In an interview for the BBC Microsoft’s corporate vice-president for Skype, Mark Gillett mentions something very interesting, namely that the company has been working on a technology for providing stereoscopic 3D video calls for a while now, however such feature may take quite some time before we see it released to the public (if at all).
“We have it in the lab, we know how to make it work and we’re looking at the ecosystem of devices and their capability to support it in order to make a decision when we might think about bringing something like that to market.”
The actual problem in realizing 3D video calls over Skype is not the part where you need to display the stereoscopic 3D data on the screen, but in capturing it in a 3D format. There are already quite a lot of 3D-capable computer displays, a lot of 3D HDTvs, even a few smartphones and tablets, so many people already could be able to see a 3D video chat if there is a means to capture it in 3D on the other side. Unfortunately there are just a few 3D-capable webcams out there (Minoru 3D for example), and only some devices with built-in stereoscopic 3D cameras (Lenovo L2363dwA 3D Vision monitor for example) available that could capture 3D video to send over Skype. There are however no 3D HDTVs equipped with a stereo 3D camera and generally we are just now getting webcameras integrated or available as an option for start TV sets and these are all standard 2D cameras. As for smartphones with 3D capabilities, there are just a few such as the LG Optimus 3D smartphone – equipped with an autostereoscopic 3D display and dual cameras, however the stereo 3D camera is on the back of the phone, so not very convenient for use for a video call.
Apparently Microsoft is well aware of the current hardware limitations, especially regarding the 3D video capture, and they are not in a hurry to bring a new feature that will provide an option to have 3D video calls while the 3D video capture hardware is not yet available on the market. Unlike some other companies Microsoft is rarely seen as a technology leader that will push new technologies such as 3D video calls ahead of time and thus create the demand and the market not only for the service, but for compatible products as well. Instead they are more conservative in their approach and will most likely wait for the technology to be ready and widely available before making Skype able to be used for 3D video calls. What is not taken into account here is that meanwhile some competitor may actually take the lead or a new company may come out and present a whole ecosystem for 3D video calls especially on the mobile devices side where things are happening very fast nowadays.
We should also consider that one of the main problems preventing the stereoscopic 3D technology to really boom is still the general lack of good content. Without enough good 3D content it is hard to convince anyone to buy a 3D-capable computer, 3D HDTV, 3D smartphone or a 3D tablet, and making good 3D content for such devices requires quite a lot of money to be invested. Furthermore the current not so good economic situation worldwide and the fact that the recent boom in stereoscopic 3D technology coincided with the financial crisis of 2007–2008 did not do any good. Yet again there are visionaries like James Cameron who believe in 3D’s future and are able not only to pioneer 3D technology, but also make big profits out of the good work they are doing. So it is possible to be done, though you may have to risk more than you are willing to at this moment and in the end you may still either succeed or fail.
In the end if you are excited about the possibility to have 3D video calls over Skype soon, then you should not get your hopes too high, this is something that may or may not happen, but if it does it will probably take a few more years. What sounds more reasonable is to see Skype celebrating its 15th birthday with the addition of 3D video calls and they are just at their 10th year at the moment, then again in five years Skype may not exist or they may not present 3D video calls at all.
