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20/20 Foresight – The 3D Glasses Myth

By July 4, 2008Editorial has an interview with Chris Satchell, XNA’s general manager. He says the following:

“This is a very interesting area of graphics technology. We have done experiments with this at Microsoft and the results are extremely interesting. However, the current systems that work well require wearing active shutter glasses and I think it is hard to be mainstream with asking people to wear headgear to play games,” he said.

To be more precise, and extrapolating from his remarks about LCD shutter glasses, Chris Satchell is talking about stereoscopic 3D solutions based on DLP HDTV – most likely for the console market.

In reference to his suggestion that LCD shutter glasses are a detriment to mass appeal, I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there are convenience benefits to having an auto-stereoscopic 3D solution that is glasses free on condition that gamers aren’t required to sit in fixed positions and the resolution isn’t seriously hampered. However, I have yet to see measurable data that suggests that the eyewear undermines the technology’s popularity.

Yes, people make fun of the glasses. My wife was less than approving when I wore my first pair of LCD shutter glasses. “Please don’t wear those around my family and friends,” she’d say.

However, modern solutions are more fashionable. Kerner Optical is marketing a line of stylized polarized glasses, iZ3D LLC has a wide selection to choose from, and LCD shutter glasses are taking on a new look as well. Notwithstanding, I think this is more about market positioning than answering a serious concern brought forward by consumers considering whether or not to take the 3D leap.

The measurable data we do have comes from stereoscopic 3D cinema. Glasses-bound S-3D movies consistently make two to three times the revenue of 2D showings, and this holds true for all three power houses including Real D, Dolby 3D, and IMAX 3D. Predating modern 3D movies are amusement park rides – again, glasses are not an issue.

Suggesting that eyewear is going to hold back consumer S-3D gaming is like saying people won’t go to the beach if they have to wear sunglasses or people won’t go to the movies if it means holding their own popcorn. If the benefit far out-weights the inconvenience, consumers will do it (they ARE doing it!).

No. The real challenges facing stereoscopic 3D gaming includes the following:

First, there needs to be equal compatibility among all games and all modern S-3D hardware solutions. This means writing and releasing games with a stereoscopic 3D mindset so titles work equally well in both 2D and 3D.

Second, there needs to be enough processing power in the console markets to meet the needs of stereoscopic 3D technology. It could take up to 50% more processing power to handle stereoscopic 3D games with the highest settings, and it remains to be seen if consoles have what it takes to do the job right. Until this is accomplished, S-3D’s focus will be the hardcore PC gaming market. It makes sense too because these are the gamers who are seeking the highest levels of game immersion and visual beauty.

Third, there has to be a willingness for the S-3D manufacturers to work cooperatively with each other, the game developers, and their customer based community to drive the technology forward. We have seen our share of closed door relationships building in the industry, and while there is a short term gain by doing this, it’s a long term loss because all the potential leverage of working cooperatively is lost.

Fourth, the rules need to be updated and rewritten by anti-cheat programs like PunkBuster. Many stereoscopic software solutions are falsely declared as cheats or hacks because they interact with DirectX and OpenGL in a manner that is different from traditional 2D gaming. These issues are easy to solve with a little willingness to work together.

To Chris’ credit, he acknowledged the work that Ubisoft and other game developers are doing for stereoscopic 3D. “I love that some developers are experimenting along this path. It is a great way to move industry technology forward,” he said. Yes! There are two strong messages here:

First, this is the direction the industry is headed – this we all know. The second message is even more important. Microsoft’s participation is not a requirement to make stereoscopic 3D gaming a success. It’s a benefit, but not a requirement. In this case, his remarks left me feeling very hopeful and excited for S-3D’s gaming future.

In summary, this is the 20/20 foresight we need to acknowledge to accelerate stereoscopic 3D gaming’s success, and if we have to wear a pair of glasses to see it, no complaints here!

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