The mobile devices markets are booming as more and more people are switching to smartphones and start using tablets in their everyday life, but what has happened with 3D smartphones and 3D tablets? If the mobile devices market is growing a lot constantly and quite fast why we are not also seeing new mobile devices with stereoscopic 3D capabilities. A good question indeed, it is not that some companies haven’t tried introducing 3D-capable mobile devices, it was probably a bit early for them in terms of technological capabilities, but that does not mean we should not be getting new products available as the technology advances. So why it is not happening when we are seeing announcements of newer and faster mobile processors and mobile graphics with more and more cores, higher resolution displays and better cameras all the time?
In 2011 LG introduced their first 3D-capable smartphone LG Optimus 3D P920 (also known as LG Thrill 4G in some markets) and HTC did a similar thing with their HTC EVO 3D smartphone with both devices featuring autostereoscopic 3D displays (glasses-free), dual cameras for 3D photo and video capture and 3D output over HDMI to an external 3D-capable display. LG even introduced at a bit later time a software to render normal non-stereo 3D Android-based games into stereoscopic 3D ones (apparently powered by DDD’s TriDef 3D software for mobile devices). The next year LG announced another 3D-capable smartphone called c P720 as a successor for the Optimus 3D device, though it was not that much improved over the older model and after that they stopped with 3D support. These three smartphones are pretty much the only globally available mobile devices of this type with stereoscopic 3D capabilities, though there are some other 3D-capable smartphones being released only in certain countries such as Japan, South Korea, China or India.
On the 3D tablet market there is pretty much only one name – Gadmei, a Chinese company that became very popular thanks to their affordable 3D tablet with an autostereoscopic 3D display in 2011 and 2012. Being one of the first and offering affordable device it has quickly become widespread, and now there are even a few very similar models available with 3D capabilities from Gadmei. Not to mention that the company has also made OEM versions with different brand names. The problem with these devices is that their glasses-free 3D displays are not that good offering limited number of viewing points and the resolution of the displays isn’t that high especially for 3D use. Furthermore no 3D cameras and ability to play games in stereoscopic 3D mode, so they were mostly good for previewing 3D photos or watching 3D movies. This year the NEO3D tablet became a reality after a successful crowdfunding campaign, though this is essentially rebranded Gadmei 3D tablet that comes with a few extras intended for the American market even though they ship it worldwide. And while the NEO3D tablet is more appealing for the North American customers due to the local warranty and support along with some extras such as TriDef 3D mobile application for transforming Android games in stereo 3D mode the overall 3D experience is pretty much the same. In 2011 LG also tried to go on the 3D tablet market, but with a half finished product and by half finished I mean a device that had for example a dual cameras for 3D capture, but was not equipped with an autostereoscopic 3D-capable display and instead supported anaglyph 3D mode so you had to use red-cyan 3D glasses. And the worst thing you could do with a 3D capable smartphone or tablet is to want the user to use 3D glasses in order to be able take advantage of the 3D capabilities of his device. Another interesting thing in terms of 3D support on tablets is what Nvidia did with the release of their Tegra 3 chipset – porting their 3D Vision technology to tablets powered by Tegra 3 and thus alowing some games to be rendered in stereoscopic 3D mode. The catch here was that there was no tablets with Tegra 3 released with an autostereoscopic 3D display, but you could connect the tablet to a 3D-capable 3D HDTV or a 3D monitor with HDMI 1.4 3D support and play the game on the larger display in 3D. Unfortunately not all Tagra 3 powered tablets supported that feature and other devices such the Ouya game console or the Wikipad gaming tablet (powered by Tegra 3) did not come with 3D support as well. And with the announcement of the newer Tegra 4 that mostly improves the graphical performance over the previous generation Nvidia hasn’t even talked about stereo 3D support and the first devices such as the Project SHIELD or the first Tegra 4-powered tablets are apparently not going to even support external stereo 3D output. And in the last year or so not only the stereo 3D supporting games for Android ad Tegra did not increase, but actually they have decreased to 14 from 16 according to Nvidia’s Tegra Zone website.
