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″, 320×240 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 320×240 display looks like an iPod classic’s screen 1 or 2 feet from your eyes, or an iPod nano’s screen a foot away.