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Looking Through The Telescope Lens

By Neil Schneider

I brought this example up in one of my earliest editorials at MTBS, and I think it is fitting to do this again. A play entitled "Life of Galileo". The play has earned its share of criticism for its portrayal of the Catholic church and its historical inaccuracies, so I will play it safe and describe it as "truth inspired fiction".

The play is about a time when the world believed the sun circled the earth, and in more ways than one, the religious world held this concept very dear. All was well, until an ingenious astronomer named Galileo, destroyed this belief beyond repair with the help of a telescope.

Unfortunately, even with irrefutable evidence in the palm of his hand, he faced a challenge he didn’t anticipate. Nobody wanted to look in the telescope! The concept was so dangerous, so threatening to them, that they thought it wiser to brush him off and avoid looking through the truth telling lens.

The play ends with Galileo having to recant to avoid being tortured, and his factual documents being smuggled out through the underground.

Well, stereoscopic 3D gaming has a very similar story.

When the industry was starting to heat up, a lot of questions were being asked without any firm answers. Are people willing to wear 3D glasses? What types of content do people want to buy? What are people willing to spend?

While some analysts have made best guesses, I recognized that we needed something directly linked with customers, and something that was credibly put together. So, MTBS partnered with AMD, iZ3D, Blitz Games Studios, The Game Creators, and Guild Software to survey customers and reveal our findings through the U-DECIDE Initiative. I chose these companies because I wanted to appeal to stereoscopic 3D gamers, and inexperienced 2D gamers as completely separate groups.

The publicized results were clear. 3D glasses acceptability was directly related to content type, leading objections against 3D were only being voiced by a modest number of people, and relative to movies, sports, and traditional broadcasting, S-3D gaming ruled the roost. These were just the publicized results! It’s a 75+ page document.

I won’t name names, but here are some quotes from individuals who were approached about the initiative afterward:

"Between me and you, I’m not a great believer in the report. The people (like me) that are using your website are already 3D geeks and do not represent the CE space. I will be happy to endorse it in any way that you will ask me to do it (please do it – I’m here to support it), but XXXXX will not buy it (we do not buy any reports)."

Interesting that this leading industry player visited MTBS regularly, but was not yet one of our industry supporters. I’ll give you another quote...

""

Did you get all that? Let me paraphrase...silence.

I would have understood if manufacturers were banging down my door and I quoted a ridiculous price. However, the objections happened before price even came up.

In the palm of our hand (via PDA), we had the one and only study of what customers actually think, a study that was fully endorsed and backed by some of our industry’s top names...and nearly everyone refused to look in the telescope.

Forget U-DECIDE! I’ll never forget, when I spoke at NABSHOW 2009 about S-3D gaming, all the panellists were visibly uncomfortable. One speaker accused a company I was talking about as being "shark-oil salesmen", and another panellist visualized gamers as being people who dig under their desk with wire cutters...an industry of "tumbleweeds" he said. The company referred to as shark oil salesmen is co-founded by a cinematographer for James Cameron, by the way - I don’t think the speaker realized that at the time.

When the session was over, someone from Sony approached me. With a smile he said, "Neil, these guys have no clue what’s going on. Next year at this time, it will all be 3D video games. You are 100% correct."

Let me share another example. One of our industry’s top game developers is working on an S-3D title as we speak. The best of the best. A company who years ago wouldn’t have given S-3D a second thought was now working closely with us to make S-3D gaming a success for them and our industry. It took years to earn this trust and credibility for the smallest of baby steps.

I personally reached out to countless manufacturers. Would you like to work with us? They need a sample of your TV for extended loan to ensure that the game runs well. This is our shot!

The response? Silence. Frustrating silence. Most didn’t even respond to the email. When their boss taps them on their shoulder and asks "why weren’t we in on this?", I really don’t know what answer they will come up with.

Would you like to know one of the leading reasons for manufacturers to ponder exhibiting at The 3D Gaming Summit, what many consider to be the most ground breaking conference anticipated this year? It’s not money. It’s not enthusiasm for gaming. It’s the fact that they have no content to show!

