Royole Moon 3D Mobile Theater Face time.
QUICK STORY: BACK IN THE MID ’90s, I was the editor of a gadget review magazine. As long as a product was geeky enough and ran on AC or batteries, it was fair game for a test. This led me to bring home a variety of doodads that had nothing to do with audio/video— a self-cleaning litter box, a sports radar gun, et al. One day I walked in with what was claimed to be a “personal air conditioner,” basically a black beanbag neck wrap that had an imbedded metal cooling strip; the idea was that applying the band to your neck would keep you chilled in hot weather.
When I tried it on for my wife, she walked by dismissively without even pausing. “That’s a good look for you,” she said.
About a week later, I turned up with one of the first rudimentary attempts at the product we’re reviewing here, a pair of virtual home theater glasses. By nature, these are clunky devices that hang on to your face with a big headband. I put them on to show my wife, unable to see her reaction. This time, she paused in front of me and, I can only assume, spied me through raised eyebrows. “That’s great, honey,” she deadpanned. “Now all you need is that neck thing and you can be a total
Putting aside the, um, fashion statement you’re bound to make wearing something like this, the manufacturer of those glasses— Sony—wasn’t wrong in wanting to create a truly immersive, portable home theater experience. But the technology at the time didn’t permit the required display resolution, nor were we all carrying mobile smartphones and tablets to serve as video source components. It was a matter of years before the time was right to properly bring the concept to fruition. Now, someone has. I’ll spoil the suspense and tell you here that the Royole Moon 3D Mobile Theater is a thoroughly thought-out, wellexecuted piece of kit that was clearly conceived with the videophile and audiophile in mind. And it works.
Royole is likely unknown to our readers, but the firm’s website suggests it is as much technological think-tank as traditional manufacturing concern. The company was founded by Stanford engineering grads in 2012 with representation in Fremont, California, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, China (known today as a worldwide manufacturing hub).
Its stated mission is “to improve the way people interact with and perceive the world,” and its research is focused primarily on developing “next-generation human-machine interface technologies and products such as advanced flexible displays, flexible sensors, and smart devices.” Company firsts include the introduction in 2014 of the world’s thinnest full-color AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) flexible display and a curved car dashboard based on flexible screen and sensor technology that it showed at CES in 2016. Royole has committed a $1.7 billion investment for a flexible display factory in Shenzen to supply screens to the industry. Along with the Moon, which Royole introduced in 2015, the company has one other consumer product called the Rowrite Smart Writing Pad, which digitally captures handwritten drawings and notes from a traditional paper-and-ink tablet.
Given that it’s easy today to board an airplane or commuter train with a pair of headphones and an ipad loaded with a movie or TV episode, you may wonder why anyone would need home theater glasses. It’s a matter of perspective, both figuratively and literally. When you wear glasses like this, you are presented with the equivalent of sitting relatively close to a large projection screen, with your peripheral vision essentially filled by the image. Royole suggests that the Moon provides the equal of an 800-inch curved screen (about 66 feet) viewed from about an equal distance away. That’s close to standard IMAX territory. The experience is akin to watching my 92-inch projection screen from a fairly tight 10 feet away, if not closer.
In other words, the same highly immersive quality we attribute to the front projection/cinema experience is apparent in spades here and is made all the more so by the addition of some good-quality earphones.
The Moon is packed with whizbang technology and thoughtful features. The dual displays are AMOLEDS that deliver 1080p resolution to each eye, via a claimed 3,000 pixels per inch of device size. Since they’re OLED, they’re said to provide excellent contrast and fast image response time, something that was quickly borne out in my auditions.
The unit plays both 2D and 3D content, automatically detecting the type. It is Wi-fi capable and includes a browser that lets you connect to your streaming services, and it has an HDMI input for attaching to traditional video source components and game consoles, or to mobile devices via an adapter (not supplied). Alternatively, you can load content directly onto the Moon’s 32 gigabytes of internal memory from a hard drive, or via download from one of the video services. For playback of audio, the integrated closed-back headphones use 1.6-inch dynamic polyethylene (mylar) drivers and are assisted by active noise cancelling (undefeatable) whenever the unit is switched on.
Industrial design and build quality are excellent. The headband and earcups, and the visor ring that surrounds your eyes, are well padded and encased in a supple leather-like material. To provide ventilation and prevent fogging, there are air vents in the visor, and its cushion is perforated. Construction is mostly of high-impact molded plastic, but the Moon has a solid feel, and metal parts are used in key areas of stress, such as the click-action sliders that fit the headband and visor to your face. The device comes in three color schemes: black with brown ear- and eyepads (as with my sample), white with black pads, and gold with black pads. The headband folds down to the top of the visor for fitting the Moon into its supplied travel bag. Nitpick: The thin felt bag provides neither any real protection for the Moon nor any place to safely store the battery, charger, or cables in a way that would not potentially bring them into contact with the lenses. That was a disappointment given the obvious requirement and the product’s price point.
