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To 3D or not 3D, that’s no longer the question

Posted: 04.28.10

Visual stereoscopy, also known as S3D, has definitely come to the PC. It was actually always there, just not exposed. Soon there will be video stereo­scopy available on your TV, you can see cinematic stereoscopy now in most metropolitan theaters in the industrialized world, and this time next year most new smartphones will offer web, game, and video stereoscopy content via auto-stereoscopic glasses-free displays. All of this gets bundled in the phrase “3D.” Obviously “3D” leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meaning and to the people using it.

Yes, issues still exist and probably will for a couple of more years, as Luis Giglioti, Metro 2033’s creative director at THQ said at the 3D Gaming Summit, “we’re just taking baby steps now.” And Greg Spence, lead programmers on the S3D version of Everquest II agreed. In demos shown at the conference there were lots of artifacts like ghosting, inter-axial spacing and depth issues that were obvious, and the unwanted effects caused by them brought out the critic in everyone. All of sudden everyone was an expert, or a naysayer on S3D. Baby steps.

Mark Rein sees the big picture and with a wave of his hand pushes aside the objections, “It’ll happen, that will all be taken care of” he says with his usual flair and enthusiasm. He sees a different challenge—changing the user interaction with an S3D game. Rein wants the user to be able to reach in, and move about in the scene and thinks Natel and Wii2-like technologies will get us closer to that capability.

Everyone who was not a naysayer pretty much agreed shutter glasses were better than passive polarized versions. For one simple reason: shutter glasses give you full resolution, and as Phil Eisler mentioned in the demo area, you can lie on your side and watch an S3D movie with shutter glasses, something you can’t do with polarized glasses—I never thought about that before.

Neil Schneider, the self appointed cheerleader for S3D, challenged the game developers to do a better job and take into consideration frame rate, film grain, and depth—that earned him another wave of Rein’s hand.

But Neil did raise the issue that doesn’t seem to get much discussion except at esoteric S3D conferences. Again, Rein seemed to put his finger on it and said games today are being done after the fact, in the Nvidia driver. When games are made for S3D from the beginning, things like individual scene compensation for depth will be made.

However, the game developers are certain a game player will be willing to wear glasses for six to eight hours. It’s one thing to wear them for a couple of hours in a passive situation like watching a movie. Still, in a AAA FPS that gets played for many hours glasses may become annoying. As Giglioti pointed out, there haven’t been enough systems sold yet to give any meaningful feedback from the users.

It’s pretty clear from all the discussions that given the differences in humans we will have to have explicit adjustment available for inter-axial distance, and depth. Games may have an auto-setup mode as they do now for lighting and AA filtering, with a manual override for advanced or expert users. Baby steps.

Consoles will not be too attractive for S3D given their five year old technology and the preponderance of 60 Hz TV displays. The consoles don’t have the graphics horsepower, bandwidth, or memory to generate to 60 Hz HDTV images even if the screen was available.

I’ve long felt there wouldn’t be a next generation console because the technology is moving so fast and the games are getting so demanding. However, Reins suggested that if there is a next gen S3D this is going to be one of the justifications for it. That will happen when Moore’s law makes it possible to deliver the kind of performance in a $300 box that now is available in a $1,000 + PC. However, Darkworks thinks their slightly anaglyph S3D approach will bring S3D to existing consoles now, and the examples we saw led me to agree with them. We’ve got a discussion in this issue on Darkworks’ solution. And there is a new technology approach coming out of ET3D based on work done at the Aerospace Corporation (a U.S. federally funded not-for-profit lab) that has a novel no glasses approach. Another similar no-glasses approach is that from Masterworks which has a matrix screen it puts in front of a LCD display—we’ve covered that too in this issue.

Glasses are a bit of a problem, even though I challenge people who complain to tell me if they ever wear sunglasses. But, using myself as a test subject I don’t think I can wear glasses for extended periods of time. It’s not uncommon to play a game in excess of four or six hours. I know I get tired of the S3D effect after about 45 minutes—I think my record is maybe an hour and then I take them off and turn off the S3D and continue the game. I plan to test this further and subject some of our people to be guinea pigs as well. We’ll, of course, let you know how it turns out.