The manufacturers are all so ill prepared for S-3D gaming, there is a fear that the big name displays are only going to have Avatar: The Game or Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao available for demonstration. The good news is we have been helping a few out with this, and nothing is further from the truth about content availability. There are further participation announcements in the works too, so the conference will be very successful. However, this is a symptom of a serious problem that has gone on much too long.

By now, you are probably wondering why I’m writing this.

A study just went out recently by IGN.com showing that 90% of IGN readers see 3D as a major development in game quality. The leading concern by 51% of the respondents - yes, their leading concern - is that video game violence would be more lifelike. Forget the enhancements offered by DirectX 8, 9, 10, and 11. It’s stereoscopic 3D that actually raises the possibility of making things too lifelike.

Let me underscore this even more. In the minds of gamers, people our whole industry is just starting to realize will be S-3D’s early adopters in the home, Blu-Ray is as old school as eight track tape. By the time it hits store shelves, gamers are going to be hunting for digital downloads to their already purchased PS3, XBOX, or PC long before they drive down to Blockbusters.

Make no mistake, Blu-Ray will have success. There will be countless die hard fans who want to sleep with their copy of Avatar under their pillow, I’m sure! However, while many customers like the touch and feel of getting content in physical form, gamers think very differently - and to capture the full market, display manufacturers need to start thinking like gamers, and fast.



Let me add one more point. Sony is clearly shaping up to be one of our industry’s greatest pioneers. However, they can’t do it all. During my interview with them, when I brought up the fact that many 3D HDTVs were being released with HDMI 1.3 versus 1.4, Sony was very succinct when they stated that Sony PlayStation 3 will support HDMI 1.4 and up in stereoscopic 3D - not 1.3.

Yes, it is true that the Blu-Ray specification has a requirement for PS3 compatibility, and it is also true that the spec requires a means to detect the capabilities of the television beyond whether or not it has HDMI 1.3 or 1.4. So Blu-Ray should work whether you have HDMI 1.3 or 1.4. However, I am unaware of Blu-Ray having any jurisdiction in the S-3D gaming space, so I’m not making any bets in either direction.

That said, while some manufacturers are releasing products with HDMI 1.3 with an expectation that Blu-Ray is going to protect them, I think they need to prepare themselves for the possibility of a rude and expensive awakening. What happens if S-3D video games don’t share the same compatibility when created with Sony API?

I don’t envy Sony because I think it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect any one company to ensure industry wide format support, especially when they have their own line of 3D HDTVs to worry about.

Fortunately, there is another option. It’s within game developers’ power to natively program S-3D support outside the confines of Sony API. Similar to the way Ubisoft and Blitz Games Studios did for their titles.

So instead of repeating our mistakes, sitting on our hands, and treating gamers and the gaming industry as second class customers, we need to embrace this market as quickly as possible.

As an industry, we need to take the responsibility for this. It’s up to us to work through the game developers and ensure that they know just how diverse and how strong our market really is. Furthermore, game developer confidence in their product and content sales need to come first, and the success of our industry will shortly follow. This is the only way to ensure that all 3D HDTVs are properly supported industry-wide.

This is why I founded the non-profit and non-proprietary S-3D Gaming Alliance. Our industry needs to work from strength, and our strength is our ability to benefit the game developers and help them sell as much product as possible. This is, after all, what our customers want.


Neil Schneider, President of Meant to be Seen (left),
Habib Zargarpour, Senior Art Director, EA (center),
Nandhu Nandhakumar, Senior VP of Advanced Technologies, LG Electronics (right)


That said, there are some industry leaders who do see the full picture. LG Electronics, Real D, Sensio, NEXT3D, DDD, and iZ3D are just some examples. They get it, and so should you.

The point of all this is display manufacturers need to place a stronger focus on S-3D gaming, and to stop trying to ignore and downlplay it. The industry is dependent on S-3D gamers more than they realize, and its time they took steps to be prepared.

Share your thoughts in our discussion forums.