When you stop to think about it, three-dimensional imaging, in all its forms, is a logical step in the evolution of visual technology. We are stereoscopic by nature: We see with two eyes. However, finding an effective solution to using 3D across all media has been difficult, and the industry has been stumbling toward this goal, with fits and starts, for a long time.
Since the 1950s, moviemakers have struggled to give viewers a 3D experience that leaves them begging for more. Yet, this is easier said than done. That’s because stereo movies have been plagued with problems that stem from many directions: content creation has its own set of rules, which were only vaguely understood; camera systems were bulky and problematic; delivery systems were not standardized, and each had its own problems; and there were never enough theaters equipped to show 3D. All in all, these issues were overwhelming, and 3D quietly faded away for a time, only to be resurrected again in the 1980s with much the same result.
Here we are in 2009, on that edge again. However, there are indications that this time the situation is different, as 3D appears to have reached a tipping point (see “Rethinking Moviemaking,” November 2008). There are a number of factors that appear to be pushing our acceptance of 3D over the edge, and the groundswell of interest in 3D has opened up a number of new directions for the technology—one of which is 3D gaming.
Getting in the Game
Benefiting from the recent developments in 3D hardware, software, and content creation, a group of manufacturers has recently launched a number of approaches to 3D gaming that are creating a buzz. With an eye to careful pricing structures and stable delivery systems, a wide range of games that can be played in 3D are now available on several systems.
Most of these systems are totally new, but what seems to be different is a shift in approach–these are not toys. Learning from past experiences and carefully analyzing the market, four companies in particular are marketing various combinations of hardware and software in the upper end of the gaming market for achieving stereo gameplay. These systems are targeted at the hard-core, high-end gamer and promise an ever-widening base of gaming experiences.
One of the main issues these vendors have been confronting head-on is an assertion held by many that 3D gaming would never be accepted by players if they had to wear glasses. That belief proved unfounded in a recent online survey by Meant to be Seen 3D (http://www.mtbs3d.com), which represents the interests of end users and providers of stereoscopic solutions, and claims to be “the world’s first and only stereoscopic 3D Certification and Advocacy Group.”
When asked, 64.41 percent of the respondents found 3D with glasses intriguing, and 26.68 percent felt they had to have this technology now; in contrast, only 5.08 percent found the glasses to be uncomfortable, and 3.63 percent believed the stereo/glasses combination to be tacky. When 2D gamers were asked how willing they were to wear glasses based on content type, there was a clear willingness to use glasses for stereoscopic content—88 percent said they were willing to wear glasses to play video games, 84 percent were willing to wear glasses to watch a movie on Blu-ray, and 72 percent would do so to watch broadcast TV.
Once simply a novelty, stereoscopy has become a dynamic medium that can enhance the entertainment value of games, movies, and so forth. Recognizing this, iZ3D has developed a 2D/3D switchable monitor that works with polarized glasses to give gamers stereo play.
Those numbers jumped higher when gamers, who are already using 3D stereo glasses, were asked the same questions, with 97 percent willing to use them to play video games, 96 percent willing to watch Blu-ray movies, and 82 percent willing to watch broadcast TV. When questioned regarding the suitability of stereo 3D for gaming, 87.41 percent of 2D gamers found it suitable, while 95.68 percent of 3D gamers were in favor. A further question, which asked if game developers should support stereo 3D, was answered by an overwhelming “yes” from 93 percent of 2D gamers and 99 percent of stereo 3D gamers.
Clearly these statistics show willingness and an excitement about this transition to 3D, but the issues surrounding the implementation of 3D gaming are not quite so straightforward. There are a number of factors that must be addressed in order to achieve a high level of immersion in 3D games, and many of these were discussed recently at the Electronic Imaging conference in San Jose, California.
Participating on a panel were leaders in the field of 3D gaming, included Bob Eminian, chief marketing officer for iZ3D; Andrew Fear, senior product manager for Nvidia; Julian Flack, CTO of Dynamic Digital Depth (DDD); and Chris Ward, president of Lightspeed Design. Leading the group was Neil Schneider, president of Meant to be Seen 3D, who probed the panelists for their thoughts on the next steps.
Several key issues emerged from that discussion, including the need for all gamers to have a great out-of-the-box experience, from setup (which should be easy) to gameplay (which should be intuitive). Another point: that all games should be instantly upgradable to 3D. And while the first generation of game drivers allows existing games to be upgraded to 3D, the next generation of drivers needs to take the experience much further by making it much more compelling and immersive.
