One of the lingering (and somewhat compelling) arguments against the latest wave of virtual reality headsets is style: As Valleywag’s Dan Lyons put it earlier this week, “Nobody wants to sit around for hours with those big fucking goggles strapped to their head.”
Avegant, a startup originally out of Michigan but recently relocated to Redwood City, Calif., is trying to create a video and virtual reality headset that can compete for style points with Beats’ stylish headphones. Today it shared the consumer design of its first headset, the Glyph, exclusively with Re/code ahead of its formal unveiling at this year’s International CES.
“If it’s headphones, it has to be cool,” Avegant CTO Allan Evans said in an interview. “To be cool, it can’t look like I’m wearing a pope hat.”
In separate interviews, Evans and fellow co-founder Edward Tang hewed to the same very startuppy “inspiration” story: Being on an airplane together and seeing people all around them wearing noise-canceling, over-the-ear headphones, plugged into tablets.
“People love movies,” Evans said. “Where does that experience suck? Anytime you’re watching on your phone or tablet.”
The company raised $1.5 million for its “personal theater” headset on Kickstarter last year, and $9.4 million in December in a round led by Intel Capital and NHN.
Like other head-mounted displays — such as the Samsung Gear VR or upcoming Oculus Rift — Avegant’s Glyph sticks the screen directly in front of your eyes. However, the company claims its technology is less likely to cause eye fatigue because it uses something called “micromirror retinal projection” to simulate natural light. The result, they say, feels more like sitting in a dark movie theater looking at a screen in the distance than having a screen close to one’s eyes.
The other big difference is content: Although the Glyph has the head-tracking sensors to let users play 3-D virtual reality games (in a demo, I tried Sega’s Alien: Isolation and an unofficial VR version of Activision’s Call of Duty: Ghosts), Avegant is initially targeting the plane-bound traveler with nothing but time on her or his hands. The company says its HDMI port, with the right cables, will be able to take in and display content from phones, tablets, computers and game consoles.
It also has an audio mode that lets owners use it as a normal (if somewhat bulky) pair of headphones, Tang said.
The Glyph is slated for an “autumn 2015” launch at $599, with preorders until then running at $499. Courtesy of Avegant, here’s a video of the headset out in the world:
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.