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3D: 100% Right and 100% Wrong at the Same Time?

By Paul Gray – Director, European TV Research, DisplaySearch

I sense that the familiar ‘hype cycle’ is beginning to turn on 3D, even as the first products are hitting the market and broadcast coverage is starting. Debates are beginning to rage on the problems and health risks of 3D, and indeed whether 3D adds anything at all to the movie experience.

Many of these problems are caused by trying to shoe-horn the wide variety of visual cues into depth perception solely by stereoscopy. It is these contradictions that are understood to cause eyestrain. However, source material that is computer-generated does not have such problems and can be pre-compensated. Do you want infinite depth of field? Fine! Fine-tune vergence and focal range? Easy!

This suggests to me that Computer Generated Image (CGI) is the way to go for a really satisfying 3D experience. I loved “Toy Story” in 3D, yet sitting in the same cinema I had eyestrain with “Avatar” after 40 minutes. Admittedly, one film also has a plot I enjoy and can bear to see repeatedly….

My suspicion therefore is that the noise from the Hollywood PR machine has distracted us from the quieter revolution in CGI movies and especially gaming. Gaming is immersive which plays to 3D’s strengths, and to me as a non-gamer the added perception from 3D has made it far easier and more natural to play. 3D driving games allow me to sense my position on the road in a natural way, for example. Furthermore, gaming is much more a solitary activity, so obstacles like glasses compatibility are much less significant.

The sheer cost of producing good quality movies in 3D will always inhibit their availability—let alone ordinary broadcast TV which works on a fraction of the budget per minute of final content. However, 3D can be built into the creation of games, since they inherently work in a virtual model of solid space. So after an initial investment, my guess is that producing 3D games would incur a significantly lower on-cost per game than movies.

Therefore, we should look more towards gaming to be the driver of 3D, and the reception of PS3 3D will be critical, along with Microsoft’s counter-move in Xbox.