Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1) full review

The Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1) is a head-mounted display that uses a 720p OLED screen in front of each eye, creating a crosstalk-free 3D effect. It’s somewhat difficult to set up correctly and can be uncomfortable. If you get it right, though, it can display bright and contrasty images which have excellent 3D.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1): Design and setup

We have to get this out of the way early. The first thing we thought of when we saw the Sony Personal 3D Viewer was Nintendo’s unloved and unlovely Virtual Boy. The Personal 3D Viewer, or HMZ-T1, is a wearable headset which combines two 1.8-centimetre OLED screens with a set of stereo headphones.

There are two elements to the HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer: the head-mounted display itself, and a control box which has a single HDMI input. This box connects to your Blu-ray player, games console or PC and receives the 3D (or 2D) signal, decodes and delivers it to the headset through a 3.5 metre long cable. This long cable gives any wearer plenty of room to move, although if you’ve got a long or large living space with the video source at one end you might reach its limits.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1)

There is a wide range of adjustment built into the Sony Personal 3D Viewer headset. You can move the headphones back and forwards and up and down, you can choose the most comfortable nose-piece, you can add or remove ‘light blockers’ that sit against your cheeks, and most importantly you can adjust the positioning of the OLED displays for the best possible convergence. Several cushions and accessories are included.

When you strap it on (looking like Data in Star Trek), the Personal 3D Viewer displays whatever 3D game or movie you’re watching in stereoscopic 3D. Since you’re looking at two screens instead of one, as you would be with a 3D TV or movie screen, the 3D effect is entirely created by your eyes: theoretically no cross-talk, blurriness or flickering between video frames.

Joining the two sliders that adjust these OLED screens on the bottom of the headset are three buttons for power, volume and menu navigation. You can only connect the HMZ-T1 to a single HDMI input, but four image presets with a small range of image quality tweaks are available in the menu.

The Personal 3D Viewer uses a telescoping headband that sits around the back and top of the wearer’s head. To get the headset to sit securely, it has to be quite tight, which does lead to a definite case of ‘hat hair’ after a few minutes. There’s enough adjustment to suit a wide range of head sizes, although we think the HMZ-T1 would be difficult to get comfortable on a small child or anyone with a particularly large head.

After around half an hour of each viewing session with the Personal 3D Viewer, we did find it uncomfortable. It presses on the wearer’s forehead and can be quite tight around the ears, so we’d definitely recommend potential buyers try it on for as long a time as possible. It’s also reasonably heavy at 420 grams. Wearing the Personal 3D Viewer for an entire movie, if it’s set up incorrectly, could be a rather uncomfortable experience.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1): Image quality and performance

We took some time to adjust the Personal 3D Viewer to suit the right head size, and then tried to get the best possible picture out of the 3D OLED setup. There is an under-side slider that moves the OLED screens apart or together, with each viewer theoretically able to find an optimal setting that merges the two screens into a single 3D image.

We were quickly able to find the best setting, but anyone with glasses or any eye conditions may find it more difficult. Even at the best possible setting with the Sony Personal 3D Viewer headset strapped on tightly and the sliders at their best, we did still notice a small amount of blurring at the extreme edges of the 3D image. We had worn the Personal 3D Viewer at a Sony exhibition before with no blurriness, though, so it may be a case of some sample variation in our review unit.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1)

Otherwise the Personal 3D Viewer does an excellent job of displaying video. The OLED screens are able to display excellent black levels while also creating colourful and well-saturated visuals with great dynamic range. We’ve always liked OLED technology and we’re keen to see what LG and Samsung are able to produce in larger screen sizes.

The 3D effect created by the Sony HMZ-T1 is excellent — it’s amongst the best 3D we’ve seen from any source, 3D TV or projector or full-blown movie theatre. Because the displays are so close to the viewer’s eyes (and because there’s two of them, so the images are combined by your brain) the depth of a well-produced 3D movie is very obvious. The relative size of the displayed image also contributes to the impressive stereoscopic effect.

One potential stumbling block for the Sony headset is its native display resolution, which is only 720p — each OLED panel’s resolution is 1280x720pixels. This does mean that it’s possible to pick out each individual pixel in the displays if you look closely, and the HMZ-T1’s on-screen menu does look a little low-resolution. Once you’re watching a Blu-ray movie or playing a game via Xbox, PC or Playstation 3 the lower-than-Full HD resolution is less obvious, though — the system’s scaling works well and retains generally good levels of detail.

The headphones built into the sides of the Sony Personal 3D Viewer are well padded and comfortable, and have decent but unspectacular sound quality. Sitting on rather than around the wearer’s ears they leak a small amount of sound, but otherwise have good treble and reasonable mid-range response. Their value is in the extensive sound-stage they produce, with a good surround sound effect that complements movies and games alike.

One effect that’s largely restricted to 3D gameplay is, in our experience, a strange tendency to turn your head while playing. When we played Gran Turismo 5 in 3D we found ourselves turning while driving around corners — this has an unsettling dizzying effect if the light blockers are not in place, as it’s possible to see the outside world move around you. It’s possible to avoid this by holding your head rigidly, but we found this added another minor aspect of fatigue to the headset wearing experience.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1): Conclusion:

Sony’s Personal 3D Viewer is a novelty, but it’s able to deliver a good picture and great 3D effect once it’s properly set up — although for us this came at the cost of a little discomfort. If you love 3D, don’t mind shutting yourself off from anyone around you, and have some cash to burn, try one out in-store.


Sony Personal 3D Viewer (HMZ-T1): Specs

  • Audio type: Stereo
  • Number of speakers: 2
  • Frequency response (low end): 12
  • Frequency response (high end): 24000
  • Screen resolution: 1280x720
  • Display aspect ratio: 16:9
  • 3D capable: Yes
  • Other features:Display Device: OLED Panel x 2 Display Resolution: 1280 x 720 Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Gradation: RGB 24bit Field of View: 45 degree Virtual Image Size: 750 inch in 20m distance
  • Cord length: 3.5m
  • 196 x 210 x 110mm, 420g