The Sony HMZ-T1 is an AV headset. It has two tiny display screens and two earphones built into a body that covers a chunk of your face.
The body is largely rigid but it is has adjustable straps for the back of your head and a forehead pad. Actually there are three of the latter of varying thicknesses, also allowing for adjustment (because, as we’ll see later, correct adjustment of the headset is vital for good performance).
Under the front part are two sliding bars that mechanically adjust the optics to suit the spacing of your eyes. A setup screen appears every time you switch on the unit to make sure you adjust this correctly.
There is also a set of controls under the front right. Obviously you can’t see them, but that didn’t prove to be a drawback. An on-screen menu can be summoned to remind you which button does what, and they are tactilely distinctive anyway.
From the left side of the headset emerges a 3.5m cable which plugs into a small control and connection box. This unit – aside from the socket for the headset – has only two connections: HDMI In and HDMI Out. The latter provides signal passthrough, which means that you can plug your PS3, for example, directly into it and then pass the signal on to a home theatre system or TV.
Sony specifies the ‘Virtual Image Size’ of this unit as ‘750-inch in 20m distance’, which seems to be an odd way of doing it. Angle-wise that’s the same as viewing a 100-inch projection screen at 2.7m. My guess is that the lenses in the headset are set as though the eyes were focusing at a 20m distance.
Once fitted, you get something very special from a Sony personal 3D viewer: you get a totally crosstalk-free 3D experience.
Crosstalk is leakage of the left eye content into the right eye and vice versa. It produces ghosts of the content, and at a certain level it severely damages the 3D effect. Now, normal TVs and projectors use either a passive or active system to filter the content for each eye.
Passive systems use polarising filters and are highly effective in eliminating crosstalk, but they reduce the vertical resolution of the picture noticeably unless you sit a long way back from the screen.
Active systems block one eye’s view of the picture while the other eye’s view is showing. With LCD and LCoS-based display systems, there is inevitably some crosstalk. A bit less so with plasma, and almost none with DLP. But even with low crosstalk systems some viewers are sensitive to the flickering.
However, this headset needs no such compromises because the left and right signals are kept entirely separate all the way into your eyeballs. No flickering. No crosstalk.
Indeed, if somehow you do see crosstalk, then is must be from a poorly encoded disc!
The result was that the 3D was extremely impressive. Whatever 3D content was thrown up was handled very nicely, with a strong 3D effect
and, somehow, a slightly reduced sense that the picture consists of a series of cardboard cut-out figures. Instead there was a greater sense of roundness and depth in the individual elements of the picture.
Obviously I used the system with Blu-ray 3D – with both animated and live content – but I also gave it a whirl with the 3D section of Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3. And, most importantly, with the 3D side-by-side format on the Visual Entertainment Group’s 2010 AFL Grand Final Draw Blu-ray disc. This is in 1080i50 format, which is likely what Australians in most capital cities will be getting from the 2012 Olympic Games 3D broadcasts. The image was a little sharper when I set the Yamaha Blu-ray player to 1080p output mode rather than 1080i, suggesting that the player did a better job on the progressive scan conversion. Nonetheless, even at 1080i (which is what most set top boxes will deliver) the 3D was impressive, the action reasonably smooth, and the colour very natural.
The downside of the video performance was that in this modern world of 1080p or, at least, 1080i content, this unit can only offer 720p picture delivery. That’s a bit disappointing. To be fair, the system does a good job of scaling down the image from full HD to its native resolution, but inevitably the picture loses some detail. Remember, the display is designed to give the impression of sitting less than three metres away from a 100-inch (2.54m) screen. Every bit of resolution helps on such a large screen.
And also unfortunately, there is a slight screen door effect: that is, the grid of the dark spaces between the active pixels was visible. It wasn’t particularly obtrusive, but it was nonetheless there, which is something I haven’t seen on any form of display for quite some time.
Likely this also is an artefact of sitting so virtually close to such a virtually large screen.
The location of the unit’s ear pieces can be adjusted to where your ears are. They are like soft over-the-ear units and are quite comfortable. Sony rates their frequency response at 12 to 24,000Hz.
They certainly go quite loud and the sound is clean. There are a number of audio processing modes. Off makes them act as stereo headphones, which is pretty unsatisfying with movies. Avoid ‘Standard’, which introduced a strange echo, and ‘Music’, which went for an emphasised upper bass and an in-your-face reverb profile.
‘Game’ was okay and ‘Cinema’ sounded the most room like. It attempted some surround processing which produced a moderate effect, limited only by the feeling that the entire sound field was often hovering above my head.
The Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer is a very effective way of getting high quality 3D at a rather low price. I would like to see a slightly wider range of adjustment for physical head shapes and, most of all, a move to full 1080p display panels.
But if the finest of picture detail isn’t your thing, and highly effective 3D is, then this is well worth checking out.