Interest in 3D displays has increased drastically over the past few months. These displays range from small screens such as the Nintendo 3DS to the huge Panasonic’s TH-152UX1 152” 3D Plasma display. Most of these require that the viewer wears glasses which are either eclipsing shutter or polarised glasses. However, some screens such as the 3DS’ auto-stereoscopic screen does not require the viewer to wear glasses.
The lack of 3D content available to the public made owning a 3D TV seem rather pointless as there was not really anything to watch on it. 3D content is fortunately become increasingly available as a number of 3D channels are being launched, such as EPSN 3D (Launched with the start of the FIFA World Cup) and also with more 3D Blu-Ray movies becoming available. For the rest of us, we will have to rely on cinemas for our 3D fix or 3D games with a little help from NVIDIA.
As part of my research I purchased an Asus G51J-3D laptop, which comes standard with a NVIDA 3D Vision capable display and a pair of 3D glasses. The system works by refreshing the display at 120Hz and use eclipsing shutter glasses. These glasses alternately turn the left and right lens opaque so that only the one eye sees the image being displayed on the screen. After the usual unpacking and installing rituals were completed, I watched the short 3D movie that came preinstalled. So with the 3D movies working it was time to try the games.
The first game I tested was Mirror’s Edge. After playing for a few headache-inducing minutes, I decided to take a break. The first impression was less than perfect, because of a doubling crosshair and struggling to focus properly. After a taking a break, talking to our local 3D expert (Estiaan) and changing a couple of settings, I tried it again and this time it went much better. One area in which the 3D really helps is with judging distance when making jumps.
Over the next couple of weeks I tried a number of different games with varying levels of success. Two games that really stood out from the rest were Batman: Arkham Asylum (Note: You don’t need the GOTY edition) and Avatar: The game. Both of these games use 3D to great effect to add to the sense of immersion. See the cross-eye screenshots below to get an idea, but these games must really be seen in action to appreciate the effect. If you are wondering if your favourite games will work in 3D, go and have a look at: http://www.nvidia.com/object/3d-vision-3d-games.html.
So what have I learned from these few weeks of 3D gaming?
- Firstly, 3D gaming is an amazing experience when done right and really adds to the immersiveness of the game.
- The improved depth perception can help in games where judging distance is important, such as games requiring accurate jumping or when judging the distance to the apex of the corner is imporant.
- The technology is backwards compatible, so even some older (DirectX) games can be played in 3D.
- It takes a bit of getting used to since you need to learn to decouple the human eye’s convergence and accommodation reflexes.
- The display can cause eye strain especially when your eyes are tired.
- Not all games work perfectly and some are best played without 3D.
- Shortcuts taken in graphics rendering can sometimes become errors when viewed in 3D. One example of a shortcut error can be seen in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 where shadows appear to hover above the models due to the rendering method used.
- The system needs glasses, so the number of viewers is limited by the pairs of glasses that are available. A slight ghosting effect can sometimes be seen when two high contrast objects are displayed next to each other.
- 2D crosshairs and 2D objects do not always display correctly.
Things to keep in mind when designing 3D content
- The screen bezel interferes with the 3D effect near the edge of the screen, so main content needs to be placed away from the screen edge, and objects near the bezel are best placed at screen depth.
- A bigger screen will create a greater sense of immersion as it covers a larger area of peripheral vision.
- It is easier to focus on objects deeper than the screen depth than objects in front of the screen.
- Care needs to be taken to ensure the correct depth of effects when using shortcuts to create complex effects quickly and efficiently.
- The user’s overall view of the scene is slightly less clear in 3D due to stereoscopic focusing. To counteract this, interest points must be made easy to spot and recognize.
So is 3D worth it? Definitely, but maybe not just yet for two reasons. Firstly, there is not much content available yet when you don’t count games, but more content is likely to become available soon. Secondly, there is still a lot of development required in the technology of 3D displays. Although most current systems need glasses, we are likely to see display technologies that do not need glasses available in the trade soon. One of these technologies is a system by Microsoft’s Applied Sciences Group. The system uses face recognition to track users and then uses a steerable lens to implement a system similar the parallax barrier screen. For more information go and a have a look at: http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/25524/page1/.
So if you really want to purchase a 3D display, this may be a good time since the technology is starting to reach maturity. However, waiting a while for glasses-less displays may be a good idea since you won’t have to reinvest in one of these displays when they become available and also most issues regarding content should be sorted out by then.