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Hands on: Dlodlo V1 VR headset

Dlodlo's VR headset is trying to make a dodo out of all of us

It’s spelled “Dlodlo,” but it’s pronounced “Dodo” – and you’d have to be one, to buy one.

The Chinese company with the strange name unveiled its flagship product at a press event in New York City Monday afternoon, a new VR headset that looks more like a pair of Oakleys than an Oculus Rift. The V1 will be available in October, the company swears, at an oddly specific (and exorbitant) price of $559. Beyond just looking good, the company claims the product has specs that compete with headsets from Samsung, Google, and others. Digital Trends had a chance to test out the new glasses, and spoke a bit with the company CTO through an interpreter.

To be blunt, we are not dodos.

Sure, the V1, as the product is called, looks nice enough, especially compared to the awkward bulk of the HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR. Inconvenient cables and brick-shaped headgear are a real problem for the VR industry. To address those issues, Dlodlo claims more than 100 employees, and oversea branches in the U.S. and Japan, and it cites creative design and hardware teams featuring former employees from Olympus, Motorola, Tencent, Huawei, and more. But in real-world testing, these darn glasses simply wouldn’t stay put on my face, and my coworker Will Fulton, who sports a somewhat longer face than mine, had exactly the same experience.

These darn glasses simply wouldn’t stay put on my face.

We asked the CTO about the issue, which was noted during the press announcement by CEO Gang Li, and were told that the Dlodlo V1 was designed for Asian faces, which have somewhat different facial structures than Western faces do. And we were using a prototype, he explained; the real model may address some of those issues. The real model. Which ships in October, they swear. Or the real model will carry the same problems and ship anyway.

Or maybe it won’t ship at all.

It’s unclear how the company plans to go from flawed prototype to working model in eight weeks, but I asked the question a dozen ways and got the same answer. Will it ship in October? If I buy one, will you actually send it to me? To ME, here in the United States, and not just to China? Will it be one of these prototypes or the real thing? October, Dlodlo says. October. We’ll see.

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The actual head-tracking technology seemed to work well enough, we found, though it was hard to concentrate on the immersive experience when I was too concerned with the glasses falling off my face. There’s a reason every other model on the market straps around your head, it turns out. The glasses themselves are made from carbon fiber and “skin friendly” silicon dioxide. Behind each glass sits a lens with a resolution of 1,200 x 1,200 at a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s just 3.1 ounces, they say, which seemed accurate. A video played during the press event showed a man slipping his glasses into the pocket of his jeans – well, a Photoshopped image of what that might look like, anyway. It’s hard picture the product we saw fitting a pocket, nor someone dropping close to $600 on something and treating it so poorly.

Here’s another fact to make you question that pricetag: Every image you see of the V1 shows it alone on someone’s face, but in reality, the V1 is tethered via cable to an external device that supplies energy and processing. Called the D1, the external interface is a smartphone-shaped device much like an iPod Touch. It has a 64-bit, quad-core, 1.6GHz CPU, a 3,000mAh battery good for 2 hours, and 32GB of storage. The D1 runs Dlodlo OS, which is based off Android 5.0, the company says, and supports touch-enabled controls.

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So two things.

First, the very idea of a touch interface for a product that covers your eyes seems inherently silly. If I can’t see the interface, how will I know where the buttons are? For the demo we tried, which involved sailing a pirate ship through stormy seas and firing a battery of canons at enemy ships, we used an Xbox controller. The company may mean to use the D1’s touch interface to control settings, or access its proprietary store via the Dlodlo app (go ahead, groan along with me), but that still would mean stepping out of the immersive experience. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

There’s a reason every other model on the market straps around your head, it turns out.

Also, we didn’t see the D1 at all. The prototype we saw was connected to a PC, which allowed those standing in line to see what the V1 wearer saw. It also means we can’t really judge the final experience, since it was unclear if it was running off a similar unit or simply off a powerful PC. I asked the CTO where the D1 is, and was told it was at a separate event across town, “because it was portable.” Unlike the sunglasses, apparently. Was there a separate press event? Or an investor event? Or something for people who only like iPod Touch shaped stuff? Who knows?

To recap, no D1, which seems like a bad idea anyway. This ships in October, let me remind you.

CEO Gang Li was interviewed by Forbes almost exactly a year ago (ignore the fact that Forbes described the company’s VR glasses as “now available to tech-savvy consumers” – that just wasn’t true at all). In that interview, Li told Forbes that he was “crystal clear” on what he wanted to do next: “The Dlodlo team is developing a VR glove device that will offer precise tracking and positioning of up to 0.27mm. This device will tremendously improve the convenience to operate the VR HMDs, and we are planning release of this product in next couple of months.”

Next few months huh? I’ll look for it in October.