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The truth about 3D: Is it really ready?

We look at why the technology may not be as advanced as manufacturers claim

This year vendors are pushing expensive 3D displays, but the technology may not be as ready as they claim. We look at what's available and who needs it.

Gaming

3D movies and TV may be an iffy bet, but there's another kind of entertainment that may not only generate more enthusiasm for 3D but be truly suited to it: video games.

There are several reasons 3D and gaming are a good fit. The gaming audience is generally receptive to new technology (and typically has the disposable income for it), current-generation consoles and systems can generally support 3D games and displays with only a firmware upgrade, and games are the kind of experience where 3D adds something truly useful.

Previous stabs at 3D gaming, such as 1995's Nintendo Virtual Boy, were clunky because they depended on technology that didn't work anywhere else. The newest gaming systems use the same 3D system as the TV itself and can piggyback on that technology, just as they did with HD.

As with movies, not every game benefits from being 3D, but those that do benefit quite a lot. Late last year, at Microsoft's Windows 7 launch in New York, I tried out the PC edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum using an active-shutter 3D system on a Samsung 120-Hz plasma TV. The 3D effect was satisfying, if a little dim, and any flickering from the shutters on the glasses was imperceptible.

3D without glasses

One way 3D could make major inroads against 2D is via a display technology that doesn't require glasses. Science fiction has entertained concepts like this for decades - a holographic image projected into the air, or displayed inside a cube or sphere. Such systems are still a long way off (although a company named SeeReal is working on a holographic 3D system), but a number of companies are working on 3D displays that use existing technologies in creative ways.

Most people reading this have seen a form of 3D called lenticular 3D, which uses a sheet of plastic lined with vertical grooves as a kind of lens to create a 3D effect in postcards and public ads. A few companies are working on displays that use variations of this technology. An outfit called CubicVue sells a lenticular filter that is designed to fit over an existing display; the company also says its technology can be embedded in displays, which I imagine would give better results.

Display manufacturers aren't the only ones interested in 3D sans glasses. Video game titan Nintendo's forthcoming handheld 3DS console is said to sport not only a 3D display but possibly two cameras as well for player motion-tracking.

NEXT PAGE: Conclusions

  1. Introduction
  2. The history of 3D
  3. A new technology emerges
  4. 3D: Who needs it?
  5. Gaming
  6. Conclusions

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