu’s new display technology is a hint off the mark of its predecessor—still the same general size, and just as watchable, but certain fine details aren’t as evident. There are still two separate LCD screens inside, one per eye, and though the video is still clean, it was easier to read on-screen text in the prior version.
For those unfamiliar, the concept behind these wearable displays is to project a video image in front of them that resembles a big screen TV at a certain distance away from your eyes. Some companies might say that their displays are equivalent to viewing an IMAX movie screen at a distance of 1 mile away, but this one is billed as the same as a 27” TV at a distance of 7 feet away. Another way to put this is that Myvu’s 320x240 display looks like an iPod classic’s screen 1 or 2 feet from your eyes, or an iPod nano’s screen a foot away. It’s not as beautiful or detailed as holding up an iPhone at a comparable distance, but it won’t tax your arms at all, and with the earphones in, you can comfortably lay back and see video in front of you no matter where your head is positioned. It’s worth reiterating at this point that Myvu’s approach to mounting the glasses, while not perfect, is a lot more comfortable and tolerable for extended viewing than the competing products we’ve tested. And as before, the goggles let a bit of the outside world through on the sides, and plenty on the top and bottom, so you’re not totally sealed off from whatever’s going on around you—looking at the video is a matter of choosing your focus, rather than being engrossed.
Making up for this package’s various losses in features is its lower price: when MicroOptical launched the original “myvu,” the price was supposed to be $399, and then it quickly moved to the more aggressive $299 level to spark sales. The company now is offering these versions for nearly $100 less, which in our view largely justifies the modestly diminished performance of the new versions; of the changes, the only one we’re especially concerned about at this price is the lower battery life, with the headphones in second.
If there’s any big picture negative to these two new Myvu products, it’s this: as the iPod/iPhone family is increasing in on-screen and TV-out resolution capabilities, with some models at a 480x320 native resolution, and 640x480 output now possible, these wearable displays are going in the opposite direction, shaving off performance to reach lower price points. In other words, put on the glasses and, depending on the iPod or iPhone, you might be diminishing rather than enhancing certain aspects of the viewing experience. That’s the major reason this year’s model rates a notch below last year’s, even at its lower price; as iPods continue to improve, so should their accessories. But if you can put that aside—especially if you’re not using the higher-resolution iPod touch or iPhone screens—you’ll find the Myvu Universal Edition or Solo Plus Edition to be fun, reasonably priced wearable video displays.