As alluded to, a supplied battery pack feeds power to the Moon. It’s about the same size if a bit thicker and heavier than the average smartphone. There are three connectors. A micro-usb port accepts the
supplied wall charger, but it also allows hook-up to a computer for file transfers to the internal memory, or connection to a USB source via a supplied micro Usb-to-type A USB dongle. (The Moon is Android based and allows simple drag-and-drop file transfers from Windows PCS; Mac users require Android file transfer software.) The same dongle can be used to connect a mouse to the Moon to assist navigation of its onscreen user interface and browser (more on that below); this was exceptionally handy for inputting passwords for Wi-fi and video services. (Bluetooth is on board for connection of a wireless keyboard as well, but not for audio-only streams from mobile devices; a promised firmware update will eventually enable this capability.) A second connector is a micro-hdmi port that takes a standard HDMI cable via a supplied dongle. Finally, a proprietary jack accepts the 4-foot cord from the headset.
Royole claims 5 hours of battery life for its power pack. I typically got around 4 hours of continuous use on a single 2-hour charge—still more than enough to get through most feature films. Four tiny LEDS on the battery indicate charge level, and during viewing you get an onscreen
warning when you’re down to 10 percent power. Note that the battery pack can get very hot to the touch in extended use, something Royole warns about in the manual. It needs ventilation and won’t do well in a pocket or enclosed in a carry bag.
The controls are extremely well thought out and simple to use. Besides the large power on/off switch on the battery pack (whose surround glows blue when the Moon is powered up) there are just two mechanical buttons on the visor unit. One is a small 2D/3D button under the visor in case the device fails to automatically recognize your 3D content. At the bottom of the right earcup is a Home button that will take you back to the Moon’s sophisticated onscreen user interface.
The home screen you see when you first boot up offers a horizontal row of icons that allow access to things like network and display settings, input selections, stored content, etc. You scroll horizontally through the icons with a forward or backward swipe on the right earcup that’s picked up by a touch sensor. Tap once to enter and navigate the submenus with an up/down swipe as needed; tap twice to back your way out; or hit the Home button twice to return to the main menu. After a short learning curve, I was
zipping around just fine. You can swipe the same touch sensor for transport control (play/pause, track forward/back) of content played from the internal hard drive.
Volume changes are handled with another circular touch sensor embedded behind a curved recess around the right earcup’s perimeter; in the photos, that’s the space between the gold inner ring (on the black model) and the earcup’s outer edge. My finger found and rode the sensor perfectly every time, and the Moon responded instantly with a circular graphic superimposed over my content that visually tracked the change as volume rose or fell. Very easy, and very cool.
Engineering a pair of expensive home theater glasses that doesn’t instantly generate buyer’s remorse the moment you place them on your face takes serious effort across a range of design criteria. Even before you can worry about the video or audio quality, a product like this has to be comfortable and stay firmly in place for long periods of viewing. Then, it needs to allow fine positioning and sharp focus of the eyepieces to minimize the potential for headache or eye fatigue. Beyond this, controls should be accessible and easy to use so the unit is not a burden to operate. If you get those things right, you’ve got a shot at adding top-notch video and audio to deliver the ultimate in-your-face theater experience.
I’ll issue a strong warning to start out here so potential buyers won’t be surprised: The Moon headset is fairly heavy—just under 1.5 pounds—and starts out with the potential to be uncomfortable, particularly because the bridge of your nose must help support the glasses. Fortunately, it adjusts to your face with two effective mechanisms. First, the well-padded headband has 1.5 inches of height adjustment on either side and can be swung forward or back nearly 180 degrees, allowing you to find the exact angle to allow your noggin to best support the glasses and take the pressure off your nose. This won’t likely be directly atop the crown of your head at the spot a regular headphone band might fall, but more forward toward the forehead. Finding the sweet spot didn’t fully eliminate the nose pressure for me but reduced it to where I could go movie-length periods without discomfort that would have encouraged me to abandon viewing. The occasional minor adjustment was all that was needed if the visor started to slip down a bit.
