I wrote last month about the Avegant Retinal Display, a goggle-style headset that projects images directly onto your retina. I got a hands-on demo Friday at Engadget Espand, as well as a chat with the energetic COO Yobie Benajmin, and it was a special as I’d hoped.
Most goggle viewers work by throwing an image onto a tiny hi-res screen that sits close to your eyes. Basically, you’re looking at a monitor — just closer than your mom ever let you sit to the TV. Avegant, instead, uses a low-power LED and thousands of mirrors to focus the image on the back of your eyeball, the way you actually see.
These are remarkable displays. The difference between looking at a close-in screen image and actually seeing is palpable. It’s most noticeable, ironically, when you take the goggle off: there was no sense of refocussing or having to optically re-engage with the real world. I didn’t experience any visual fatigue.
Demo footage I saw included some undersea nature movies, a bit of Life of Pi, and Call of Duty. Marketing head Grant Martin said the images were in 720p format; I couldn’t tell the difference from a full hi-def picture. Being inside Call of Duty — looking around you by actually looking around you — was great. They had the new CoD release running on the other demo station; the line was too long to check that out.
Prototype flaws were about what one might expect: heavy, bulky, delicate, lots of wires, a little warm, some blurring on the left side of the vision field. The visors looked more like science fair projects than anything else. No one was claiming this as finished work.
On the other hand, Benjamin told us that he hopes to ship a first commercial product by the Consumer Electronics Show in January. If that’s true, there’s a way to go. [UPDATE: Avegant CEO Ed Tang tweeted that what they’ll be showing at CES is a new prototype, although they’ll be taking pre-orders there, also. The story’s been updated.]
Martin and I spoke a bit about applications for the Avegant visor. Because it’s a direct retinal display, there are obvious applications for low-vision users. The visor could, for instance, focus light away from retinal regions that have degenerated.