Furthermore, the experience being gained by the movie industry in how to use 3D creatively to enhance emotional experiences should be carried over into the 3D gaming arena. However, both players and retailers need to be educated about what 3D is, to eliminate any confusion. To this end, money should be allocated to training and marketing. The last concern has to do with cost. Prices have to drop, making it cost-effective for gamers to upgrade their monitors from 2D to 3D.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at what is really out there in terms of options. While all the current gaming systems employ glasses, they vary in the type of glasses being used. Leading the pack is Nvidia, which announced at CES in January the launch of its GeForce 3D Vision, a high-definition 3D stereo solution for the home.
Described as the foundation for a new consumer 3D stereo ecosystem for gaming and home-entertainment PCs, 3D Vision is a combination of high-tech wireless glasses and advanced software that automatically transforms hundreds of PC games into full stereoscopic 3D experiences.
Nvidia has launched its GeForce 3D Vision system, a high-def stereo solution for gaming and other forms of home entertainment.
Nvidia uses wireless, active shuttered glasses with ultra-wide viewing angles. Using a high-powered IR emitter, these glasses can be used up to 20 feet away and will operate for at least 40 hours before they have to be recharged via a standard USB cable. An intelligent circuit design built into the glasses automatically shuts the glasses off after 10 minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. Furthermore, the stereo can be adjusted in real time via a dial located on the glasses.
The accompanying software will automatically convert more than 300 games so they will work in 3D stereo out of the box, without the need for special game patches.
For a limited time, Nvidia is offering a special bundle, which includes the GeForce Vision 3D kit and Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ monitor, for $598. The kit can be purchased separately for $199 and includes one pair of GeForce 3D active shutter glasses with accessories, and various hardware and cabling.
In terms of the screen on which the stereo imagery is viewed, the GeForce 3D Vision is designed to work with the new Samsung and ViewSonic 120hz LCD monitors, Mitsubishi DLP HDTVs, and Lightspeed Design’s DepthQ HD 3D Projector from Lightspeed Design; it also can be used for 3D gaming applications, for viewing 3D movies, and for generating 3D photography.
The kit also will work with a number of other 3D desktop displays, including ViewSonic’s VX2265wm desktop LCD monitor. This 22-inch monitor, priced at $399, can be used for traditional 2D gaming, entertainment, and graphics applications, while delivering stereoscopic 3D when used with the GeForce 3D Vision stereoscopic active shutter glasses.
The Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision kit, with shuttered glasses and cabling, works with a range of monitors and projectors, including those from ViewSonic, Samsung, and more.
Aside from its 120hz frame-rate support, the VX2265wm offers a 2 msec video response time to remove virtually all motion artifacts and ghosting. The monitor is Microsoft Windows Vista certified and sports SRS WOW HD sound technology and invisible stereo speakers.
Additionally, the GeForce 3D Vision will work with analog CRTs that are 100hz and higher.
A wide array of Mitsubishi 1080p DLP Home Theater TVs—including the WD-57833, WD-60735, WD-60C8, WD-65735, WD-65736, WD-65C8, WD-65833, WD-65835, WD-73735, WD-73736, WD-73833, WD-73835, WD-73C8, and L65-A90—have been certified to work with the kit, as well. In fact, these large-screen televisions have been 3D-ready for some time. Mitsubishi launched its first 3D-equipped system in 2007; now, the company’s entire current line of Home Theatre TVs come 3D-ready in screen sizes from 60 to 73 inches.
As for 3D projection systems, Lightspeed’s DepthQ HD 3D Projector, which uses DLP technology from Texas Instruments and has a native resolution of 1280x720, is also certified by Nvidia to support its offering.
In 3D mode, the projector offers approximately 2000 lumens of brightness and approximately 2500 lumens in 2D mode with a contrast ratio of 2000:1 full on/full off. This new projector is the first portable WXGA stereoscopic 3D projector, offering 120hz stereo 3D at 1280x720 resolution. Capable of producing 120 unique frames per second, the DepthQ Projector’s total achievable throughput of visual data is roughly equivalent to the highest 2D broadcast standard to date: 1080 60p.
The big advantage of this product is the large size of the projected image. As the company states, “Just imagine your favorite video games nine feet wide and as deep as the universe!” Having seen the Lightspeed system in action, I have to say that it is an impressive experience.
