LAS VEGAS – When Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) launched its video-capable iPod last year, some questioned whether consumers would embrace watching video on a 2.5-inch screen or endure holding the gadget to their faces for anything but the shortest of clips.
Now, with funky eyewear from MicroOptical Corp., which it calls the MyVu Personal Media Viewer, iPod users can watch video on what looks like a 27-inch screen TV while, theoretically, maintaining some of the portability for which the iPod is famous as a music player.
At a recent trade show, I didn't buy the company's assertions that I would not bump into things walking down the street while wearing the contraption, which looks like a pair of space-age sunglasses with earbuds.
"The beauty of our technology is the see-through, see-around," Bruce Lampert, MicroOptical's vice president of sales, said at the CTIA Wireless 2006 convention in April. "I can see through here. I'm walking. I'm not running into anything."
So I decided to try it out myself.
I assumed I was in store for sensory overload that would make it difficult to watch and walk. I chose the safer route and put on the viewer while sitting on my couch. (I did have to wear contact lenses because it didn't fit comfortably over my regular eyeglasses.)
At about 2.4 ounces, it felt fairly light, and the belt clip that holds both iPod and a three-AAA-battery pack (which the company says is disappearing in future versions) was trouble-free.
Its cable connects to the iPod's headphone port. It also works with other mobile video players, such as Samsung's D600 cell phone.
The gizmo works by delivering the image from two tiny liquid crystal displays that are smaller than a pinky fingernail through a series of lenses directly to the eyes.
After settling back to watch "The Apprentice," which I purchased from Apple's iTunes Music Store, I was surprised to find that I felt comfortable enough to get up and walk about.
Pretty soon I was ironing a shirt and washing dishes while watching apprentice wannabe Michael make mistake after mistake before getting booted from the show with Donald Trump's famous finger-pointing phrase: "You're fired."
You actually can watch the video, then look above, below and around the screen to see other things. As I walked by a mirror I could see myself out of the corner of my eye.
Wearing the viewer can be disorienting, especially if it fits too high or low on the nose. I raised or lowered my head countless times before intuiting that the picture moves in tandem with my head.
But the sound was crystal clear and viewing was much more comfortable than on the iPod's little screen, which must be held in front of the face or propped up somewhere to view.
I scratch my head at the price, however. At $269, these goggles get pretty close to the cost of an iPod itself, rather than the average accessory. The company began selling the viewers online this month.
Still, for those who spend a good chunk of time on public transit, this could make a lot of sense. I once got a lot of studying done commuting on trains in Tokyo. If you've got something to watch and need something to watch it on, it could be worth the expense.
Now that I'm in the land of the full-sized SUV, though, I drive to work. Behind the wheel, listening to an iPod makes more sense than watching one.
Westwood, Mass.-based MicroOptical uses the same technology to make the Myvu as it does to make night-vision goggles for tank drivers in the U.S. military.
But that doesn't mean the consumer version of the technology should be used while driving on the interstate.