As well as showing off its new PlayStation 4 console, PlayStation Vita 2000 handheld and Xperia Z1 smartphone at last week’s Tokyo Game Show, electronics giant Sony was also quietly pushing its newly designed HMZ-T3 personal viewer headset into tech fans’ consciousness, with demo units popping up in a number of booths. Since bringing its first headset to the market back in 2011, Sony has been gradually tweaking and refining its tech in response to consumer feedback, with its newest iteration due to go on sale later this year.

With the HMZ-T3, Sony has produced its lightest, most compact headset yet, retaining the ability to watch movies and play video games in both 2-D and stereoscopic 3-D, as well as boasting smartphone connectivity and, for the first time, wireless operation thanks to a portable battery pack.

Our experience of the previous model having been something of a bittersweet affair, we were keen to see whether Sony had managed to perfect its headset the third time around, so with the help of a friendly booth attendant we slipped on the new HMZ-T3 and put it through its paces.

Despite looking rather like the virtual reality visors many of us grew up dreaming we’d all be wearing in the future, Sony’s HMZ range of headsets are in fact “personal viewers” whose images remain in front of the wearer’s eyes regardless of their head movements. Even so, the moment we had the futuristic-looking HMZ-T3 in our hands we couldn’t help feeling a tingle of excitement.

▼ The HMZ-T3W and HMZ-T3


As with previous models, the HMZ-T3 requires a little adjusting before it sits comfortably over the user’s eyes, with two straps that go around the back of the wearer’s head, a supporting forehead pad (which is noticeably larger than those of previous iterations in order to spread the unit’s weight over a larger surface area and avoid leaving pink imprints), and a nose groove akin to that of a diving mask.

The majority of the unit’s weight is supported by the rear head straps, though those with slightly larger sniffers will undoubtedly feel a little pressure on the bridge of the nose from the moment the unit it slipped on. The rear headband can be adjusted to pull the unit closer to the wearer’s face, and the twin 720p OLED displays can be shifted a few centimetres left and right in order to comfortably create a single image. The unit can also be used while wearing glasses, though smaller frames will of course work better than chunky, hipster specs.

Although the majority of the demo units at TGS were at Sony’s Xperia smartphone booth in order to flaunt the hardware’s interconnectivity and the headset’s use as a movie viewer, the one I was trying out was connected to a PlayStation 3 console running Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, a stylish, third-person combat game due for release in 2014. After the booth attendant had left me to my own devices (at least I think she had – although the HMZ is open at the bottom allowing the wearer to see a little of the world around them and avoid feelings of claustrophobia, being unable to see much of the room around you while playing is an unusual sensation), I set to hacking and slashing, doing my best to forget the unit strapped to my head and focus on the experience itself, which is undoubtedly Sony’s main goal in designing the personal viewer.

At first, the image before my eyes was not entirely clear and I found the on-screen text difficult to focus on, but with a little wiggling and a quick head-strap adjustment, I was able to find my own sweet-spot and everything suddenly snapped into place. Just as with the HMZ-T2, the new headset certainly does not fail to impress; despite the image being created by two small displays just a couple of inches before your eyes, the brain is tricked into thinking it is looking at one enormous screen, meaning that even those who live in cramped Tokyo apartments can watch movies and play games as if they were running on a home cinema display. Black edges are visible around the edge of the image at all times – as they are when looking at a movie screen or TV unless you happen to be sitting dangerously close, of course – but once you focus on the movie or game itself they soon disappear from consciousness.

Telling the story of a cyborg ninja out for revenge, it probably goes without saying that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z features more blades and blood splashes than a Tarantino movie set in a butcher’s shop, and if I’m being completely honest games of its kind are not usually my cup of tea, but I was surprised at how quickly I became caught up in the action while wearing the headset, and on more than one occasion actually found myself dodging slightly when enemies lunged in my character’s direction. It may take a little getting used to, but the HMZ-T3 offers an incredibly sharp and immersive visual experience, make no mistake.


Weighing in at 320 grams, the HMZ-T3 is only 10 grams lighter than its predecessor (itself a vast improvement on the original’s whopping 420 grams), but feels much lighter thanks to its larger forehead pad and more supportive rear head straps. Even so, after around 10 minutes of use, the weight of the unit on the bridge of the nose did start to become noticeable, not to mention the forehead pad a little clammy. We were standing for the entire duration of our test run, which is hardly the most relaxing position for gaming or watching a movie, so perhaps with a comfy chair to recline in this may be less of an issue, however.

As well as providing the option to reduce the size of the visible image by up to 30 percent (something that gamers may wish to do as, during my own hands-on, I missed a couple of on-screen prompts purely because they appeared outside of my main field of vision) the new headset is designed with connectivity to Android smartphones – particularly Sony’s own Xperia – in mind, offering both wireless and micro-HDMI connectivity and even 7.1 channel sound. In order to watch those movies on-the-go with your smartphone, however, you’ll be needing to pick up the wireless HMZ-T3W, which comes with a small external battery pack that allows up to three hours of video HD playback.

For all of its improvements and the astounding sense of immersion the HMZ-T3 creates, however, we cannot recommend picking one up at this point in time. Gamers and movie lovers would no doubt love to add this headset to their hardware collection, but with the HMZ-T3W set to retail for around 100,000 yen (US$1,000) when it launches in Japan in mid-November, and a massive £1,300 (US$2,080) in the UK, we can’t help wondering exactly who the product is intended for, especially considering that the consoles and smartphones Sony suggests hooking the unit up to retail for roughly half the price.

Nevertheless, it is admirable to see Sony pushing ahead with this technology. Despite slow sales and obvious flaws in earlier iterations, the company is slowly but surely refining its hardware and coming ever closer to producing a must-have gadget for hardcore gamers and movie lovers everywhere. Telling a company to come back and try again next year is usually intended as a slight, but we’re genuinely excited to see where Sony is going with its line of headsets. With a few more adjustments, and perhaps a smaller price tag, we could definitely see ourselves geeking out with an HMZ in a couple of years.

Photos: RocketNews24 Product image: Sony