Product review: Vegging out

Why would you want to wear a pair of opaque glasses studded with pulsating LEDs wired to a black box? Or why would you want to wear a Buck Rogers-like headset that shows movies on 3/4-inch screens? Two words: To relax.

"In our high-pressure, time-driven, results-oriented society, we forget how precious downtime can be," says John Latz, a Moorseville, North Carolina-based psychiatrist. "Sometimes, to help us relax, we reach out to devices. It's one way that we get a sense of control over our environment, and that helps to alleviate our stress."

Digital diversions

Both the Mind Gear Personal Relaxer and I-O Display System LLC's Televizer Personal Display System were designed to help you relax by temporarily diverting your attention from the business world, stressful thoughts and other anxiety-producing situations. As a diversion technique, the Televizer gets top marks. For people who want to slow their thoughts (and maybe their pulse rate), Mind Gear's unit will help.

Both devices are representative of a select group of stimuli-exclusion products. Both create a sort of virtual reality by saturating two of your senses -- sight and sound -- helping isolate you from your environment by substituting pleasant for unpleasant stimuli. The downsides are cost, some learning time and the chance that someone might take you for a New Age couch potato.

Televizer

I-O Display Systems LLC

http://www.i-glasses.com

$US1,500, including a Panasonic P10 DVD player and carrying case.

Weighing just 8 ounces, I-O Display's Televizer is one of the niftiest toys around and a sure head-turner. The Televizer's image simulates looking at an 80-in. screen suspended 11 feet away. The image produced by the twin LCD displays is viewable in a variety of ambient light situations, but it lacks the crispness and rich color of a television.

To prevent motion sickness while watching action movies, the glasses leave a little space at the lower edge of the frame so viewers can relate to their physical surroundings. I didn't experience any headaches or vision problems.

The unit provides three to four hours of play time, about the length of two digital video disc (DVD) movies. According to I-O, the unit's primary purchasers are professionals (such as dentists), parents traveling with children and movie enthusiasts. Although pricey, Televizer can also serve as a private presentation device at trade shows or for training. The operative word here is "private." The headset includes adjustable, built-in earphones, and only the viewer can see its twin LCD panels.

The headset accepts input from VCRs, camcorders, televisions and DVD players. It works with US (National Television Style Committee) video sources, which includes composite and S-video, as well as PAL, a popular European video standard.

XCELR8R II Pro Personal Relaxer

Mind Gear

http://www.mind-gear.com

$450, including carrying case

There's no magic in Mind Gear's black box and dark glasses, but it can reduce stress -- if you help it to help you. I found that for the best results, you need to allocate 20- to 40-minute sessions several times per week.

Mind Gear's product helps the user achieve a serene state of mind. When I wore the device's glasses, I saw, through my closed eyes, synchronized patterns of flashing lights and listened to "white noise," mostly beeps that varied in frequency. With that high-tech assistance, I could more readily banish intrusive thoughts and reach a relaxed state more quickly.

The device's control box contains more than 50 preset programs to energise or calm its users, and you can create your own programs. The deluxe kit contained a single set of headphones and two sets of glasses: One uses colored LEDs, the other uses white LEDs. I preferred the white. The control box lets two users jack in at the same time, and both can receive the same program.

The unit's rechargeable batteries make it portable, so it's easy to take to a private area to eliminate interruptions. Unlike the Televizer, the Mind Gear unit does its best work for you if your mind, as well as your body, are isolated from your surroundings.

Millman is a freelance reviewer in Croton, New York.

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