So what do we need to have a successful 3D-capable tablet or a smartphone? First a good autostereoscopic 3D display that will allow the user not to loose the 3D effect while moving the tablet like for example when playing a game that uses motion of the device to be controlled. Of course the glasses-free 3D display has to come with higher resolution and pixel density in order for the image in 3D to look good enough even with the reduced resolution in stereo 3D mode. Furthermore the 3D display should be useable in stereo 3D mode inn both portrait and landscape mode and not be limited to just landscape orientation because of the parallax barrier used to achieve the 3D effect. Well, you can say that we have pretty much covered all of these already which reminds me for example of MasterImage 3D’s Cell-Matrix Parallax Barrier technology that looked great when it was announced and though already quite some time has passed it still is nowhere to be found. Or at least almost nowhere to be found with just one 3D-capable smartphone using it that got released only on the market in India earlier this year – the Micromax Canvas 3D A115 smartphone with 5.0-inch display with just 480×800 resolution and that is far from great for stereoscopic 3D use if you ask me.
Looking around for new and interesting mobile devices that are supposed to be available this year on the market one device caught my attention – the Hampoo 3D tablet that is supposed to be on the market by the end of this year. Hampoo is another Chinese manufacturer that is making a 10.1-inch tablet with 1920×1200 resolution autostereoscopic 3D display and more up to date specifications compared to the hardware you can find in the Gadmei 3D tablets. Apparently the company is already shipping volume orders of their Hampoo 3D tablet, but I’m still unable to find the device anywhere available for sale to end users. In the end the things on the mobile 3D-capable devices market seem even worse that what is currently happening on the PC market in terms of solutions for stereoscopic 3D including, but not limited to gaming. And the 3D content available for mobile 3D-capable devices is even more problematic than that available for 3D-capable computers, and that is just another problem ahead of the 3D-capable smartphones and 3D tablets. Unlike with computers, where you can do with a 3D display that requires the viewer to wear glasses in order to be able to see the 3D effect, with mobile devices that is not an option so an autostereoscopic 3D display ad a good one at that is a must have feature. And while the glasses-free 3D displays need some improvement and thus the technology sill needs to catch up, we are also seeing a lot of alternatives in the form of various adapters that will turn your non-3D smartphone into a 3D-capable device. Most recent and interesting of which are the EyeFly 3D and the vrAse, both of which are looking very promising and you might want to keep an eye on and try them if able to and have a compatible device. Have in mind that vrAse is still not released and is still an ongoing project on Kickstarter even though their goal for funding has been reached already, you can still support the project and get a unit earlier.
When talking about 3D-capable mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, and even if we include ultraportable laptops as well there are actually still not many products on the market. The problem is that people kind of expect to get glasses free 3D display on those devices and that is still a bit of a problem to achieve in both technological way if you want to provide a really good experience as well as to make them affordable, resulting in an end user price not much higher than what the same device with a 2D-capable display would cost. And while autostereoscopic 3D technology still has some way to go it is already starting to get quite good and affordable for smaller size displays such as the ones found on mobile devices, so this year we finally may see more products and increased interest in smartphones and tablets with not only 3D-capabilities, but also with glasses free displays. Meanwhile however the most popular way to get 3D support on your smartphone or a tablet is to get a piece of 3D film that will make your 2D display capable of showing 3D images without you having to wear any kind of 3D glasses. With mobile devices getting higher and higher resolution displays with more pixels per inch their screens it is not much of a problem to have the resolution halved when displaying stereoscopic 3D images on them. There are already a lot of such products available on the market, most of which are targeted for iPhone and iPad users, but some also cover other mobile devices as well. There however are some drawbacks with most of these 3D film solutions, relying on either parallax barrier or lenticular principle of work. Things like reducing the brightness, being hard to apply, bringing uncomfortable feeling when used or too thick to properly relay touch controls, problems with useability in 2D mode, working in only one orientations and others are some of the factors that are contributing to the not so fast adoptions even though the potential market is really huge.
There is a new company on the horizon called Nanoveu that promises to soon deliver a product based on nano technology that is supposed to change the generally not so good impression about 3D film-based products intended to make your mobile device with 2D display into a 3D-capable one. What Nanoveu promises is a solution that addresses all of the issues that most other similar products currently have and thus providing a really enjoyable experience when viewing 3D content such as photos, movies or even games. Nanoveu’s 3D film is supposed to be very thin (0.1mm) and flexible and be able to also act as a screen protector for the device it is applied on, be very lightweight and low cost to make and with a more affordable end-user price, easy to be applied and to be removed, and not needing power source to function. Furthermore you apply the Nanoveu 3D film you should be able to use your device for viewing 3D content in both Portrait and Landscape orientation, and you should be able to use your device in 2D mode without having to remove the 3D filter. These two things are among the most annoying limitations that pretty much all other solutions on the market have and normally users don’t like to have a lot of limitations, they just want to be able to use their mobile device in 3D mode as easy as it works in 2D mode. Furthermore we get a promise for no visual brightness loss with the filter applied, smoother feeling and no problems whatsoever when using the touch functionality of the display. So far it all sounds really promising and Nanoveu expects to be able to start shipping their NanoFlez 3D film on 2nd of April with pre-orders for it currently going on the company’s website.
