Avegant's head-mounted virtual retinal display offers brilliant definition, we go hands-on (video)

Avegant's headmounted retinal display prototype offers brilliant definition, we go handson video

We've never seen a product quite like this, and for Avegant, that's very good news. The startup's prototype virtual retinal display (VRD) delivers insanely sharp definition and a realistic image even with low-resolution sources by projecting directly into each eye using an array of two million micromirrors. There's no screen inside, though your brain interprets the signal as an 80-inch panel viewed from eight feet away. The effect isn't entirely dissimilar to what you'll find with other products, such as Vuzix's Wrap glasses or Sony's HMZ, though the quality -- and the overall experience -- blows everything else out of the water. We've heard a bit about Avegant's prototype, but without an opportunity to test it out, we were skeptical. This technology is impossible to demonstrate through any other medium, which will present some marketing challenges for the six-person team. For the firm's current round of tech demos, that's no problem, but a consumer model is coming very soon, and when it hits, you're definitely going to want to try it out.

The production model, which is slated to ship sometime in Q1 2014, will be a far cry from the prototype we tested this week. It's expected to weigh significantly less, with a much more manageable footprint, integrated sound and a battery pack for power on the go. It'll be just as powerful, however, despite the design tweaks. The HMD, which can handle 240Hz content (and beyond), will connect to a variety of sources -- DVD players, laptops, smartphones and game consoles -- and regardless of the quality of the stream, footage should look sharp and realistic. It'll serve as a head-tracking VR device during game play, a bit like the Oculus Rift, but it'll be just as appropriate for consuming movies and TV shows, or even browsing the web. We watched a few minutes of Life of Pi in 720p 3D, played a bit of Call of Duty and poked around a 360-degree video filmed at a traffic circle in Italy. It all looked great, and that latter clip, which was streaming from a smartphone, was a mere 360 x 180 pixels.

The HMD is designed to make everyday media look great, but the developers we met, CTO Alan Evans and CEO Edward Tang, also envision a variety of content created specifically for the display. Imagine moving your head to look around a football stadium during a broadcast NFL game, or exploring distant cities in much the same way. We don't have any pricing info to share, but consumer prototypes are expected at CES and the device should make its way to a crowdfunding site within the next few months. We can't wait to watch a handful of movies on the to-be-named Avegant HMD during a flight to Asia or spend half a day shooting zombies with some shockingly immersive gameplay. In the meantime, there's a prototype hands-on to tide you over, embedded after the break.