In an era of virtual reality, why settle for exploring anything less than the furthest flung, most breath-snatching worlds that graphics cards can conjure? Well, maybe like me, you find a trip to the cinema to be an equally enticing way to spend your free time. Chinese company Royole wants to combine the two with its wearable movie theater, the Moon, and the results can be pretty impressive - once you've overcome a few obstacles.
The last device I used that I could compare the Moon to was the Sony HMZ-T3W, Sony's stab at making the wearable home theater a thing, but it was hampered by cost and the fact I felt a little silly wearing it with other people about. Three years later, with VR finding its way into our homes, is that second critique less relevant? Wearing Royole's headset I've felt far less self-aware than I would have before, so I'd say so.
The Moon also does a better job of replicating the movie-going experience than Sony's viewer did, mainly thanks to the impressively rich, bassy sound to go alongside the picture. The 1080p AMOLED displays are meant to replicate an 800-inch curved cinema screen, and it does indeed look pretty damn authentic. The way the screen sits at a slight distance makes it feel like you're in a cinema, just without all the popcorn crunching and people getting up to use the bathroom - the stuff we're happy to live without. Oh, and considerably less authentic is the ticket price - $800 in this case. Ouch.
So it looks good, but obviously this is going to live or die by content, and in that respect it's a mixed bag. The headset comes with YouTube installed, which is good if you watch a lot of long videos, but you're probably not going to stick on the headset every time you want to check out a new trailer. What you will want it for is watching movies, but getting them onto Moon isn't straightforward.
The headset is powered by a black box (see above) that works as a storage drive and a HDMI passthrough. This means you can hook the headset up to a laptop or other device playing Netflix and stream it from there, but if you want to run on the headset itself, you can't. The Moon runs on an Android-based system and has Wi-Fi connectivity, but right now there's no easy way of downloading apps onto it.
So if you're not streaming through HDMI, you'll need to plug in the storage box and drop in the movies you want to watch - up to 32GB (and that's not expandable). Also note that if you're on a Mac, you'll need to download the Android File Transfer program before you do so. This method means you keep the headset nice and portable, and with the battery lasting around five hours, you should be able to slip in a couple of movies.
But it needs work, and hopefully Royole will fix this soon. The company says it's working to get services like Netflix streaming straight from the headset, and the experience will improve massively for it.
The HDMI option means you can also play games on the headset, which is definitely a neat added bonus, as is the support for 3D, but only SBS (side by side) 3D-encoded videos.
Less impressive is the awkward typing you have to do if you want to browse the web or even just search for YouTube for videos. You'll be controlling the Moon mostly with a touchpad on the outside of the right earphone. Swipe left, right, up and down to navigate around menus; tap once to enter and twice to go back. There's also an outer ring on the cup that you use to adjust the volume.
For simple movie controls it works fine, but using it to scroll along a keyboard to search a video or - worse - enter your Wi-Fi password is less than ideal. I've seen Sesame Street characters spell out words faster than I have on this thing.
You do have the option to use the app as a touchpad instead, but it doesn't make the experience any easier. In fact, the app is pretty barren save for the touchpad and a feature for viewing your photos in the viewer.
I also wish there were better guidelines for getting the display right. The instructions explain what you need to twizzle and push to adjust the focus, but there was a lot of trial and error before I got it right. And even then, I wasn't sure it was the best it could be, as I peered at various pre-installed pictures of Akon (he's Royole's Chief Creative Officer, you see).
Probably the biggest problem I've had with the Moon, however, has been comfort. It feels great on the ears, but the heavier weight sits on the front, causing it to push down on the bridge of your nose. A little adjustment can take off some of the strain, but even at its most comfortable it still pushes down a bit, and it's annoying.
It sounds like I have a lot of complaints, but the things is, once you've got around these problems the Moon is a fantastic device that skilfully replicates the cinema experience. I managed to get lost in a couple of movies on it, but I don't think I'd consider paying the $800 asking price until it was better equipped to run streaming services I regularly use. There was a time when I thought wearable home theaters would one day take off, but now I wonder if VR headsets will just take this job on themselves.
If I owned more entertainment and didn't stream so much, I might feel a bit differently about Moon right now, and I can see the merit of this for people with a big library of content. For a long plane journey especially, I can see the headset being a great entertainment companion. And at least I wouldn't feel silly wearing it either.