One more important thing regarding the NanoFlez 3D film from Nanoveu that you should be well aware of, the autostereoscopic 3D functionality that the product will be introducing would also require a special software that will have the image displayed in as special format that the 3D film will be able to show in 3D. This means that in order to see a 3D photo or watch a 3D movie you’d need to download this software and play the 3D content over it, currently there is not much information about the software available and I could not find anything published on the AppStore, though there is time and it will probably be released closer to the time when the products start shipping. Nanoveu also mentions the ability to play games in stereo 3D using their 3D film, this would either mean a software able to convert normal games into stereo 3D ones (not likely) or the more likely solution would be to have the game developers start to add stereo 3D output support for the NanoFlez 3D film. Either way you should think about 3D photo and 3D movies for now with stereoscopic 3D gaming as something that you might get at some point as well. The fact that the 3D film is going to be made available not only for iOS devices, but also for Android based ones as well as Max OSX would mean that there should be versions of the supporting software made available for the various platforms as well and in reality this can slow down the release of the Android and OSX products more than the time that is needed for the development and production of the actual products. In the end it is also very important what the end-users will think about the product and if they will like it or not, Nanoveu has already generated a lot of interest before delivering the actual product, so let us see what will happen when it starts shipping. The company has been demonstrating their product on this year’s CES and Neil Schneider from MTBS has managed to get a short interview with the company’s Founder and CEO Alfred Chong there, you can watch the video interview embedded above.
Initially Nanoveu is going to be offering the NanoFlez 3D film for iPhone 5 and iPod Touch 5 owners only, and if you pre-order it before March 15th you can get free shipping. The price of the NanoFlez 3D film for iPhone 5 or iPod Touch 5 is $29.95 USD and is sounds very reasonable if the product is able to really deliver what the company promises. Nanoveu also has plans for offering their 3D film for other devices such as the iPad 3/iPad 4, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, HTC DNA/Butterfly as well as even for the Macbook Pro with Retina Display systems as well as others. As I’m still a user of an iPhone 4S I’m currently more interested in the upcoming iPad version of the product, but if Nanoveu’s 3D film really delivers what they are promising I could as well finally find a reason to upgrade to an iPhone 5. Nevertheless I’ll keep an eye on how things are progressing with Nanoveu as they have developed a very promising technology with a lot of potential that can really drive the adoption of 3D solutions among mobile device users.
After promoting for so long the Wikipad tablet as the first gaming tablet to come with autostereoscopic 3D display built-in and a physical game controller that attaches to the tablet, now there is information coming directly form Wikipad in an interview with them that the initial models will not feature stereo 3D support. Furthermore the 3D display may be available in future models, but that is not sure yet, it is certain however that the first Wikipad powered by Tegra 3 should be released sometime later this year.
With this turn of events the company behind the Wikipad could just instead go for making their physical game controller that attaches to the tablet an accessory for other popular tablets as the Wikipad tablet itself is apparently not going to be anything special in terms of specifications compared to what other manufacturers of tablets are already offering. I don’t know about you, but I’m really disappointed from this turn of events and am not waiting with interest the release of the Wikipad anymore, transferring the high expectations for the OUYA…
Now, why did Wikipad decide to ditch the 3D display for now is not yet clear. But we can easily speculate that it may be due to the fact that the Tegra 3 does not have native support for driving autostereoscopic 3D displays and the cost of a good 3D display along with the implementation could make the tablet too expensive at the moment. As for the stereoscopic 3D support for games, the Tegra 3 platform is already ready for that, though there are still a very limited number of games optimized for it that support stereoscopic 3D mode. The lack of enough 3D-ready content could be another reason for dropping the stereo 3D support on the platform for now and last, but not least they could have gotten scared by the information in the media that the 3D is loosing popularity. Either way I’m sure that there are a lot of people disappointed by the fact that the Wikipad isn’t going to be the first stereoscopic 3D-capable gaming tablet on the market.