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Where S-3D Is Headed According To MTBS

By January 12, 2008Editorial

Hello everyone!

I think it’s time we had a gamer to gamer talk about the stereoscopic 3D industry and where it is headed.

First, let me tell you about CES. When I went, I was expecting a minority of S-3D solutions to look at. There would be talk, yes, but I thought it would have a very minor presence at the show. BOY WAS I WRONG! I saw HUGE exhibits from the likes of Samsung, Mitsubishi, Spectron IQ, iZ3D, Zalman, and more. There were S-3D parties at CES, and people were playing Far Cry and Madden Football on big 3D screens with multiple brand names.

I had the privilege of meeting most of the manufacturers in person, and I have been regularly contacted by other solutions that are expecting to come to the market within the next year or so. There is a lot of excitement and innovation happening in our industry.

Now, let’s put things in proper perspective for those unfamiliar:

NVIDIA is the leading graphics card manufacturer. As a side market, they earned a positive reputation as a stereoscopic 3D driver provider. Their software solution had no cost to the S-3D manufacturers and no cost to the S-3D consumers. It supported everything from LCD shutter glasses to 3D monitors. In the last five years, the most popular S-3D solution, LCD shutter glasses, quickly dwindled in the marketplace because the CRT monitor which was once on every desk has become reduced to a rarity in electronics stores or a used item on Ebay. Even at CRT’s peak, LCD shutter glasses were never more than a niche market product.

The reason this LCD shutter glasses technology is getting so much attention even though it is a rarity in the video game industry is most experienced S-3D gamers today are still using the technology. Not official numbers by any stretch, but I would estimate LCD shutter glasses represent 70% to 80% of our active S-3D gamers. With 2,000+ members on MTBS, that seems like a big number.

However, here is an even bigger number. According to 2006 video game figures, the top spending PC hardcore market is between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 gamers. As MTBS’ surveys demonstrated, stereoscopic 3D technology is best suited for gamers interested in superior game immersion and unmatched visual beauty. Therefore, we should aim to put our market in the millions, not thousands.

Now, if you read the news story I originally printed based on my interview with Dave Cook, the head of the NVIDIA S-3D driver development team, they are launching as a Zalman only product. However, he chose to demonstrate the drivers on a Samsung DLP! Is this the future of where the drivers are headed? Will NVIDIA support more than one solution as the year moves forward? Nobody knows.

Other members raised a concern that it’s not just a matter of LCD shutter glasses. MTBS members want HMD solutions supported as well. I spoke to TDVision about this, and while we can’t talk about all that is happening publicly, they are 100% confident that their solution will have excellent S-3D game support too, and I agree with them.

NVIDIA’s current “official” move is not unique. Do you remember the greatest innovation that the S-3D industry has ever seen? The famous iZ3D drivers released last summer? I made a miscalculation when I announced it because I did not anticipate all the flak I would receive because it was a proprietary driver, and not a software solution for all S-3D products.

Members swore they would never buy an iZ3D monitor while others tore my name to shreds. However, a few months later when people bought the monitor and played their favorite games in S-3D the way they always hoped, this negativity melted away. The same way a customer trades in their first ten year old clunker car for a brand new model, and experiences their first smooth ride in years.

According to Dave’s interview, NVIDIA is following a similar model with Zalman. Again, nothing is cut and dry here as the year is young, but the NVIDIA drivers are starting as a Zalman release. The Zalman monitor is reasonably priced. I don’t do S-3D hardware reviews, but I will say that customers who sampled the monitor enjoyed it, and I really liked what I saw with the NVIDIA drivers on the DLP solution. I think it is going to prove to be a strong mix of hardware and software, and like all other solutions in the market, it’s going to continually get better.

A valid concern I’ve read from members is that these S-3D monitor solutions cost a pretty penny, and because shutter glasses are so cheap compared to them, it’s going to take a long time to build the S-3D industry.

Let me answer by pointing out that LCD shutter glasses didn’t start out cheap. Even now, CrystalEyes are over $400 US a pair and the more inexpensive solutions came later. When we are talking about LCD shutter glasses on Ebay, we are talking about ten years of price depreciation. Modern S-3D solutions won’t take as long to drop in price because our market is going to be much bigger than LCD shutters ever were. The general interest in S-3D already is!

Also, doesn’t it strike you as odd that out of all the components swapped in and out of our systems over the years, the S-3D equipment hasn’t radically changed in ten years? How many computers have you gone through and how many operating systems have you had to format and install because the industry had to move forward over the years? Change is always the price of progress, and S-3D is no different. It just took us ten years to get the progress, and that’s why the change is hitting everyone so hard.

Are modern S-3D solutions too expensive for the gaming market? Hardly. In the last two years, I alone have spent $1,000+ on multiple GPUs to keep up with gaming standards, but my 3D monitor has sat unmoved on my desk because regular hardware change was unnecessary. As we have built an entire community for these eye blowing S-3D solutions, and an entire industry has quickly grown and flourished, does it not make sense that a good S-3D solution have a onetime investment of between $500 and $1,000 US? I think that falls in the realm of any influential piece of computer hardware, and given its long term stay in a gamer’s life, this is a fair valuation.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s money, and we all know it doesn’t grow on trees. Not everyone will be able to afford the technology right away or will have to spend some time saving up for it – I completely understand. However, it is a very influential piece of equipment, the software support is much better than shutters ever were, and it’s an investment that will benefit the consumer for years not months.

We also have to take into account the marketing image of LCD shutter glasses. When I founded MTBS, and when I talk about S-3D history, I largely ignore the last ten years. Frankly, I wish they never happened. Wasteful years of solutions that weren’t quite ready, no leverage in the industry, an enthusiast only mentality, and worst of all, a continual mention of dusty shutter glasses left in a desk drawer. This nostalgia for the old days is not going to grow the market and be attractive to new gamers.

Our industry is in dire need of a facelift. NEW, NEW, NEW! Solutions that gamers can relate to. LCD panels, high resolution HMDs, 3D HDTVs they can get at Best Buy. S-3D cannot continue as an Ebay technology. That is not our future, and continual discussion of LCD shutter glasses with CRT monitors is not sexy to interested gamers, and won’t feed our industry’s families in the long run.

This choice of solution positioning is a very big change in NVIDIA’s game plan. I’m sure they had a lot of internal discussion before moving ahead, and everyone knows that not everybody is happy with it. For NVIDIA, this may have been a very necessary move.

Who knows! Maybe there will be resurgence in shutter glasses technology with CRT monitors. It could happen! For now, the industry is headed in a different direction.

MTBS’ whole reason for being is to attract gamers who want to attain superior game immersion and visual beauty, and to show how S-3D will attain that goal. We are the only connecting point between the S-3D manufacturers, the game developers, and the consumers. Most importantly, outside of Hollywood, we are the driving force that will grow this industry big enough so you will never have to cope with half-compatible games again. Officially, MTBS is not here to judge. It is our role to determine the direction the industry is headed, and work closely with all sides of the fence to make S-3D a success.

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