Hands-Free eBooks?

When it comes to technology that disappoints, visor optic systems have pretty much failed to live up to their promised potential for many years now. The vision for the technology has traditionally been that just by putting on a pair of stereo goggles you can immerse yourself in virtual environment. There have been virtual reality helmets, 3D displays, and more recently (and far more affordable) tiny LCD screens mounted in glasses that come alive like a 50″ television screen in front of your eyes.

When the first iPod Video came out a few years ago, a number of small companies began capitalizing on the Personal Media Player (or PMP, for short) trend by marketing these “Wearable Video Display” LCD glasses that allowed you to watch the video output from your device. Of course, the limitations of resolution and what content your media device can deliver through video output make everything tricky and somewhat annoying (see an example of what it’s like to wear them here).

Picture of the MyVu, reviewed at iLounge.

Another drawback, besides that every one wearing these things looks like Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation, is that it’s definitely not the same experience as a home theater like they advertise. The screen appears recessed and is only “large” if you consider yourself to be many feet away in perspective. Yet one of the weirder offshoots from these visors is that it suddenly became possible to not just see your video files inside your glasses, but text, too. And that’s one feature that I think Geordi would have enjoyed.

The latest gadget that’s shipping this Christmas is the $400 Qingbar GP300 (pictured at the top of this post). It’s a completely self-contained set of glasses with a built-in PMP that can read SD cards for your files. And it can display basic .TXT files, just like the ones you can download from Project Gutenberg. (For more examples of wearable video displays, look at the $200 Myvu, and other models from Vuzix, EZVision, and YellowMosquito.) And all this begs the question, do we even need a “book” device to read text? Audio books have long been a part of that answer. And it seems like stereo-displays may be another part, too.

With a view of a virtual page in front of your eyes, with nothing for your hands to hold, the idea of a book as a container is fully exploded. Imagine that to change a page you do a “hard blink” or twitch your index finger. Imagine that the page endlessly unfurls its scroll as your eyes scan: there are no more pages. Whether it’s retinal implants or super-contact lenses, science fiction has been way ahead of this game of getting visual information in front of our eyes seamlessly. But we’re slowly catching up.

– Michael


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