The future we dreamed about as kids somehow snuck up on us and we hardly even noticed: powerful computers that fit into our pockets, video phone calls, wireless everything – and headsets that can transport us basically anywhere we want. The latest headset I’ve strapped myself into isn’t a virtual reality experience though; it’s the Royole Moon, a “3D mobile theatre”. Basically, it’s a cinema that straps to your face.
Premium product, premium price
At £850, the Royole Moon is undoubtedly a premium product. This isn’t the sort of thing you’re going to rush out to buy on a whim on pay day. You need to be serious about your technology before you even so much as consider looking at one. It feels like a premium product, though. It’s weighty, made of good quality metals and plastics - it certainly doesn’t feel tacky in any way. Unlike a VR headset, it sits on your head much like a standard pair of headphones, with an adjustable band that goes over the top of your head. The viewer sits over your eyes and can be adjusted until you get a nice, tight fit. It feels pretty heavy on your head, but after a bit of fiddling around, it’s easy enough to get a comfortable fit. I wouldn’t say it’s any more comfortable than any standard VR headset, but it’s certainly no less comfortable either.
In terms of technology, the Moon has two 1080p screens, active noise cancelling headphones, 32GB built-in storage, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, and a 6000mAh battery that should provide around five hours of playback after a two-hour charge. The built-in storage means you can download a small amount of films and TV programmes directly to it, and USB and HDMI input mean you can plug your devices such as games consoles in to it. It’s a pretty impressive package – but then, it ought to be.
Those two full HD screens are designed to simulate the effect of being sat 20 metres away from an 800-inch curved screen. That’s a pretty big-ass cinema screen on paper. In practice though, I found it hard to immerse myself in the medium enough to shake the feeling that I was just looking at a small screen close to my face. Because, well, that’s exactly what I was doing. The curved effect is nice, and in fairness I did have to move my eyes to see the outer edges of the screen or read any subtitles. It’s not going to compete with the IMAX, let’s put it that way, but it’ll probably beat your 42-inch TV sat in the corner of the living room.
The power of the Royole Moon comes from the Moon Box. About the size of a portable hard drive, the box contains the power source as well as the output connectors. Whenever you use the Moon, you’ll have one wire running from the headset to the box. So providing you then don’t want to plug in a games console or PC, you’re completely mobile. The box contains the main on and off switch to the unit, and since it’s a small metal box that contains a 6,000 mAh battery, it gets very hot. Its running temperature is probably the reason the box isn’t used to control anything on the Moon – you have to navigate using touch controls built into the right ear cup.
This is my least favourite part of the Moon. The touch controls are finicky; navigating through menus is made arduous as swipes and taps aren’t always accurately picked up. God help you when you come to type in your Wi-Fi password. And since it’s touch sensitive, you’ll undoubtedly end up navigating to somewhere you didn’t want to every time you take the headset on and off. I ended up somehow putting it into a shop demo mode that required a password (that I didn't have) to exit – thankfully turning it on and off again put me straight. A separate remote control would make the experience so much easier.
Gaming on the Moon
Running on its own Android-powered OS, the Royole Moon’s menus are fairly simple to get around, once you’ve mastered the touchpad controls. Accessing your own downloaded content is straightforward enough, and built-in apps like YouTube means that streaming content is fairly easy, too. The best experience I had with Moon, though, was when I plugged it straight into my Xbox One.
The Moon Box has Micro HDMI input, but the box includes a Micro HDMI to HDMI converter. As a result, it’s a simple case of running an HDMI cable from your games console into the Moon Box, and it begins displaying instantly on the Moon’s screen.
Playing Xbox One games on a simulated big screen was pretty cool, and I found this the easiest way to stream content. Accessing all the apps installed on my Xbox – Netflix, iPlayer, All 4 et al – with my Xbox controller was much easier than trying to navigate the Moon’s OS with the ear cup’s touch controls and made the experience far more enjoyable. It’s just unfortunate that it meant I was tethered to another wire, but since the Moon isn’t exactly designed to be used while moving around it isn’t a massive drawback.
