Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

A New Prescription For Watching iPod Video

When Apple Computer Inc. introduced its iPod with video in October 2005, users started looking at the popular portable music player in a new light. Its first purpose — playing music — still took precedence, but its larger screen and video-playback capabilities suddenly made it visually entertaining, as well.

Last September, Apple upped the ante by adding downloadable movies to its iTunes Store and releasing a new iPod with a brighter screen and longer video battery life. But the fact remains: watching movies or videos is most naturally done while looking up and out, as with a television set or in a movie theater, not by looking down at a little screen in your hand.

Myvu
The $300 Myvu by MicroOptical Corp. looks geeky but offers a comfortable way to watch video on an iPod, www.myvu.com.

This week, we tested one of the geekiest gadgets we’ve seen in a long time: the $300 Myvu by MicroOptical Corp., www.myvu.com, which looks like a pair of futuristic sunglasses with built-in earbuds. Myvu attaches to your iPod, and when you look through its lenses, it displays your iPod’s videos on a built-in screen with optics that create the illusion of watching a television set from across the room; the earbuds provide accompanying audio. It also comes in a universal version that works with other gadgets, rather than just with the iPod.

We tested the iPod-specific version and wore the Myvu to watch various types of videos, including music videos, television shows and movies. Overall, it’s a pretty cool device, with a good-looking visual illusion that MicroOptical says is comparable to watching a 27-inch screen from six feet away. It would certainly come in handy on a long flight. But you’ll scare yourself if you look in the mirror. We can’t imagine wearing one while walking down the street, even though it’s designed to enable seeing above and below the bar of space where its screen appears.

MicroOptical isn’t the only maker of a new video-viewing device, and competitors have proposed products that juice up the dork factor tenfold. One company proposed a device designed to strap around your head and hover over one eye. Another company, which introduced its Myvu-like technology at a recent conference, used a hefty interface box, partly because this unit is aimed at PCs and game consoles as well as portable players.

A lot of this technology was developed for the military. Tank drivers, for example, used MicroOptical’s technology so as to view information on a projection monitor while driving and remaining aware of their surroundings.

Myvu comes with accessories to ensure that you’re comfortable while using it, which makes sense, as a three-hour movie could really take its toll under the wrong conditions.

These accoutrements include two additional nose pads and three pairs of earbud pads, for different shapes and sizes. A hard-shell carrying case, car charger and wall charger are also included.

For people who wear glasses, MicroOptical makes available a $99 adapter, the Myvu Rx Clip, with lenses made to your prescription. You print out a form available on the Web, then take it to your eye doctor, who fills it out with the prescription info. Then, you fax the form to a processing center to order the clip.

The Web site is myvurx.com. However, you may not need this adapter. Walt, who wears glasses, was simply able to remove his specs and he could see the Myvu’s screen just fine.

One key component of Myvu is its special “backpack,” a thin lithium battery designed to power the Myvu and hold the iPod while simultaneously juicing it up with an additional five hours of battery life. MicroOptical claims that this gives the 30-gigabyte iPod a total of eight or 8½ hours of video playing time, instead of its usual 3½ hours. This special backpack battery slips in behind the iPod, enclosing it in a case so that only its screen and wheel are visible from the front.

After first dropping our iPod into the backpack battery, our sleek digital player suddenly looked bulky and brick-like. But we think people who travel often will agree that it’s worth compromising the iPod’s slender look for the extra battery life.

With our iPod lodged in its backpack cage, we plugged in a built-in connector and attached the Myvu glasses cord to the top of the case. We changed our iPod’s video settings to turn the “TV Out” option on and were ready to begin.

With the Myvu glasses on and earbuds in, we glanced down at our iPod screen and scrolled through videos. We pressed play after finding a clip of a favorite “Saturday Night Live” skit, which mocks Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his affinity for often introducing new iPods.

Video footage appeared instantly at our eye level, in the glasses rather than on the iPod screen, and the image was bright and crisp.

While watching, the Myvu’s design never made us feel completely removed from our environment; we could still see when people walked by and were aware that lights were on. Myvu worked just as well, if not better, in the dark — a plus for use on planes.

A pendant-like controller on the cord connecting our iPod and Myvu glasses offered playback features: play/pause, fast-forward and rewind — though these weren’t as sensitive as the scroll wheel — and volume.

The viewing screen’s brightness and contrast can also be adjusted with this controller, but only slightly. We found ourselves using the volume controls most often.

After wearing Myvu to watch an episode of “The Office,” which ran about 22 minutes without commercials, the glasses started to feel a little heavy on our nose, but this might be different for each user.

We used Myvu while simultaneously charging it by plugging its AC adapter into a small port on the top of its case. The car charger fits into the same spot.

If you get distracted while watching a video, you can quickly remove the glasses — the earbuds also pop right out. The Myvu screen will automatically turn off a few seconds after you press pause, so as to conserve battery power. After pressing pause, the Myvu screen shows a small icon to indicate remaining battery life.

Though it looks likes a prop from “Star Trek,” Myvu is actually a smart and fun-to-use product that requires just a few simple setup steps.

Anyone who travels often or likes watching a lot of videos on an iPod would find Myvu useful and more comfortable than the alternative — that is, watching movies on an iPod in your hand. Just be sure to get the right nose pad.

Email: MossbergSolution@wsj.com


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