Cool Specs for the Tech Set

But cybervisors aren't worth the high price yet

Cool Specs for the Tech Set

The six-hour flight from San Francisco to Montreal takes off without a hitch. The plane is packed with people reading newspapers or doing paperwork. The scene is what you would expect, except for the guy crammed into seat 24B. He has a laptop computer open and he's wearing an eyeglass contraption that makes him look like a character out of the X-Men comics.

That person is me. The high-tech goggles I have on are the latest in wearable computer monitors, the Cy-Visor DH-4400VP display system, made by a South Korean company called Daeyang E&C and marketed in the U.S. by Personal Display Systems Inc. of Sacramento. Immediately, my neighbors take notice. A triumphant inner voice tells me I'm the coolest kid on the block--or the geekiest.

To while away the flight, I decide to check out whether monitors like the Cy-Visor have more than gee-whiz appeal. These devices work through common video and audio connections, essentially transferring images from a computer, DVD player, VCR, or game console to tiny flat-panel screens situated in front of one or both eyes. The screens fit into an eyeglass-shaped casing and give the feel of viewing a big-screen television at six feet.

The 4-ounce Cy-Visor I'm wearing has reflective silver lenses attached to a cushiony headband with tiny speakers for my ears. Right away, I learn two important lessons: The Cy-Visor needs to be attached to a control box to display games or e-mail. It also needs batteries, which I didn't bring along. You either plug these units into an electrical outlet or shell out $70 for a 90-minute battery pack--and the chance to be truly mobile. I sink back into my seat, bored for the next four hours of my flight.

SQUIGGLY LINES. Days later, I'm sitting in my office ready to take another crack. The $999 Cy-Visor again gives me trouble. I've hooked the wires to the appropriate connections, called up an on-screen menu, selected the PC option, and been rewarded with a bunch of squiggly lines. The problem: The unit cannot handle the XGA-type video format, which rules out many business notebooks. On my home computer, I have more success. Images from a video game are crisp, but when I switch to my e-mail, the picture goes dark and returns only after I reboot and fire up another game.

Time to move on. I have better results with Olympus' 4-oz. Eye-Trek model FMD-700. This device comes with a hefty $1,199 price tag and can be plugged into PCs, portable DVD players, and game consoles. But the Eye-Trek isn't comfortable. The molded sunglass-shaped plastic is one-size-fits-all, and I learn that I'm not that size. Olympus' "super-optical resolution" does reward me with a Yahoo! (YHOO ) news page, yet the words are blurry. I start up a PC game and get a clearer picture. Within 10 minutes my head feels like it's going to explode from the eye strain and uncomfortable fit. No wonder makers warn to limit use to two hours at a time.

For now, these gadgets aren't worth the price for what they deliver. A moderately priced $1,200 notebook computer can play the same game at better resolution and display text clearly. Guess I'll keep the monitor on my desk and forget about looking cool.

By Cliff Edwards in San Mateo, Calif.

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