Superior quality - if you’ve got good eyes
The image quality of the Moon is excellent. Although VR headsets boast of higher resolutions, because their screens are used to simulate a 3D environment, it makes the quality much less, with pixels being much more visible. The two 1080p screens of the Royole Moon are used to display content solely in front of your eyes, so you see a true HD image that’s incredibly sharp.
Or, at least, it would be if you have great vision. The Royole Moon is not designed to be worn with glasses. The lenses do have a pretty impressive adjustable range, so providing your eyesight isn’t too bad, you’ll likely be able to adjust them so you can see the screen clearly. Being very short-sighted – without my glasses I need to hold my phone about eight inches away from my face to be able to read anything – I had a struggle getting the Moon in focus. While the headset did fit on my head over my glasses, the lenses are designed to focus close to your eyes, so with glasses on I had even less chance of seeing clearly. It took about ten minutes of adjusting each eye before I could see well enough, but it wasn’t quite crystal clear. I could read menus, but certain areas of the screen would appear blurry if I moved my eyes around. When my partner tried the headset – who’s even more short-sighted than me – he couldn’t get it focused enough to see anything comfortably.
It’s not just a complaint about the Royole Moon – it’s true of most VR headsets too. It’s hard to wear glasses comfortably with most headsets, and the majority have minimum focal adjustments – the Moon actually does better than most in that regard. It’s just a shame that such technology doesn’t fully cater for those of us who need glasses. And let’s face it; without being stereotypical here, most of us who’re into this kind of tech probably do wear glasses. And we shouldn’t feel like we need to wear contact lenses just to be able to enjoy these things.
The future is here?
There’s no doubt about it; the Royole Moon feels like a truly futuristic object. It’s the sort of contraption that The Simpsons would’ve parodied in the early 90s, and the fact that it exists, for us to buy, right now, is somewhat incredible. I’m just not sure if we’re ready for it quite yet.
Being limited to your own media is a pretty big drawback for one. Should there come a day where we can pay to stream cinema releases in our own private headset cinemas, there might be a bigger market for something like this. As Tom said in his Oculus Go review, being able to have the experience of going to the cinema without actually having to share your physical space with a bunch of strangers would be a massive boon. As it is, I’m just not sure being able to watch your downloaded or streamed films in a personal headset is enough of a draw just yet.
It also depends how you prefer to enjoy films and media. I like to watch stuff at home with my partner, so the solitary experience provided by the Royole Moon isn’t always an attractive prospect. The marketing for the Moon suggests that this is something you can take on your travels, to enjoy a cinematic experience on a flight for example. And while the hardware allows for that – the headset folds up, so it’s not too bulky, and the five-hour battery life is more than ample – I’m just not sure if I can actually see that happening in reality. Not on your bog-standard economy EasyJet flight, anyway.
This clearly isn't an EasyJet flight.
The Royole Moon is a very nice piece of tech. It’s made well, it performs well, and it’s a bit of a novelty item that any tech-loving cinephile will surely admire. But that’s the problem – it feels too much like a novelty. Getting it out, setting it up, plugging it in and getting it comfortable on your head and face isn’t exactly difficult, but it’s still way more effort than just turning the TV on. Considering its price, only people truly serious about having all the latest gadgets are going to be interested in this. It’s fancy, for sure, and it’s a great talking point with friends – “hey, try this headset - it’s like being in the cinema!” – but whether it’s actually worthwhile remains to be seen. As cool as it is, I personally couldn’t see myself using it on a regular basis. But if you’ve got money to burn, go for it.
- At £850, the Royole Moon is a hell of a lot of money
- Five hours of battery life pretty much means you can watch two films without needing to charge inbetween
- Lovely, sharp screen supposedly emulates an 800-inch curved cinema screen
- Can be hard to adjust focus if you need glasses (or impossible to focus fully if your eyesight is too bad)
- Easy to plug in your media devices or games consoles via HDMI or USB
- The touch controls on the right ear cup are awful – there's no external remote control
- It's comfortable enough but pretty heavy
- Good, robust build quality
- Folds up for easy storage