When You've Gotta Go . . . Page 2

To test these products in a traveling environment, I tried to persuade the higher-ups to fly me to Maui for the weekend. Suffice it to say, I had to make do with having my roommate drive me around in his noisy 1988 Honda P.O.S. The ever-present hum of its massive 1.5-liter engine was a good test of the headphones' noise-cancelation properties (Maui would have been better). Without any external signal, the NoiseBuster headphones do an amazing job of blocking out droning noise. While you can still hear the person next to you sneeze, these headphones substantially reduce the constant low hum of a car or plane engine. For example, in the car, the road noise and air-conditioner fan were reduced to almost-inaudible levels. I also found that these headphones do a pleasant job of reducing office noise. Computer fans, air-conditioning ducts, and numerous other sources of headache all become subdued and, in some cases, completely disappear. One warning: Once you hear how pleasant your office can sound with these headphones, you may never be able to go back.

With a sound source plugged in (both the NoiseBuster and QZ-2000 headphones come with a cable to connect to any headphone-out), the stereo imaging is a little off, but the sound itself is pretty close to the original source. The Toshiba DVD player's 3D HP (N-2-2) mode, which produces convincing surround sound in normal headphones, doesn't really work when the noise-reduction feature is turned on. Overall, I liked the NoiseBuster Extreme headphones a little better than the Koss model. Even though the QZ-2000 can drop 30 dB, I noticed a slight hiss with the noise reduction. The Extreme headphones, while not able to drop as much, did a better job overall in creating a quiet environment.

Finally, you should definitely add a pair of LCD goggles to your packing list. Why, you may ask, do you need goggles when the DVD player comes with its own screen? Well, as I said earlier, the screen image doesn't show up well in direct sunlight. Also, goggles let you watch a DVD without disturbing those around you. The Olympus Eye-Trek FMD-200 goggles are $550 and deliver surprisingly good performance. The FMD-200's resolution of 180,000 pixels is about 600 by 300, which is enough to show a DVD, although the picture won't look as sharp as it would on your TV. At this resolution, individual pixels can't be seen, but most details are rolled off. All in all, video is just as watchable with the goggles as it is on the Toshiba screen, although not quite as clear. The so-called screen-door effect that's infamous among devices of this type is not as pronounced as it is on some older models.

The Eye-Trek's input is limited to composite, with left and right for the audio, but the number of sources you can plug these goggles into is not limited. I tried them with a DirecTV receiver, a Sony DVD player, and (of course) the Toshiba SDP-1500. All of the images looked very similar through the goggles. It's worth noting that the DirecTV receiver's menus were readable, which makes these goggles functional as a TV replacement for those of you who have light-sleeping spouses. The only downside I saw (other than the ubiquitous want for higher-resolution everything) was the time limit: You can only use the FMD-200 goggles for 2.5 hours before the unit shuts itself off. You can turn it back on again, but the manual says that the shut-down function is for your own health. I believe it, as my eyes started to cross toward the end of any movie I was watching. Of course, maybe they were just bad movies (I have that vice).

You can't write about home theater on the go without mentioning batteries. Naturally, you can plug in the goggles and the DVD player, in case of a hotel stop. If you really want to take it in the car or on a plane, the DVD player will run on its included battery for about three hours with the screen and speakers on. The goggles will run for about the same amount of time, but their battery costs $80 and isn't included. The NoiseBuster Extreme headphones will run for about 100 hours on AAA batteries, while the QZ-2000 headphones will run for about 200 hours on AA batteries.

I can't be too bitter about the lack of a trip to Maui on Home Theater's dime, as this was a fun feature to write. Each of these items has a use outside of its normal function that makes it a worthwhile purchase, not just a gimmick. The headphones can take the edge off of a noisy work environment. The DVD player can function as your home DVD player (it even comes with a remote). And the goggles can spare you from endless chastising from the missis for watching midget horse skiing in bed at two in the morning. So, while nothing can replace—or even substitute for—your astonishing and unequivocally perfect home theater, these items can at least put some distance between your cries of, "Are we there yet?"