Back in the 1990s, giddy with the promise of this new thing called "cyberspace," video arcades around the country started birthing games with a newfangled VR (virtual reality) headset. The new games enabled players to stand in a little box that resembled a cherry picker (without crane attached) and shoot at pterodactyls and interact with blocky "Money For Nothing" characters.
Fast-forward 15 years and Sony is giving the personal 3D device a second run with its HMZ-T1 headset, just minus the VR. The HMZ-T1 was first shown off at CES 2011, where it was given the dubious nickname of Headman--you know, like Walkman. But as the Walkman had little to do with feet, I think the T1 would be more aptly named the Couchman.
Design and features
The HMZ-T1 "3D personal cinema" consists of two small OLED screens inside a big headset with built-in stereo headphones. The headset is made of two-tone plastic that would perfectly match the armor of a Storm Trooper. It's a little subtler in design than the prototype I saw at CES 2011, with just a single blue power light.
The headset weighs almost a pound at 14.8 oz, which Sony describes as "surprisingly lightweight." If you're expecting a deep-sea diving helmet, then, yes, it is surprising. The headset comes with adjustable rubber straps and a number of different cushions for people who do or don't wear spectacles, though it was still difficult to achieve a comfortable fit.
The screen boasts a resolution of 720p for both 2D and 3D, and comes with a slider that enables you to adjust the separation between the screens to account for different eye spacing. Unfortunately, the adjustment is quite coarse; I would have appreciated individual sliders for each eye.
Sony says the display is equivalent to a 150-inch screen viewed at a distance of 12 feet. I don't know what kind of palatial rooms Sony is used to lounging in, but based on our recent 4K article, a distance of 8 feet from a screen is more likely. This means that in a normal lounge room it's the equivalent of a 100-inch screen. That's still pretty big.
While there were murmurs of a battery-powered option, the headset is unfortunately tethered to a small breakout box--hence Couchman. The box has a proprietary HMD (head-mounted display) output that connects to the headset via a substantial 11.6-foot (3.5m) cord. I found that the cable was long enough for most living room setups and didn't snag when I put the headset on. The box incorporates two HDMI ports--one in and one out--and when the headset is turned off, the box acts as a video pass-through for a connected device. For added flexibility I would have liked to see the pass-through work when the device was on as well.
All of the controls are mounted on the underside of the helmet and include a four-way rocker, a Menu/OK button, power, and volume buttons. Pressing the Menu button also enables you to change picture and sound modes and adjust settings such as brightness and contrast.
The T1 could be seen as a companion to the other specialist 3D screen the company released this year, the Sony PlayStation 3D display, but having used both products for an extended period, I can say the T1 is undoubtedly better.
I found attaching the headset to be quite a challenge and with my larger-than-normal bonce, the straps were too small to give a comfortable fit. If you're prodigiously cranial, ala Megamind, then you can forget about buying this device.