The Vuzix iWear has been around for a while now, but despite some positive praise on Amazon and a few YouTube videos talking about it, there hasn’t been many full reviews that aim to showcase what exactly the iWear is all about. VR Source wanted to rectify this, and so we grabbed an iWear review unit and dived right in.
So what exactly is the iWear and who is the target audience for this product? Let’s find out.
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From the first moment with the Vuzix iWear we immediately could tell this wasn’t another Vive or Rift. It was small, light, and had some pretty massive headphones built in. Furthermore, there wasn’t a strap that went over the head (or at least not completely), with the unit instead using a unique clasp on the back that tightens to hold the headset on. I will admit it took me a bit to figure out exactly where on my head to adjust the Vuzix, but once I did — I found it was actually really comfortable. There’s a great deal of padding everywhere and the reasonably light profile means you don’t have something nearly as bulky as, say, the Vive.
Aesthetically, this thing looks a bit like a virtual reality prop from an 80’s movie. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is probably down to taste. I honestly kind of liked the design, just because it was totally different than most other similar devices on the market. There are several buttons on the headset for adjusting various settings like brightness and more.
Unlike the Vive or Rift, the Vuzix iWear doesn’t block your entire line of sight. You can still see what’s going on around the world pretty easily by shifting your eyes. This obviously means that “immersive” aspects of VR aren’t possible. We’ll talk more about how this is and isn’t a true VR headset in a bit, but for now, the key takeaway is the design here is comfortable enough for even longer use cases like watching movies and more.
Unlike the Rift or Vive, the Vuzix iWear requires no special tracking boxes or other hardware. Basically, in the box you get the headset, a charger, and a few other basic accessories. Setup, however, is pretty much instantaneous, depending on what you’re using it for. If you simply want to use it as a second screen, there’s a single cord coming out the back that splits off to a connector that has USB and HDMI. The USB charges and provides power to the device, while the HDMI allows you to plug it in to any HDMI-capable device.
As a reference point, it took me a whole minute (if that) to get this thing up and running with my Xbox One. Where setup gets slightly more complicated is with VR. To work with actual VR content, you’ll need to download the Vuzix VR Manager at bare minimum. If you want to open up the door to Steam VR (which we’ll talk more about in a bit), you’ll also need to install the Steam driver and make a few adjustments in Steam in order to make everything work right. That said, even the VR setup aspects took just 10 minutes or so.
The tech involved
Starting with the display, the Vuzix IWear offers dual 720p displays that offer up a 55-degree field of view. To put that into perspective, both the Vive and the Rift have 110-degree FoV. That means you don’t really see the whole world around you, instead you basically have a giant 120-inch movie screen right within easy view. This makes the tech here less great for VR, but Vuzix makes it clear that VR support is more of a bonus feature and not the core purpose here.
The quality of the display is actually not too bad at all, but you have to be careful when adjusting the way you wear the display, as there’s a very narrow window when it comes to positioning the headset in order to clearly see the entire screen — once you get it right though, it’s hard to complain.
Due to the screen used, there’s no screen door effect like you’d get with most other VR headsets and the screen is bright, clear, and has vibrant colors, though things can sometimes look a slight bit washed out and there is a blue tint to the image that is present even when adjusting color settings. Still, it’s not super noticeable unless you’re really looking for it, though the display admittedly isn’t nearly as impressive as you’d find with higher-end VR and television screens, but is still more than good enough for all but the pickiest display buffs.
Probably one of the most impressive things about the iWear is the headphones. Vuzix bills this thing as sort of a pair of headphones that happen to have a screen built in, and the headphones here offer great, punchy sound. The bass is a touch too strong for my own tastes, but it’s amazing for watching movies and playing games. Noise-cancelling and other high-end audio features are present here as well. We should note, however, that when nothing is playing, there is a dull buzz that goes away when you play audio.
Turning to the sensors onboard, there’s no advanced headtracking, but basic movements (left, right, etc) are baked in via the same kind of sensors you’d typically find in a mobile VR headset like the Gear VR. Lastly, we should mention the headset has a 550mAh battery built in, allowing you up to 2-3 hours of movies or gaming, and around 10 hours of audio only listening. Of course, you can always hook it to your laptop or an external charger via USB to extend that life indefinitely.
Overall, the audio tech is great, the display tech is okay, and the sensors are very basic. In other words, nothing about the technology behind it screams “bleeding-edge”, but for what it is intended for, it does the job effectively.
I think we’ve made it pretty obvious already that the Vuzix iWear isn’t necessarily built with VR in mind. Still, it’s a nice extra to have. So what is the VR experience like? Vive/Rift-worthy? No. Same level as the Gear VR or even Cardboard? Still no. The problem is that field of view we mentioned earlier. Even in VR games, you’ll always have black bars around you and that open view of the real world. Sure, you can look around in all directions and manipulate objects using a third-party controller, but the immersive element of VR just isn’t here. It’s still fun, but it’s more like 3D gaming then true VR. That’s arguably still a step above “traditional gaming” in terms of immersion, but it pales in comparison to what the Vive or Rift can achieve.
On the bright side, the Vuzix iWear does offer support for Steam VR, as we already mentioned. That means you can play all those VR-optimized games, you just won’t get the full immersive affect you would with the Vive or Rift. I tried a number of games built with the Rift in mind, using an Xbox One controller, and found things worked well enough. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as playing the Rift or Vive, but it didn’t totally ruin the experience either.
Ultimately, VR is a sidenote with the iWear. So what is the true target audience?
Who is the iWear really for?
The iWear is a portable, private monitor, when it really comes down to it. That means its target audience are those who want privacy or those who want a big screen but don’t have the room for that. People who would truly benefit from the iWear include:
- Frequent flyers – if you don’t mind wearing a headset in public, this could be great on flights. Hook it up to your laptop for power and for source content, and you’ll be watching movies on a virtual 120-inch TV screen. That’s certainly a lot bigger and better than that iPad, Android tablet, or laptop screen and you don’t have to put it away during landing/take-off times.
- Drone enthusiasts – this would be great paired with a drone. You could use it to see what the cameras see, as well as overlay the controllers and more.
- Those with small apartments or tiny homes (or just wanting privacy) – Don’t have room for that 120-inch screen? Simulate it. Don’t want people to see what you are watching? The Vuzix makes sense here, too.
The plug-and-play nature of the Vuzix means that anything that accepts HDMI can work as a source, including tablets, consoles, phones, PCs, laptops, and the list goes on. It also is worth noting that the nature of the Vuzix means you don’t need a high-end PC to use it, unlike the Vive or Rift.
At the end of the day, the Vuzix iWear only makes sense if you are interested in the idea of a private virtual screen that you easily take with you just about anywhere. As a cheap alternative to the Rift or Vive? It doesn’t fit the bill honestly, as devices like the OSVR HDK2 are actually cheaper and yet better for VR viewing. Now, if you have need for a private virtual screen and want to check out VR in a limited setting, yes, we can recommend the iWear. That said, we need to address pricing.
At $500, we feel that Vuzix is asking for a lot here. The Rift offers a much better VR experience for just $100 more, after all. Sure, you need a high-end PC with the Rift in order to use it, but if you happen to have one, the Rift can simulate a TV as well, but you won’t be able to use it with consoles, phones, and tablets. Still, if you fit into one of the use cases I mentioned above, or have a special use case I didn’t think of, the Vuzix iWear is still worthy of your consideration. Just don’t go buying it if you are looking for a traditional VR experience.
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