Both Oculus and Vive have exciting VR platforms that require an external computer or at least a phone to power them. But what if you want an immersive device that stands on its own? At CES 2016, headset-maker Vuzix unveiled the iWear Wireless, a $499 VR headset that runs Android on its dual 720p eye pieces.
Due out this summer, the glossy black iWear Wireless looks a bit like the rebooted Robocop’s sleek, black helmet (the only good thing about that movie), but with a big blue stripe across the front instead of a red one. At Vuzix’s booth, I had a chance to spend a few moments viewing a 3D animation and navigating through the device’s main menus and I left intrigued by the device’s potential.
MORE: What's Next for VR: More Useful Content, Less Nausea
The headset is quite bulky, but comfortable once you get it on and adjust it to fit snugly on your head, using the adjustable headstrap dial. The large, padded headphones felt particularly pleasant against my ears.
Because I need glasses and didn’t want to risk scratching them by wearing them under a headset, I didn’t get the sharpest view of the virtual worlds inside the iWear. A 3D animation I saw seemed fairly rich and the tile-based home screen was easy to make out. Vuzix says that putting on the iWear is the equivalent of looking at a 125-inch TV from 10 feet away.
The iWear Wireless can get content in a couple of ways: by streaming it from your phone or by connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi and using its own interface. A rechargeable battery promises 3 hours of endurance if you wear the iWear Wirless unplugged, though you can also use it while it is charging.
Though the device runs Android 5.0, it uses a custom skin to make the phone and tablet operating system headset-friendly. I didn’t get to see all the menus, but I did have a chance to navigate around the home screen, which had large flat squares representing different preloaded apps, which included VLC Player and YouTube. In order to move and select a tile, I used the iWear’s tiny remote control, which has a directional dial and a couple of buttons. Vuzix says that it will also sell an optional game controller.
The biggest open question about the iWear is where compatible apps will come from. A Vuzix rep confirmed that the company will have an app store, but we don't know how many or which apps will be there. Regular Android games should run competently on the headset without modification. The company’s product sheet says that you’ll be able to stream content directly from your phone, in addition to using the device’s own UI. Vuzix advertises that the product will come with apps for Netflix, Hulu and a Web browser.
Vuzix recently launched the very-similar “iWear” (not wireless), which costs the same $499 but doesn’t have an operating system of its own and instead plugs into your game console, computer or phone via HDMI. At CES, the company also announced a slew of enterprise-friendly augmented reality goggles including M300, which uses a small screen on an arm, the large single-eyed M3000 and the binocular B3000.