Conclusion: A Glimpse of the Future
The fact that Epson describes the Moverio BT-100 as a ‘mobile entertainment viewer’ somewhat sets the stage for what one can expect from it. Contrast that to the Sony HMZ-T1, which Sony calls a ‘personal 3D viewer’, and the difference in product placements couldn’t be clearer. Sure, the HMZ-T1 may be slightly more expensive (unless you’re getting it in the U.S.), but if you’re in the market for a head-mounted display, the comparison between it and the BT-100 is inevitable. For a start, if mobility is important, the BT-100 is the better option. It’s lighter (240g vs. 420g) than the HMZ-T1 and offers see-through lenses. On the other hand, the HMZ-T1 is designed to be a total immersion 3D system. As a result, its source is another HDMI device (such as a PlayStation 3 or a Blu-ray player) which it connects to by way of a breakout box. And as we’ve seen earlier, the source player for the BT-100 is a small control box that runs Android.
For the most part, the BT-100 fulfills the role of a convenient mobile entertainment viewer admirably (from a functional standpoint). For example, if there is a TV program that you’ve recorded on your PC last night, and you want to catch up on it during your commute to work, the BT-100 is a nice gadget to have with you. Sure, you can use a smartphone or a tablet, but the BT-100 also gives you that added level of privacy, as well as a bigger perceived screen size. Furthermore, you’d still be aware of what’s happening around you due to the see-through lenses - that's a first of its kind for a retail product and Epson has taken a bold step forward to bring about what could possibly be a new product type altogether. Of course, its overall aesthetics and size still leaves much to be desired about, but that's probably only going to improve in future iterations.
Being on the Android platform is also a plus, if you want to turn the BT-100 into more than just a media player and Web browser. Ebook reading, gaming, social networking - you name it. Augmented reality? Sure, if someone develops it. The potential is definitely there. All these said, as the BT-100 isn’t a certified Google Android device, it doesn’t come with the Google Play Store. Advanced users should have no problems overcoming this, either by way of installing a third-party marketplace or sideloading their own APK files. But don’t expect all apps to work on the BT-100, especially those that require multi-touch input. Some apps would also be stuck in a portrait orientation, which isn’t ideal for a 16:9 display. If this happens to you, you can try using the Rotation Locker app to turn the orientation.
Our biggest complaint of the BT-100 is its weak video format support. In this day and age, we find it hard to believe that anyone has a library that contains only MP4 files. The appeal of the BT-100 greatly diminishes if one has to spend time transcoding their files (by the way, no such software is provided). Yes, you can try a third-party player app, but as we explained earlier, there may be a performance hit, depending on the complexity of the file. As such, if you’ve a lot of 1080p videos, we think you’d be better served by converting them to a lower resolution. Moreover, the panel resolution isn’t full HD to begin with. For videos that played properly though, we observed good contrast (especially with the lens shade on) and fairly punchy colors.
The other concern is the perceived image size of the projected display. Since the perceived viewing size really varies on how far away one focuses his or her viewpoint and the fact that you can't continually maintain an ideal viewpoint, you're hardly going to enjoy watching a movie at the marketed 320-inch size. Ideally, this is quite likely to vary between 40 to 100-inch display in your actual use. Even then, it's not identical to watching a real screen of that size with your own pair of eyes. We're not saying it won't, but the experience is different and you should keep your hopes in check.
At the end of the day, the Epson Moverio BT-100 remains a novelty for most people. The idea is great, but there are several rough edges in the implementation. Get it only if you’re able to accept all the weaknesses that we’ve pointed out in this review. Besides the novelty of seeing your surroundings, and interacting with your friends while watching an episode of The Mentalist at the same time, one other ideal usage for this mobile headset would be on a long-haul flight. In the limited confines of your seated area with little room to maneuver, you've an immediate need to keep yourself distracted or entertained and we think the Epson Moverio BT-100 could be ideal for frequent travelers as it gives them a sense of freedom and a larger virtual screen.
Like buying a pair of glasses, you should also give the Epson Moverio BT-100 a hands-on (or head-on?) before taking out your credit card. You can find a list of stores in Singapore that has the BT-100 at the bottom of this page.