Review: ezGear ezVision Video iWear
Pros: A comfortable, comparatively good-looking pair of dual-screened video goggles with nice integrated earphones and an up to eight-hour battery pack.
Cons: Resolution is only 320x240 - current iPod’s, not better - and contrast isn’t as high as that of iPod’s screen. Due to nose piece design, fit will vary quite a bit from person to person, often resting on the end of your nose. Cabling was a bit loose on two of three test iPods, causing video distortion; no case or other way to keep battery pack attached to iPod during use.
If you haven’t read our past coverage of wearable video displays for use with the fifth-generation iPod, the concept behind ezGear’s ezVision Video iWear ($400) may be unfamiliar: it and its predecessors are designed to let you watch videos (and photo slideshows) on your iPod without looking down at a small screen. You don a pair of glasses - laden with one or two miniature video screens - press play on your favorite iPod video, then sit back and watch. With ezVision, the effect is supposed to be like watching a 50” widescreen television at a 8.5-foot distance; contrast this with holding an iPod’s 2.5” screen at a distance of several inches from your nose, and the appeal will be obvious.
We’ve been testing ezVision for more than a week now, using it ourselves and - for one important reason - letting a few other people sample its capabilities. It’s also accompanied us on two flights, where we tried it in its single most compelling environment - air travel - to see how it would hold up to extended use in a loud airplane cabin. The reaction has been uniform: if you can get the glasses to rest comfortably on your face, they provide an experience that’s in most regards better than squinting at the iPod’s screen. And though many wearable displays are goofy looking, ezVision is one of the least bizarre we’ve seen - not yet socially neutral, but not odd enough to make people laugh at you in public. However, fit and a couple of other small issues may limit the design’s appeal to many users. Though we’ve provided a full review worth of details, we’ve opted not to assign a rating at this time, as we’re waiting to finish testing a third headset before ranking options.
ezGear’s box includes the wearable display, a wall power adapter, a small combination breakout box and battery pack, Velcro cable managers, iPod and non-iPod video connection cables, and two sizes of nose pieces. The key specifications are these: there are two LCD screens inside, boasting an okay, current iPod screen-matching 320x240 resolution, with a 4:3 aspect ratio - not widescreen - and a stated 200:1 contrast ratio, in our view emphasizing the unit’s brighter whites more than its not-so-dark blacks. It can adapt to NTSC, PAL, and SECAM video output, and is listed as providing a 25” diagonal viewing angle.
We’ve come to view several factors as critical in measuring a wearable display’s comfort - weight and frame design are two of them. Weighing about 2.4 ounces, ezVision is not too heavy, and the ear stems provide a fairly firm grip on your head - you won’t fear that the glasses will fall off entirely during use. We were also really impressed with ezGear’s approach to earbud management. The earbuds are connected to the glasses, yet their cables never dangle unless you detach them from holding pieces on the back of the ear stems. While ezVision is one of the only displays we’ve seen without a port to let you use your own earpieces, ezGear’s ear pieces are quite good: they’re powerful enough to let you hear the iPod’s audio over the sound of an immediately adjacent jet engine. They’re no less comfortable than Apple’s iPod pack-ins, which they’re styled to resemble - in black - and sound more than good enough for any sort of video viewing.
The only comfort issue we experienced was proper screen-to-eye alignment, which regrettably isn’t of trivial importance. Though we’re tempted to call one of the nose pieces the “girls” piece and the other the “boys” piece, the truth is that they’re “smaller nose” and “bigger nose” designs. In our testing with several different people, one of the two fit each person, but a little precariously, and we wouldn’t feel confident in saying that they’ll work well with every type of nose out there. Because of the angle of ezVision’s screens inside of the frames, we found that the glasses required “edge of nose” placement, typically resting at the end of one’s nose rather than the center or top, though this again could vary between people. The result was that the glasses stayed on our faces, though only with occasional small adjustments, for the duration of a full 1.5 hour movie, and separately for individual TV episodes lasting the same length of time. ezVision’s ear stems, otherwise nicely designed, dug a little into the tops of our ears during that time as well; they have no rubber padding, which would have prevented this. Though our testers varied in need for prescription lenses, no one complained about the clarity of the images when wearing ezVision without their glasses on.
The company’s breakout box and battery pack is one of the most interesting we’ve seen. It provides up to eight hours of playback time - two or three times what an unassisted iPod can deliver in video ouput - yet is impressively small, measuring roughly the same dimensions as an iPod nano. Though we have seen one iPod-specific display that doesn’t need such a box because it runs off the iPod’s internal battery, this one is the smallest we’ve seen. Unfortunately, like Icuiti’s DV920, the box and its cabling have a couple of issues. ezGear hasn’t provided any way for users to carry it with their iPods - it dangles at a comfortable distance from both glasses and the iPod, but really would benefit from an adhesive, clip, or case attachment of some sort. More importantly, the ezVision-to-iPod cable paralleled the cable issues we had with DV920: we tested it with three different 5G iPods, and found that the cable needed to be seated unusually - and not moved - inside two of them to make the video signal look right. The third one worked fine at all times, with only a small bit of jitter in the video when the cable was jostled during viewing.
When the goggles were connected under optimal conditions, which is to say that the screen is properly aligned with your eyes and the cable is connected properly, the screen looks good enough - its contrast is around 70% of the iPod’s - to use for travel purposes. In summary, the blacks aren’t very black, and whites and light grays are blown out, but the majority of content is unaffected, and looks fine. Similarly, there’s slight distortion in the corners of the screen, and a bit of reflection from lenses that sometimes creates a small prismatic effect on parts of screen, but it’s not enough to make the viewing experience unpleasant.
Overall, our feelings about ezVision were positive, but cautious: when it was working properly with an iPod, and fitting on our faces, it was a compelling, airplane-ready substitute for long-term viewing of the iPod’s built-in screen. Resolution aside, we felt that they provided a superior overall experience to the DV920s - at a lower price - but the issues we experienced with the cabling and alignment of the goggles were ones we think ezGear needs to remedy before these are viable alternatives for all of their prospective customers. As with the DV920, we’ve opted not to assign a rating to the ezVision at this time, but will do so in the future when we have a better comparative frame of reference.