A small look into the future
Posted on May 21, 2012 by Jeffrey van Binsbergen, 18,079 views.
After waiting months I finally received the ST1080. It is the first full HD 3D HMD (head mounted display) available for a decent price. The ST1080 is a competitor for the Sony HMZ-T1 but in a much smaller package. I’ve now played with this HMD for a few hours. In this short review I’ll try to describe some of the features available and how well they work on the ST1080. A longer review will be available within a few weeks.
The ST1080 comes from a small company called SiliconMicroDisplay. They announced their product in November 2011 and presented it on the Consumer Electronics Show 2012. In March 2012 buyers could finally pre-order the ST1080! For some reason there wasn’t much publicity at all for the product. Only a few YouTube videos and a rarely updated blog was keeping us customers patient. The popularity however did grow much in the last months. When the first batches were sent to the customers last week, the media finally noticed this amazing product and published it on several gadget news sites. Hopefully this is the start of a great future for SiliconMicroDisplay.
So now to the main subject: The ST1080! The design is a bit changed since the announcement but overall it still looks the same. It is very lightweight and small. It comes in a small but well protected box. It comes with a controller unit, some earphones, a few removable stickers when you don’t want to use the transparency feature on the HMD, a spare nose rubber, a power adapter. a cord for strapping the hmd to your head and a cable to connect all of it. There is also a quick start guide included. Note that there is no hdmi cable included.
The quick start is straight forward (Just connect and power on everything). I connected the HMD to my laptop and it instantly detected it as ’SMD ST1080’ in windows. I put it on my nose and was welcomed by my laptop screen (It works!). In the beginning it however took a while to get used to watching the screen. After 10 minutes and playing with the 2 pupil distance adjustment switches the screen was finally clear and good to read. I visited some websites and used some applications and this went all without problems. Just like looking at a normal screen. The text at the corners of the screen however stays a bit blurry. The included nose rubbers are also clearly not designed for my nose. The unit slides of my nose when looking down. There is however a cord included which you can use as a strap to attach the hmd to your head. With it, the hmd fits fine and is useable. It also puts less weight on your nose with it so don’t throw this cord away! There is no eye strain using this device. It didn’t hurt my head or made me disoriented. The comfort is not that great, since it still puts some weight on your nose. The unit however is light and you can easily use it for hours.
The screens themselves are clear and in 1080p. The FOV is good. Black however isn’t truly black, but more like dark gray, like lcd screens. When moving your head quickly up and down the display technology shows his weak spot: All white colored text on the screen will leave a Red, Green and Blue trace. The displays work by quickly showing just one color at the time. But when using the HMD to watch movies and play games I never really noticed it so it won’t disturb any normal use with the ST1080. Another thing worth knowing is that this unit won’t block the light coming from the top of the bottom of the unit. You can just look down and see the floor, just like normal glasses.
Also required for the ST1080 is the control unit. This is a box which is just a little bit smaller than a Nintendo 3ds. But compared to the Sony HMZ-T1 control unit, it is very small. It is powered by micro usb and has a connector for the hdmi source and a cable to the glasses. There is an optional audio out you can use if you want to use some other headphones. The control unit gets very hot when using the ST1080. I was not able to hold it in my hand without hurting myself. Be cautious when using this device! There are just a few settings you can change on this unit. The brightness, music volume, flickering and 3d mode (Frame packed, side by side, Top-Bottom). There is also a mute button, which will mute the sound and dim the display.
Mobility is one of the great possibilities with this product. As long as you have a mobile battery pack and an HDMI source, you could use your ST1080 everywhere. Luckily I have an Asus Transformer tablet with just the two things needed. You can use it while traveling and with the transparency feature you can even stay connected to the real world. Of course it is new product and people will still think it looks strange when they see you use it.
Transparency is another great feature you’ll get with the ST1080. It offers 10% transparency so you can actually see the world around you while using the HMD. The ST1080 is often referred to the Google glasses project where the HMD unit just works as a HUD for the normal world. However 10% is too low for this purpose. But it is still a great “tech demo”. You can see the display and the real world at the same time. You can compare it by looking at a glass window nearby. Focus nearby to see the screen, focus in the distance to see the world around you. The ST1080 has a light blocking sticker on the front side. Removing it is a bit of a pain, but the sticker is reusable and you can place it back when you want to (also not that easy as it sounds). There are 3 extra spare light blocking stickers included in the package. Without the sticker the HMD is transparent on the outside. This does not look great from the outside without the light blockers. You can actually see some parts in unit and see the 2 displays. If you get a close look you can even see the contents of the screens.
The ST1080 supports lots of different video resolutions, both 2d as 3d. For 2d the highest resolution with the highest frames per second you can go is 1080p at 60Hz. For 3d it is 1080p at 30Hz (Top-and-bottom). When watching movies it is just great. 3D works beautiful. For 3d gaming 30Hz is a bit low and you’ll have to make a choice between high fps or high resolution. The ST1080 does offer you 60Hz at half resolution or at 720p. Almost all PS3 games with 3d support already switch to the 720p resolution where you can enjoy 3d gaming with full 60Hz. The ST1080 currently does not support scaling. This means using the 720p resolutions will reduce the screen size and FOV. SiliconMicroDisplay however announced that they will add scaling with a firmware update in the future.
On my laptop I had to use the newest beta version of the NVidia drivers to get everything working great in 3d (like youtube). The ST1080 is supported by Nvidia 3D Vision. It will see the HMD as a 3D TV. During my short test period I watched the movie Tron 3D in full hd and played a few games in 720p. It works like expected.
My first opinion about the ST1080 is very positive. There are of course a few things that could be better. SiliconMicroDisplay however did a great job and really surpassed other bigger companies. They announced a good product and just delivered it.
Within a few weeks I’ll post a second review about the ST1080 where I’ll test it in combination with head tracking software and several other games.