Carl Zeiss

The Cinemizer OLED headset is disappointing, the Rift remains far ahead of its competition

The Cinemizer OLED headset is disappointing, the Rift remains far ahead of its competition

Tucked away in the back corner of the bustling Los Angeles Convention Center at E3 this year there was a small booth for the lenses and optics company Zeiss that managed to grab my attention.

I walked past and saw people wearing white headsets that looked like miniature Oculus Rift glasses, and was immediately excited. See, after reading Ben's articles about Rift practically weekly for the last year I finally got a chance to try one for myself at the show, and it was everything I'd hoped. The sense of being in the game world is unexplainable, and it truly needs to be experienced first-hand.

I was all hopped up on the idea of virtual reality headsets when I excitedly trotted over to the Zeiss booth to try out their new Cinemizer OLED headset. “It's like the Oculus Rift,” they told me. Sold.

Womp womp

The experience of using the Cinemizer OLED so soon after using a Rift was perhaps the most underwhelming experience of the entire show. Which is saying something because I was the one who previewed Ryse.

When I tried out the Rift for the first time, I played an indie game called Irrational Exuberance. It takes place in low-Earth orbit on an asteroid. The first thing I did was accidentally walk off the edge of the asteroid and fall down to Earth in first-person. It was hard to keep from giggling in front of the line of people who were waiting to play it.

So I was understandably keen to try out more experiences in this style of gaming. I talked to the booth representatives to get a brief primer on the device then slid the glasses over my ears, opened my eyes, and felt the smile fall from my face.

What I was looking at was essentially a television screen dangling about ten feet away from my face. It's meant to simulate a 40-inch screen at a distance of 6 feet, but I own a 37-inch screen that sits about 8 feet from my face and this still felt frustratingly distant.

The Cinemizer includes a rubber insert that is designed to form around your eyes so that no light can bleed in, but it doesn't work. There's a persistent halo of light that filters in around the edges, creating the illusion that you're looking at a TV screen that's at the end of a black tunnel.

It also can't be used with glasses, so it has built-in lenses that simulate a -5 to +2 prescription lens. It's a nice touch, but it only serves to put a bandaid on a fatal flaw.

Avatar? Really?

Things didn't get much better once I started playing games with the device. For starters, the first game I was set up with was Avatar on the Xbox 360. Why start with such a mediocre title?

I fumbled around in a game of Avatar for a few minutes. The colors looked muted, and the much-touted 3D effect was barely noticeable. It felt like playing an ugly game on an average television.

They then moved me over to a game of Crysis 3 which, to its credit, looked markedly better on the display than Avatar. This particular demo at least had the head-tracking device enabled so that I could move my head to look around the environment. The problem is that the device simulates looking at a screen, not showing you a virtual environment. There is no wide field of view, no immersion. The result was disorienting.

Since it seems like the TV is 6-10 feet away from you, any first-person perspective games will feel awkward with head-tracking, because when you move your head the arms/gun on screen are moving with you…only 10 feet away. The result was a feeling like I was looking at the environment of Crysis 3 through a tube with a bow attached at the end.

But just as it started to get slightly enjoyable to creep through the weeds with a bow and arrow and look around with the head tracking, I was killed by an enemy I couldn't see. And then again twice more. The screen itself was just too small to see where these enemies were hiding. 

Pining for Rift

But I wasn't that dispirited yet. So what if it was a little bit cheap and poorly conceived? If it was inexpensive then it could still have its uses in certain circumstances. So I asked how much the Cinemizer would cost.

The new Cinemizer model costs $800, well above the cost of what the consumer version of the Rift is thought to cost. It has certain benefits over the Rift, such as portability and the ability to be used with iOS devices, but nothing that could justify that exorbitant price.

But wait, that's the cheap version with only the 3D video screen. If you want head-tracking then the price balloons up to $1000, I'm told.

The Cinemizer is certainly small and portable, but it's a device that was clearly created with expectations from a pre-Rift world. Now we're used to full 3D, head tracking, and an immersive display with a wide field of view, all matched with a low price. The Rift has changed how we look at this sort of display, and if you say you're “like the Rift,” the expectations are that you're delivering a product that is at least as good, if not better. Certainly around the same price.

Instead, we're left with disappointment. The Rift is great, but when will another company try to compete with it in a meaningful way?