By Kris Roberts
Kris Roberts is the head of Robertsmania, a brand new independent video game developer. For the past nine years, Kris worked for Rockstar Games and Angel Studios as a game designer and most recently served as the lead multiplayer designer for Red Dead Redemption. Prior to that, he was a senior designer on the Midnight Club series of open city racing games. Kris Roberts is a long time hobbyist in stereo 3D and is currently very interested in 3D systems designed for the consumer market.
I am a professional video game developer and am personally very excited about the current momentum of 3D equipment moving into the consumer arena. My home has a dedicated theater and I use the Acer H5360 with the Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision kit as my 3D display (along with a Sony VPH-G90 CRT projector for movies and a Panasonic AX200U for 2D games).
The good news is that all the major manufacturers are geared up and have a variety of flat panels and projectors with HDMI 1.4 compliant 3D support. You can plug any of them into a Sony PlayStation 3 and play games with virtually no trouble.
The (potentially) bad news is that nobody I spoke to outside the Nvidia booth had any idea of how to play 3D PC games on the new sets. I know when you go to a trade show like CES, the people you interact with in the booths are not necessarily directly involved with the development or aware of the technical details of the equipment. However, it was a little disconcerting to have pretty much every conversation I had with a display manufacturer rep follow the same pattern:
Me: WOW! This display looks great with the 3D video loop you are showing!
Rep: Yeah, we’re really excited about 3D – and our equipment is the best.
Me: I’m really excited about playing video games in 3D.
Rep: Yes, games are really awesome on our displays.
Me: So I can just plug my PS3 in and it will work with Gran Turismo 5, Call of Duty Black-Ops, Wipeout 3D, Super Stardust 3D, and the other games that the console runs in 3D?
Rep: Um, yeah… sure I think so.
Me: Okay, that’s great. Right now the wealth of games that are currently running in 3D are on the PC. Can I use your display with my computer and play stereo 3D games?
Rep: Um, I think so – why not?
Me: Well, there is a list of supported displays that work with the Nvidia 3DTV Play drivers. Sadly there are no projectors on the list at all, do you know if yours is going to be supported?
Rep: No, I have no idea what you are talking about.
Me: Okay, well Nvidia is one of the solutions. Do you know about the iZ3D, TriDef, or AMD HD3D solutions?
I want to be optimistic and believe that Nvidia will come through with the promise of general support for all HDMI 1.4 displays with 3DTV Play, but right now the list does not include a single projector.
Correspondingly, the projectors which currently do work with 3D Vision are not HDMI 1.4 and will not work with the PS3 or other devices. There are several converter options I’m aware of to try and overcome that, but they all seem to have their shortcomings (more on them later).
The Nvidia exhibit was nothing less than impressive. If you saw Neil’s interviews at their exhibit, it’s clear that Nvidia is pushing hard to make stereoscopic 3D gaming successful. However, to get beyond this flash in the pan phase, Nvidia needs to take things much further. Let me explain through example.
Nvidia had separate demos set up for both 3DTV Play and 3D Vision. Talking to the people on the 3DTV Play side about whether any of the new projectors over in CES’ exhibit hall would be supported, they acknowledged that none of them were right now and didn’t know when they might be.
One of the Nvidia representatives seemed interested himself and took me over to the 3D Vision side to talk to one of their guys – but he missed the point and insisted that I didn’t want or need an HDMI 1.4 projector because the 3D Vision kit already supports several projectors. We circled the issue a few times, and when I left, my confidence was shaken. As a customer first, I would have felt much better if Nvidia took a more open and clear-cut approach with their 3D support on HDMI 1.4. Their current website suggests a more selective approach based on an individual make/model basis. As a gamer, I want to see PC titles working on all the new HDMI 1.4 sets – enough of this industry confusion!
The good news is there may be more confusion and miscommunication than actual technical limitations. Yes, the list of supported displays for 3DTV Play is limited, and the manufacturer representatives I spoke with may not even know about the product – but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost!
After I got back from CES I bit the bullet and purchased the Moome EXT V3 HDMI 1.4 to VGA adapter (described in more detail below). My main goal was to get PS3 3D support working on my non-HDMI 1.4 projector – and it did! I also found that the most current Nvidia drivers let me use a “Generic DLP HDTV” with my PC, and that is definitely NOT on the list of supported displays.
PC compatibility issues aside, there were some interesting things about the new projectors:
- Pretty much all the big name brands have at least one projector that supports 3D.
- All the new 3D projectors are 1080p – I didn’t see any new sets that were 720p (panels or projectors).
- Almost all are using IR to sync the glasses – I saw no new sets using DLP-Link or RF.
- The general motivation for IR seemed to be that each manufacturer wants the same glasses to work with their flat panels and projectors. LG was the only brand with passive glasses for all their displays.
- Almost all seem to rely on the IR signal being emitted from the projector itself and bouncing off the screen – only a couple brands had an emitter/repeater. I’m skeptical, having seen my own 3D Vision kit struggle to keep sync with the emitter shining brightly directly at the glasses.
- All of the new 3D projectors are aimed at the high end and are generally $3,000 to $5,000 US.
There were many booths with “Universal Glasses”. The most stylish were passive glasses from Gunnar, Oakley, and a bunch of others. They all employ circular polarization, and are not compatible with the linear polarization found in IMAX 3D theaters. As far as IR active shutter glasses, there were a lot of them with a wide range of apparent quality and comfort.