Similarly, a pair of sliders allow fine-tuning of the distance between the front visor and the earcups. Given that these are closed-back, sealed headphones designed to lock out environmental noise, it’s critical to position them directly over your pinna and fully isolate the ear. Once adjusted, the headband and earcup sliders work together to keep the Moon firmly in place.
With the Moon comfortably situated on your head, there are two optical tweaks performed with a pair of thumbwheels beneath the visor. Sliding these left or right allows the eyepieces to be independently aligned directly over your pupils. Fine-tuning this “interpupillary” distance eliminates parallax errors that might exhibit as ghosting. After that, you can independently spin the thumbwheels to fine-tune the focus. Thoughtfully, these focus adjustments have a wide enough range to allow most users to skip their prescription eyeglasses.
Even with the attention paid by Royole to physical and visual comfort, the company is cognizant
of the potential for this or any other virtual glasses to cause fatigue or other side effects. Product literature recommends taking periodic breaks, and the operating system has an option to set onscreen reminders at 1- or 2-hour intervals if desired. I’m sensitive to motion sickness and have been triggered at least mildly by most virtual reality demos I’ve done, though these involve visuals that track head movements. In this case, the image stays put no matter how you move your head. I was pleased to find that, for me personally, the combination of high resolution and finely tuned optics allowed for hours of pleasant viewing. Though I noticed a touch of eye fatigue at the end of a 2-hour feature, I was so thoroughly engaged in the viewing that I never felt the need to take a break.
I watched content on the Moon from sources including movie downloads to my ipad Air 2, 1080p Blu-rays via direct connection to my Oppo player, and streaming content from Netflix via the Moon’s built-in browser and my ipad. The ipad viewing required an Apple Lightning-toHDMI adapter to which I added an HDMI cable and the Moon’s supplied micro HDMI-TO-HDMI dongle. Apple’s adapter is a $40 add-on that needs to be purchased separately. Similarly, a third-party MHL/USB-TO-HDMI adapter must be purchased for Android mobile devices.
I began with a pair of flicks downloaded to my ipad from Amazon, xxx: Return of Xander Cage and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Putting aside the thin plots and the treasure trove of inane dialogue in Xander Cage, I couldn’t have asked for more fast-paced action. The Moon easily lived up to its claim of freedom from image lag; at no time did I see anything even remotely close to trails or other distracting motion artifacts. One Reacher chase scene composed of a lot of fast-cut handheld shots starts out on foot, moves to a car chase, and ends with Reacher
(Tom Cruise) and Major
Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) running side by side at full speed across the Washington, D.C. Mall. All the action was rendered crisply, and even the actors’ pumping arms as they ran showed minimal smearing. I’m not a gamer, but
Royole advertises the Moon as console-ready, and I have no reason to doubt them.
An abundance of natural color and punchy highlights was evident in a viewing of Planet Earth II about mountain wildlife streamed from Netflix off my ipad app. I marveled at the detail in the sandy brown crags of peaks in the Arabian Peninsula, and in close-ups of the Nubian Ibex goats that fearlessly scale the cliffs as rubble falls away beneath their hooves. A meadow in the Rockies showed gray sky behind the distant mountains with some dusty storm clouds brewing, an appropriately natural dark green mat of grass on the floor of the valley, and brighter green highlights along with magenta flowers on the blooming plants in the foreground.
The integrated headphones did a good job with the dynamics and textures in this episode’s occasionally swelling orchestral scoring. After doing some additional listening with familiar music tracks off my Tidal playlist, I’d characterize the sound of the headphones as fairly balanced, with a polite but reasonably detailed top end, a neutral midrange, and naturally rolled-off bass. The ’phones are well voiced for movies, delivering clearly discernible dialogue but never getting edgy or hard, even at loud volume with effects-laden action soundtracks. Gunshots, car crashes—no problem. Bass was solid, though I’d have welcomed a touch more contouring that might
have delivered additional impact to low-end effects; tone controls to adjust for content would have been nice. The active noise-reduction functioned well and seemed particularly tuned to airliner cabin noise, which it nicely filtered out on a couple of flights I took with the Moon.
Getting back to the video: Critically, I did notice that the Moon didn’t fare well with low-bitrate downloads and live streams. Many of these programs, even my fairly decent Jack Reacher download, suffered from digital compression artifacts on darker scenes or in darker portions of mixed scenes. For example, when Turner is seen at her office desk at night talking on the phone, with a desk lamp illuminating her front and darkness behind her, she looks stunning, with superb color and bright highlights on her face, crisp white formal shirt, and multi-colored uniform decorations. But the background took on a veiled and busy quality in this shot from subtle mosquito and block noise. Furthermore, the fine horizontal grid lines separating the pixel rows revealed themselves here—and in many other scenes from this and different programs when there was a consistently smooth backdrop. (The vertical pixel lines were never visible at any time.)