Nvidia’s system of active shuttered glasses is not the only game in town. iZ3D has developed a proprietary system, a monitor that works with passive polarized glasses. The company’s current monitor, priced at $399, is a 22-inch 2D/3D switchable widescreen LCD, with full 1680x1050 resolution to both eyes. It also supports 16.7 million colors, has a 5 msec response time, sports a 170-degree 3D viewing angle, and features a dual-input interface and user-controllable 3D effects settings (both convergence and separation).
iZ3D also offers the 22-inch monitor in six special-edition, custom-painted models created by Smooth Creations. These models, available only at www.iz3d.com, were commissioned at the request of customers who wanted their 3D monitors to garner attention at LAN parties. These custom-painted monitors sell for $549.
Also active at CES, iZ3D previewed two new monitors that are projected for release in the third quarter. The 22-inch, $399 model, with a switchable 3D/2D screen, will sport a single input for game consoles that will make it possible to play many popular Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PS3 games in stereo.
For the most part, it will support games that were originally created with 3D modeling tools. The new 26-inch model will have dual inputs but may also be available as single input, although that has not been confirmed yet.
The iZ3D system superimposes two images created on two precisely stacked TFT (thin-film transistor) LCDs (liquid crystal displays). Based on polarized light, this technology creates images for left- and right-eye viewing. But unlike film and filters with fixed polarizer angles for projectors, iZ3D controls left- and right-eye image creation by dynamically changing the polarity of each picture element (pixel). Left-eye and right-eye images are addressed and controlled simultaneously. With the software-based iZ3D image-control algorithm, the back TFT LCD controls the intensity of the transmitted light and the front TFT LCD controls the polarization angle of the transmitted light.
Another aspect that must be considered in the evolution of 3D gaming is the capability of the drivers to convert existing games to 3D. Drivers have varying degrees of success in their ability to create convincing immersive experiences, and another player in this field is Dynamic Digital Depth (DDD).
With a long history of converting film and video to stereo in postproduction, combined with innovative algorithms and steady advances in processing power, DDD has made leading real-time 2D-to-3D conversion technologies available. Its TriDef 2D-to-3D Conversion SDK allows users to convert existing 2D photos or movies into 3D photos or movies, in real time.
Taking the concept a step further, the company offers a package that combines a pair of shuttered glasses with its software; this can then be used with a number of monitors that can be purchased separately from various manufacturers.
DDD’s 3D single-user pack—which includes one pair of wireless glasses, a 3D transmitter, and a CD containing the TriDef 3D Experience software for Windows XP/Vista—is priced under $150. The 3D starter pack, costing under $200, contains an extra set of glasses. Additional glasses can be purchased for less than $50.
DDD offers an affordable 3D conversion package that contains software, a transmitter, and a pair of wireless glasses.
The Future is Now
DDD’s CTO, Julian Flack, spoke recently about the future direction of the company’s technology, where the 3D conversion is integrated into the game. He feels that this more advanced technology will enhance the sense of immersion in games and will utilize more of the new techniques being developed in Hollywood for 3D filmmaking. With these new 3D skills, a stronger emotional situation will be developed by the skillful control of the 3D experience, thereby making the entire experience more realistic.
To sum it all up, this new world of 3D gaming is poised on the brink of wider-based adoption by high-end gamers. These various approaches are getting less expensive, but they do require powerful computers bought within the past couple of years, accompanied by high-end gaming cards.
As production ramps up, of course, it is likely that prices will drop, and this will lead to a broader-based adoption of stereo. Proponents of the widespread adoption of 3D TV are hoping that 3D gaming will be the wedge that pushes open the door to a demand for 3D in the home.
A hint of what might be new on the horizon can be garnered from this statement: “iZ3D is in the process of establishing several social networks for gamers as a critical path to 3D education and promoting 3D play.” What does this mean exactly? One can only speculate. But we’ll let you know when the company makes an official announcement as to what it is trying to say here.
Nevertheless, one thing is fairly certain: These new tools will likely have broader adoption as the technology becomes more widely integrated through applications in education, training, and visualization. Still, they remain hopeful that foremost this will lead to 3D TV.
Linda Law is a digital/holographic artist who has been working in 3D since 1975. She is a fine artist who has also worked in holographic research, education, as a curator for the Museum of Holography, as a 3D animator for digital holograms, and as a writer about 3D technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.