My favorite active glasses were ACTIVEYES from Volfoni. Their approach is to have the glasses themselves be very light (about 1 gram) and have the sensor, battery and electronics in a little pack you clip to your shirt. That makes the glasses as light and comfortable as passive ones, but still work as active shutter glasses. They were also the only universal IR glasses which demonstrated that they were compatible with Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Vision emitter. No other brand I talked to knew whether or not they had the same compatibility, and most seemed confused by the question.
The other question I had going into the show was exactly what could a gamer on a budget do to get a really big stereo 3D experience? I was really hoping that at least one manufacturer would have an affordable 720P projector that was HDMI 1.4 compliant out of the box – but none of them did. Clearly Optoma is interested in selling their 3D-XL converter and didn’t offer any hope for a new inexpensive projector that doesn’t need it. Acer was not at the show, and nothing I have seen on the Internet is encouraging.
So if you are like me and own an Acer H5360, Optoma HD66 or another DLP projector, and you don’t have $3K+ to spend and want to use the PS3 for games, these four options seem like the only ways to go:
The Optoma converter takes HDMI 1.4 in and outputs HDMI 1.3 using DLP-Link to sync the glasses.
They claim it is fully HDMI 1.4 compliant and should work with any of the standard formats including the side by side used on the Xbox360 for Call of Duty – Black Ops. The box is compatible with projectors from other manufacturers, so you could use it with an Acer projector if you already have that.
This also takes HDMI 1.4 in and outputs HDMI 1.3 using DLP-Link to sync the glasses. When I asked them about side by side support, the response I got was: “Currently, we support only the frame packing format and do not support side-by-side format”. So it sounds like it will only work with the PlayStation 3.
This box takes HDMI 1.4 in and outputs RGB or Component, and uses IR to sync the active 3D glasses. I am familiar with Moome’s interface cards for CRT projectors which let people use those projectors with modern HDMI sources. He has a good reputation within the CRT community and my personal interactions with him have always been great.
The story behind this device is that it started a few revisions ago as an external converter box to take HDMI in and output RGB and Component for legacy displays. In the most recent version they decided to add 3D support. So the long story is that it was not developed specifically for digital projectors to support stereo 3D, but it can be used for that. The main shortcoming in my view is the need to now run a VGA cable to my projector. I would much prefer it if it had HDMI out. Another shortcoming is that the box does not come with an emitter of its own and you need to get one separately if you are not using it with the 3D-Vision Kit.
For use without 3D Vision, will require an IR emitter: http://www.3dmagic.com/catalog/Gen2hometransmitter.html
This box takes HDMI in, outputs HDMI and uses IR to sync the glasses but it looks like it uses the checkerboard format rather than frame sequential (I may be wrong here). This box is intended to be used specifically with Mitsubishi TVs. I have read reports of people using it with other brands, but I have no experience with it myself and what I have read sounds a little dubious as far as having to spoof EDID values to get it to work.
Here is a brief summary of things I saw…
Displays and projectors:
LG – CF3D. LCoS 1080p HDMI 1.4 passive – dual engine single chassis. All LG 3D displays used passive glasses.
Panasonic – no projectors at all on the floor. But their big flat panel was the only one I saw with a proud Nvidia 3DTV Play logo.
Sharp – XV-Z17000. DLP 1080p HDMI 1.4 IR glasses. No idea about Nvidia compatibility.
Samsung – Demo unit with no model number, tech said it was the same one displayed last year so probably not HDMI 1.4 but 1080p IR glasses. No idea about Nvidia compatibility.
Sony – VPL-VW90ES SXRD 3D projector in their “Future 3D Technology” area. SXRD 1080p HDMI 1.4 IR glasses. No idea about Nvidia compatibility.
Mitsubishi – Diamond 3D. SXRD 1080p HDMI 1.4 IR Glasses. No idea about Nvidia compatibility.
JVC – Procision line on display, 3 models. D-ILA 1080p HDMI 1.4 IR Glasses with repeater/emitter.
Optoma – GT720 with 3D-XL converter box. DLP 720p HDMI 1.4 DLP-Link
Volfoni ACTIVEYES: http://volfoni.com/article.php3?id_article=238
Vuzix Augmented Reality, HUD and HMD: http://vuzix.com/home/
Monster, Monster Vision Max 3D: http://www.monstercable.com/press/viewpress.asp?Article=236
Others: Dreamview, 3D Blict, Marchon 3D, Lavod, many Chinese vendors
Nvidia 3DTV Play: http://www.Nvidia.com/object/3dtv-play.html
Supported displays: http://www.Nvidia.com/object/3dtv-play-requirements.html#3dtvs
Converters for existing non HDMI 1.4 displays/projectors
Moome EXT-FULLHD v3 3D: http://moomecrtpj.blogspot.com/2010/11/ext-fullhd-v3-3d-universal-hdmi-14.html
For use without 3D Vision, will require an IR emitter: http://www.3dmagic.com/catalog/Gen2hometransmitter.html
Mitsubishi 3DA-1: http://www.mitsubishi-tv.com/accessories/3DA1
One last point: I realize that this article was very Nvidia focused, and this wasn’t by choice! While gamers at MTBS can confirm what can and can’t be played with AMD’s hardware and software partner solutions, it was definitely a best kept secret at CES 2011. Stereo 3D gaming has progressed so far in the past two years, and if AMD is at all serious about their HD3D initiative and wish to earn gamer and vendor confidence, they need to make some big changes in how they get the word out and market their products.
Until then, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s on display at GDC 2011!