Up close and personal with the SightPlus 2 Headset

In some ways I’m fortunate to have a very small amount of limited, though useful peripheral or side vision, and over the years I’ve stretched it as far as possible. Sometimes causing daylong headaches by overstraining my eyes while trying to read computer screens, before assistive tech could read text as speech. These days I’m a lot more measured about what I spend time trying to see. I use my vision in very short bursts, combined with other senses like hearing and touch to make sense of the world. On a good day I see approx. 2.5% of the intricate detail that sighted people do. This is hard to explain, but, imagine you have £100 to spend. You might buy a bicycle and go where you wish. I get £2.50, so potentially a limited bus journey’s worth and on foot for the rest of a trip. Compare that to £0 or no sight and on foot all the way.

I’m always on the lookout to stretch the vision I do have in the healthiest way, and there’s more and more technology around that can help – such as the SightPlus Virtual Reality VR headset. VR headsets can bring imagery right up close to the eyes. While seeing the world so close can make people with any kind of vision feel disoriented, in my case I need things as close as possible in order to see. The the idea of bringing images up close, with magnification on tap and some image boosting via a headset is an interesting proposition.

The SightPlus second generation is one such image boosting device, and I tried out the headset for a month in order to find out whether it was able to enhance my small amount of vision. The device itself is basically a fancy magnifying electronic binocular system; however, it can be disorienting to use so I recommend trying it out in a safe place – such as your own living room.

Taking out trying on the headset I made sure I was sitting comfortably and took in the surroundings of the room, getting used to moving my head and changing the magnification levels to have a better look at items on shelves further away. The world moves by in a digital way and it may need a little practice and experience to be familiar. On a windy day out of my window I was able to easily notice the leaves swaying in the breeze, which was an hypnotic new experience for me. Watching TV and magnifying the face of a news presenter, I was able to see a person’s eyes change position subtly in time with their speaking – another hypnotic novelty. Next watching snooker. I could pan in and out to count the balls, see their colour, or pan out to see what shot was on. If I was quick I could pan right in and read text on screen. Down side for me is I’m zoomed in so close to text I miss the action. So I can’t see everything like a sighted person, though I can change what I see when I feel like it without needing to get up physically close to something.

I tested the close range viewing on a smart phone; this is hard for a VR product to pull off as the screen interference is much closer to the device. The image quality was more grainy than TV watching further away, but, importantly, I can still read the text on screen. I used the various enhancements and text mode to take some strain off my eyes and improve the text contrast.

To come back to my money analogy, using SightPlus gives me up to around £40 worth of spending power in some situations. However, for me this isn’t as flexible as cash in hand, it’s more like a store card. There are some visual perks to using it, but the need to be stationary when using SightPlus is like being restricted to spending in one store only. They are working on making it more flexible and usable in more situations.
SightPlus is made from standard pieces of tech with enhanced software, keeping costs at the lower end of the price range. As a guide the more expensive products can be from £3,000 up to £7,000, for custom hardware and some additional functions. By paying a £495 deposit you can try SightPlus for a month and, if keeping it, continue to pay ongoing monthly instalments for tech support, warranty and software updates. For further information, enquiries and sales please visit the SightPlus website. 

By Chris Jenkins

Want to read more reviews of assistive technology? Visit our Technology page.

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