eMagin Z800 3DVisor


We can’t remember the last time we heard someone say, “What the world needs now is a good set of 3D goggles,” but we’re happy this apparent lack of demand didn’t stop eMagin from designing the best 3D goggles we’ve ever tested.

Technically, the Z800 3DVisor isn’t a pair of goggles; rather, it’s a pair of OLED (organic light-emitting diode) micro-displays that you wear on your head like eyeglasses. The unit also includes a pair of stereo earbuds, a noise-canceling microphone, and a head-tracking mechanism.

It’s more than just an expensive toy, but you might have difficulty convincing other people of that: With a $900 price tag, it’s definitely expensive; and most buyers will just use it for gaming. But that’s not its only application. Honest.

OLED displays are known for excellent contrast and superb color saturation, and the ones inside the Z800 deliver just that: They’re bright, vibrant, and completely capable of displaying everything from movies to fast-action games without smearing or stuttering. Although each display measures just 0.59 inches diagonal, eMagin claims that their near-eye proximity delivers a picture equivalent to a 105-inch screen viewed at 12 feet. The claim sounds a little fishy, but we really did feel as though we were sitting in primo seats at a good movie theater.

Each of the micro-displays inside the Z800 can display maximum resolution of 800x600 pixels. We didn’t find this limited resolution to be a significant drawback, but eyeglass-wearing editors quickly discovered that they couldn’t get by without their specs; and people who wear progressive bi-focal lenses had real difficulty reading text on the Z800.

If you’re a frequent flyer (and can tolerate stares from curious fellow passengers), you could work—or watch movies—on your laptop without worrying about snoops leaning in for a peek. Use it as a secondary monitor, and you can do anything that’s possible with a twin-head videocard and two monitors.
Activate the head-tracking mechanism and you’ll transform your melon into a mouse, controlling the cursor with 360 degrees of freedom as you tilt and turn your head. Playing games with head-tracking enabled involves a learning curve: The device is responsive enough that you can use head-tracking to determine your direction of movement (turn your head left in a shooter, for example, press the W key, and you’ll walk to the left).

We were surprised to discover, however, that this didn’t feel as natural as manipulating a mouse. But then we dialed the head-tracking sensitivity way back and found that turning our heads slightly enabled us to change our view—and effectively target enemies—without significantly changing direction. And this, in combination with the game world filling our entire field of view, immersed us in games better than any device we’ve ever tried.

So where does the “3D” in “Z800 3DVisor” come in? The device doesn’t require specific support from games and other applications to display 2D images; to produce 3D images, on the other hand, the Z800 must be paired with a videocard capable of producing frame-sequential (page-flipping) stereo.

When operating in this mode, the videocard renders unique views for each eye and alternates between the two views in rapid succession. The Z800, in turn, alternates between the left image in the left eyepiece, while blanking the right screen, at a rate of 60 frames per second (60Hz). Persistence of vision melds the two alternating images to produce a three-dimensional view.

As we went to press, nVidia’s GeForce series cards are the only consumer videocards capable of producing frame-sequential stereo. Unfortunately, even the nVidia drivers have a couple problems that might or might not be resolved by the time you read this: First, nVidia tells us that if you install its 3D Stereo driver, the Forceware driver you’re using must be of the same version number. As of this writing, the latest Forceware driver was version 77.72, but the latest 3D Stereo driver was only version 71.89.

The second problem has to do with games: In order to resolve visual anomalies with games running in frame-sequential stereo mode, you must go through the tedious process of creating custom configurations for each title. A long list of configuration files is included in nVidia’s 3D Stereo driver, but these are all for older games—and we’re talking about games older than Far Cry.

nVidia says it plans to bring the 3D Stereo driver back into sync with its Forceware driver effective with version 77.77. The company is also committed to creating new game-configuration files for 3D Stereo; but anyone contemplating purchasing a Z800 for 3D gaming should plan on creating their own files, just in case. As for ATI, reps for the company were unable to tell us at press time whether there are plans to support frame-sequential stereo in ATI videocards.

When contemplating a product like the Z800 3DVisor, you have to ask yourself just how close to the bleeding edge of technology you’re willing to venture. This device makes a terrific 2D display for both entertainment and productivity apps. Playing games on the Z800 is a blast, once you get over the head-tracking learning curve. Its 3D performance in games, on the other hand, is something of an unfulfilled promise. At least for now.

- ORGANIC: Best use of OLED technology we've seen to date.
+ TITANIC: Expensive; 3D mode compatible only with nVidia videocards; requires custom game configurations.

URL: www.emagin.com

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