Augmented reality is tech that overlays data and media on top of the real world, enriching it without interfering with our abilities to perform everyday tasks and it seems like a better fit than VR for our ever-busy lives. Adding turn-by-turn directions to your field of view, or pop-up metadata to the people and things we see around us, has the potential to enrich our lives — or at least make daily tasks easier.
But while AR holds potential, it also presents complications — especially if you’re hoping for something sleek enough to wear in public. The first thing that needs to be said about the Epson Moverio BT-200 is that they are not trying to be Google Glass. They are about as different as Android smart glasses could possibly be.
Whereas Google Glass is designed to be sleek and pretty hidden, the Moverio BT-200 comparatively is big, chunky and in your face. While the BT-200 weighs only 88g and are significantly smaller than its predecessor the BT-100, they are still not smaller enough to be described as natural feeling.
The applications for the Moverio 200 predict an experience that is more practical than it is fun, which will disappoint those who wish the equation were skewed in the opposite direction.
There is probably a future where you can superimpose digital games into your analogue world and vice versa, one where the very nature of gaming will be reimagined, fluid and ubiquitous, in a very real sense of that word. But that particular future hasn’t emerged yet. Truth be told, even the practical side of augmented reality still needs work. The good news is that it’s just a matter of time.
Some companies had to be the early pioneers here and by virtue of its long-standing strengths in projection technology, Epson has jumped to the forefront, boldly and bravely, but also naked and exposed. This is WT VOX review of Epson Moverio BT-200.
Epson Moverio BT-200 Review: Design And Specs
The BT-200 is especially clunky in a few ways. It’s made up primarily of a pair of large, thick glasses with embedded transparent screens. The pair of screens means the BT-200 can display images in 3D. But the lenses are roughly a centimetre thick, which makes them look awkward enough that you’ll feel strange wearing them, even around family members.
While it looks clunky, the BT-200 offers more functionality than Google Glass. A bright, colourful display, projected across angled surfaces inside the thick, clear lenses, sits in front of each eye rather than hovering in a corner over the right eye, as with Google Glass. This lets an image appear directly in the middle of your view rather than the edge.
It’s also worth pointing out that, like most AR and VR devices, the BT-200 is more complicated for those of us who wear glasses. I wore my contacts when wearing the device, but not everyone with eye issues wears contacts.
Epson does offer an insert that can be tailored to your prescription and worn with the device. But getting what amounts to a special pair of glasses that can only be used with the BT-200 is really only a solution for the most dedicated of users, or perhaps those who will be wearing the device for work.
Unlike Google Glass, the BT-200 neither builds all of its brains into the glasses themselves, nor does it requires a smartphone or tablet connection to get the most out of it. Instead, everything is controlled by the included, wired controller.
The smartphone-shaped box measures 120mm x 55mm x 19mm, weighs 124g and connects to the glasses by a cable through a wide, 30-pin plug. The front consists of a large touchpad that controls an on-screen cursor on the glasses’ display, plus an indicator light and standard Android Home, Menu, and Back buttons.
The top edge holds a sliding, locking Power switch. A Mute button and microSD card slot are along the left edge, while a micro USB port and Volume Up/Down buttons occupy the right edge. The cable connecting the box to the glasses has a clip-on secondary module that holds a 3.5mm port for the included earbuds with in-line microphone.
Epson Moverio BT-200 Review: Performance And Features
The BT-200 is primarily intended for developers and enterprise applications, and you won’t find much usability with it unless you have a background in Android development, or an IT team that can set up everything you need for you. However, the BT-200 comes loaded with a few demonstration programs, but there’s no access to the Google Play store.
Instead, Epson launched its own Moverio app store, but for now are only a handful of apps available. As an alternative you can sideloading APK files through the microSD card slot, the Web browser, or a USB connection and the debugging console.
As far as the software goes, it’s pretty close to stock Android. It’s running Android 4.0.4 and the 960 × 540 resolution screen occupies roughly a tenth of your total field of vision, sitting dead centre.
It would be nicer, particularly for Netflix playback, if Epson had used a higher-resolution projector to beam more pixels into the glasses. But generally, things look sharp and the amount of peripheral vision available around the projected image makes it easy to do other basic tasks, like walking to the fridge or keeping tabs on what your kids are doing, without having to remove the glasses.
For useful AR applications, we tried a few demos Epson preloaded on the BT-200. One demo walked me through assembling a LEGO-like building blocks figure by projecting each step of construction on the table, using a specially marked piece of paper to align the view. Again, I could look at the model from different angles and if I wished, build it myself next to the projection to make sure I got every step right.
The BT-200 also came with a simple game similar to a 3D Space Invaders. Robots floated at me from all directions and I had to aim at them with the crosshairs in the centre of my view and tap the touchpad to fire.
It’s very similar to the Face Raiders AR game that comes preloaded on the Nintendo 3DS , only the game on the BT-200 worked with head tracking, rather than moving a handheld game system around. Again, it showed off the technology’s potential, but it wasn’t very fun.
Some of the other apps that Epson shipped on the device seem more promising, but are difficult to really judge. There’s the aforementioned DJI Vision app, which lets you see through the camera of your drone and should be quite interesting for flying enthusiasts.
Epson Moverio BT-200 Review: Battery Life And Price
Epson rates the BT-200 battery life at six hours, which is about what we’d expect given that this is essentially a smartphone with a pair of always-on screens.
It’s tough to judge real-world battery life, though, because beyond watching Netflix and playing with a few of the pre-installed apps, there isn’t a whole lot to do with the BT-200. Epson Moverio BT-200 can be purchased from Amazon for £569.00 with free delivery included.
Epson Moverio BT-200 Review: Conclusion And Verdict
The Epson Moverio BT-200 is one of the most functional and affordable examples of a head-mounted display designed for augmented reality. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should get it, even if it is less than half the price of Google Glass and has the potential to be much more useful.
This is developer gear, designed for experimenting with the technology and figuring out commercial uses. If you have £569 to spend on tech with little to no personal consumer purpose, it’s a fantastic way to get a taste of what AR can offer.
Check price on Amazon