For once, one of the products I have preordered has actually been delivered. This time it’s the Silicon Micro Display ST1080, a head mounted display in goggle form featuring independent 1920×1080 color displays, as well as partially translucent mirrors permitting you to view the outside world through them. This post will detail some early impressions.
I’ve had little time to play with it. First there was a long order queue, then delay with customs declaration, followed by confusion between me and DHL about delivery method, finding someone to help me pick the package up and other tasks that had priority (such as assisting my mother with moving houses). But I did get a few minutes, which spawned some concerns which in turn delayed this writeup because I wasn’t sure what to make of my main complaint. Besides, sometimes it matters more how a company handles their problems than whether they occur.
I have begun to gather some media about the screen, and will soon be comparing to HMZ-T1 as well (from a company I’ll never recommend since they treat customers, as I was, as enemies), but I’m not as quick to publish as some others – there’s a list at SMD’s forum.
The ST1080 ships with a couple of ferrite beads, to reduce EMI enough to comply with some FCC rules. I reckon this is what caused the early delay in testing. They’re a decent solution, although one wonders why the bead already on the power supply cable wasn’t enough. Also, the bead for the video cable is narrow – enough that fitting it per the instructions causes an unsettling squeezing of the video cable.
The video cable itself has a proprietary connector, which is not unexpected, but it has no hooks or similar to keep it in place. This means it easily pulls out, and any time it’s partially out you get a flicker to brightly colored screens with no picture. I’ll probably be fixing this with some rubber bands or similar. The HDMI cable is much less sensitive and pulling it out is less jarring, as you just get a blank picture with a “no signal” message.
I’m a little confused about the light blocking sticker, as those sent with the device really appear to be a different type than the one first affixed. That one was somewhat difficult to peel off, and did stretch – so it won’t fit as neatly afterwards, even though it does stick (just as happily to dust as the plastic). Visibility through the front lens was very dim, and I’ll be publishing comparison photos later.
The menu interface is simple. You get to adjust brightness, flicker per eye (not entirely sure what the parameter means, but I gathered I was to make the boxes evenly grey), and 3D mode – of which side by side isn’t available (currently) for 720p. The default choice, Frame Packed, means the source device can send single or dual pictures as it wishes. If you don’t go into the menu, the up/down buttons adjust volume.
The earbuds give a rather annoying buzzing, something I believe SMD are already working to address in firmware. I was surprised to see that although they are in fact mono buds with their own short cable, they’re an assymetric design complete with L and R marks. It won’t actually matter if you put them in mirrored.
As to the most important property, the picture, I was not much disappointed. The black isn’t particularly black; in fact, there’s enough light from the projection that I didn’t see the edges of the picture until I had a 1080p signal fed into it. It turns out the picture is somewhat smaller than the lit region. In the picture itself, I really can’t discern any edges between pixels, and there’s no color displacement like on common flat panels. There is, however, a so-called “rainbow effect”, which I find I am quite sensitive to. This is because the display only shows one color at a time, so if your eye is moving, you get the colors in different subjective locations. It’s noticed mainly when I blink or track fast motion of high contrast details with my eyes, but seems to have an odd effect on some patterns too – a waterfall, and an acorn in an Ice Age trailer, both subjectively got some very thin shimmering streaks of color that did not belong.
I did run through the battery of LCD tests at lagom.nl, and found not a single defect of those. Mainly it’s that the black level just isn’t very black.
I’ve found getting good focus (or indeed, visibility) can be a bit of an issue. It’s not nearly as hard as with the HMZ-T1, but the vertical angle can cause blurring all over the top or bottom edges. Also, the focusing distance itself it rather far away; this is supposed to give a large virtual screen, but the size impression itself really disappears when you’re immersed in a view. I would prefer a closer distance as I’m near-sighted, and I can’t focus well on the picture without my glasses – which do fit inside, but make it a little harder to place the display at the right height. I haven’t got around to trying the support string around the back of the head yet.
As for 3D effects, I must conclude that I simply haven’t seen much good 3D before. I got a game to test it out – the first one listed on SMD’s instructions for how to set it up – and was disappointed by very small parallax effect and far too evident aliasing. I then went to Youtube and found some videos with the tag yt3d. It’s a world of difference, and I was amazed – yet none of that could match the resolution of the ST1080. The other bit of media I got for testing is the film Hugo, which I’m looking forward to seeing. It should be better suited, being truly stereoscopic footage (the video game does a trick upconverting from the Z-buffer data) and higher resolution.
Lastly, the problem that really got me concerned was a defect in the left display module. I’ve seen the note that a faint vertical line could be fixed with a firmware update, but what I found wasn’t that faint nor vertical. There was a curved wavy pattern, like a coating layer had not been evenly distributed. I contacted SMD about it, and was fairly quickly offered three options; a return for repairs, a replacement unit when there was time to produce it (i.e. they’ll not be delaying them for other preorderers), or a return with refund. I’m going with the replacement because I really do want a unit, and this way I can keep using this device until the replacement arrives. I’m quite satisfied with the service thus far.
Edit: After a few days, and some cleaning, I’ve concluded that the residue that caused me such concern in the left display module must have been temporary, perhaps a condensation effect. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was too hasty in declaring the unit defective – it’s by no means flawless, but this particular issue is one I no longer find.