The observance and degree of digital noise was quite dependent on the quality of the file and content of the scene. At one point, I abandoned watching a
Netflix stream of a Stranger
Things episode during the prime-time viewing hours (when Netflix and the ISPS apply the greatest compression) due to massive amounts of undulating mosquito and block noise in the many dark scenes. The next day, I had much better luck streaming the same episode during off hours— most of the noise disappeared, and I learned that I could reduce the visibility of the pixel lines by setting the Moon’s three-position brightness control to its lowest Soft setting (versus High or the default Normal, which I preferred for most content due to its added punch).
Of course, you can’t judge a display’s ultimate quality on its handling of poor video files, but some users may plan on doing a lot of live streaming and should know that the Moon was not kind to sub-par content. Fortunately, egregious video noise was never a distracting issue with other streamed serials generally shot in brighter environs, such as the aforementioned Planet Earth II.
Eventually, I rigged the Moon to my Blu-ray player to see what it could do with some reference-quality disc transfers. Wow—what a difference. Blacks and shadow detail took on that inky quality we like to see and were near-equivalent to the best OLED flat-panel displays I’ve seen.
I shouldn’t have been
surprised given the AMOLED display devices, but nothing I’d seen to that point suggested quite this level of quality. Black backgrounds behind white credits and black bars on widescreen movies disappeared into the frame beyond the edges of the screen. White objects on black backgrounds, such as credits or spaceships, had an almost threedimensional quality. They exhibited some haloing that you wouldn’t see on today’s top OLED TVS, but I’d score the Moon way better in this regard than most edge-lit LCDS I’ve encountered.
Along with striking contrast, bright colors looked true and just popped off the screen, and fine details were remarkably sharp. While watching Oblivion, I was taken with accurate and highly natural fleshtones, not to mention the crisp detail, in the Tom Cruise close-ups that show all the stubble and cuts/bruises on his face. The aforementioned video noise cropped up rarely on some dark scenes but was extremely subtle here; it would have been missed in the action if I’d not been looking for it. When I switched over to Gravity, another great transfer, I saw the same stunning contrast and colors in the opening scene when the astronauts are doing their space walk before disaster hits, but I never saw a hint of any noise anywhere in the movie. To get a look at some earthbound scenes, I pulled out Draft Day, which I love to use as a reference for its overall bright lighting and mix of familiar NFL team colors. The Moon passed the test with its aerial flyovers of various NFL stadiums and their surrounding buildings and greenery, its natural renderings of interior shots in the sun-drenched team offices around the league, and again in its beautiful fleshtones, all delivered with utterly grainless clarity. Furthermore, the Moon also delivered some of the best 3D video I’ve ever seen. Images were super bright and engaging and showed absolutely no signs of ghosting on even the finest details. Tim Burton’s stopaction animated movie Coraline may be the creepiest and scariest “kids” movie ever made, but it’s filled with stunning visuals that feature fine, moving vertical objects that exhibit ghosting with many 3D displays. The snake-like tail of a black cat, the undulating antennae of a giant grasshopper, a pair of lit candelabras on the dinner table that reveal themselves as the camera quickly pans back—all of it remained in perfect focus. Even the live-action Terminator: Genisys looked equally crisp and ghost free on both static and action scenes.
The Royole Moon isn’t for everyone. Some may find the headset just too heavy or cumbersome for comfort; others may find themselves more prone than me to eye fatigue or headache. At the end of the day, using it means stringing a few things together with cables and dongles if you’re hooking up to an outside source device. And it sure ain’t cheap, either, at its $800 list price or the $600 promotional pricing announced by Royole as we went to press.
But at even the higher price, I’d still call the Moon a great value. It’s a brilliantly engineered device that gets almost everything right, and it gives the user a remarkably immersive home theater experience in places where it’s otherwise impossible. I watched xxx and Jack Ryan while traveling coast-to-coast on a jetliner, and the absence of cabin noise, the Moon’s “giant” image, and its good sound made these two of the best flights I’ve ever taken. For a couple of hours each way, I truly forgot I was on an airplane and thoroughly enjoyed myself. What’s that worth to ya?
Touch sensors in the right earcup provide menu navigation and volume adjustments.
A pair of thumbwheels beneath the visor adjust interpupillary distance and focus.
The Moon is available in three color schemes, including black/brown, white/black, and gold/black.
The Moon comes with a battery pack, charger, and a variety of HDMI and USB adapters.