Sony answers Oculus, Microsoft with new gaming headgear, glasses

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LAS VEGAS—If you’ve been thinking that the Oculus Rift is the future of immersive video and gaming, Sony would like a word with you—and it has the hardware to prove it.

At its booth at the Consumer Electronics Show, Sony showed off two pieces of hardware: the Sony Smart Eyeglass prototype, and a head-tracker upgrade to its $999 Head Mounted Display (pictured above), which began shipping a short time ago.

Part of the sizzle of the Oculus Rift is that it lets you turn your head, and see the display change accordingly, giving the illusion that you’re surrounded by a 3D space that you can pan around and explore. With the Rift, that imagery is all virtual.

Sony, however, filmed actual ground-level video of a motorcycle as it raced through a road course, complete with “surround” audio. Just the camera perspective is exciting enough, but the ability to turn your head left and right, as well as up and down gave it a subconscious feeling of reality that only added to the tension. 

First-person video on a TV screen is exciting, but not overwhelmingly so. And video on a head-mounted display can simply feel claustrophobic. Adding head tracking changes the game.

But the Sony video experience is powerful. A Sony representative told me that the video was filmed using pretty standard hardware, but the sky was the limit.

“Imagine all the first-person YouTube videos already out there,” he said. “Now imagine them with you able to turn your head and see exactly what you want to see.”

It’s a pretty compelling argument, and definitely something that a company like a GoPro or a Re-Play should look into. Both offer first-person cameras to record everything from bike rides to skeet shoots in first person.

Sony Smart Eyeglass

Sony has struggled to answer Microsoft’s SmartGlass technology for some time now, but it appears to have found done so—barely—with its Smart Eyeglass augmented glasses.

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SmartGlass, of course, is Microsoft’s “second screen” application for phones and tablets, to accompany the Xbox One and Xbox 360.

In its booth here at the Consumer Electronics Show, Sony showed the Smart Eyeglass prototype. It’s not a polished product for gaming, yet.

But the one advantage it has going for it is that if you do want to see additional information about what’s being displayed on the TV screen (such as the FIFA World Cup clip used for demonstration purposes) that information is overlaid over your field of vision. It’s a bit distracting, but I found that I could also ignore it and watch the match if I chose. The types of information that could be displayed included tweets, commentary, the score, and more.

For now, the eyeglasses display information in bright green, although that could be adjusted, a Sony spokesman said.

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Honestly, neither the Eyeglass nor the head-mounted display are revolutionary, as far as technology goes. But the way they’re packaged together and form a cohesive experience definitely holds potential. Sony might be on to something here.

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