– To read the full interview with Mark Gillett about 3D Video calls and not only over at BBC…
Lately there are more and more articles regarding the not so bright future of stereoscopic 3D technology for gaming that center around what Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata said about 3D not going to be a primary feature for Nintendo’s consoles anymore. But drawing a conclusion that stereoscopic 3D gaming is dying and now that the initial boom and big interest is over the interest in 3D technology will quickly wear off is totally wrong. And such one sided articles that don’t look trough the side of the normal gamer or consumer, coming from serious and well respected publications are frankly a disappointment (come on, at least try all aspects of 3D personally before saying it is a bad and stupid thing, draw conclusions from your own experience). With that said Nintendo is not going to drop the stereoscopic 3D support, they even have a stereoscopic 3D-capable game console – the Nintendo 3DS (XL). If you ask me however Nintendo’s problem starts with their approach to stereoscopic 3D support from the beginning and they have probably realized that now and want to make things the proper way, if it is not too late. As a product the Nintendo 3DS was a nice thing, but with a bit outdated features when it was released – small 3D screens, not very powerful for more realistic graphics, even the 3D camera was with pretty low resolution. Not to mention that there weren’t a lot of interesting game titles supporting stereoscopic 3D mode and some of the extra 3D features that you’d expect from a device like the Nintendo 3DS weren’t implemented at first, but were added via updates later on. This clearly shows that Nintendo was not ready with the 3DS when they’ve released it and that they did not have a very clear idea what they were doing, they probably saw the boom of interest in 3D as something that is going to bring back gamers to Nintendo.
A year later Nintendo has finally realized some of the problems they’ve had with the 3DS, so they have released a slightly bigger Nintendo 3DS XL console, but it essentially address only the smaller screen size and all the drawbacks of the 3DS. But for the sake of retaining full compatibility Nintendo couldn’t just go and upgrade other hardware inside the new XL console, so it is still outdated, even though it is offering stereoscopic 3D support with no glasses required. Another thing that Nintendo apparently did not think over initially is the target audience for the Nintendo 3DS console, clearly a lot of it is small kids and there are still a lot of concerns about the use of stereo 3D by young children. Hopefully by now Nintendo has also realized based on experience that 3D should not be there in games just to briefly wow you and then to constantly annoy you with with things in a game intentionally made to look “impressive” in stereoscopic 3D mode. Instead the 3D in games should be used as a tool to better tell the story of the game or make the experience seem more realistic, this is something that 3D movie makers have learned already and successful 3D movies show this is the right way to do things. So Nintendo should not blame the 3D as the reason that their product was not as successful as they probably expected, but instead should look for the reasons why it was not and try to make it right the next time from the beginning.
Next up is Sony and their PlayStation 3 console that has been updated to support stereoscopic 3D games and Blu-ray 3D movie playback, definitely a nice addition to bring back the console up to date with new trends some time after the hype around it has been totally gone since its initial release. The truth however is that PlayStation 3 is also a bit outdated in terms of hardware in order to compete with up to date PC graphics, especially if you add stereoscopic 3D rendering on top of a game. And a lot of gamers would prefer to have better 2D graphics in a game than to sacrifice some of the quality and get it rendered in stereoscopic 3D mode. Furthermore, in regards with the not so powerful hardware in the PS3, Sony has not developed a solution to allow older games to be converted in stereoscopic 3D mode – it would probably be too taxing for the console and even more graphics details should’ve been sacrificed to make things work, not to mention that there would’ve been some issues in games not being rendered in stereoscopic 3D mode properly. So Sony decided to start right from the beginning with new game titles optimized to support the new stereoscopic 3D mode, not so bad choice with regards to the things mentioned above, and the right way to offer proper stereoscopic 3D experience for the gamers even though sometimes compromises have to be made. The problem with that decision lies in the initial lack of content and having just one or two hit titles supporting stereo 3D did not help that much either. So the PS3 was initially more of a Blu-ray 3D player, though initially the number of movies available on BD 3D media also was somewhat lacing and even now it is still not that big, but at least it is constantly increasing. Sony however knew about these things, and most of all that it will take some time, because for Sony 3D support is not just about the PlayStation 3 console, the company is working on a whole ecosystem of 3D-capable products – 3D HDTVs, 3D projectors, 3D cameras and camcorders etc. And we should not forget the fact that even before adding stereoscopic 3D support the PS3 was already a successful product, so the 3D support here is just an extra to bring back user interest and increase the life of the product some more before the next generation becomes available.
Moving up to the third major player in the console gaming – Microsoft and their Xbox 360 game console. Microsoft was on the catching up side of things, though they followed a similar approach to Sony with the PS3. Initially Microsoft was not interested at all in adding stereoscopic 3D support to the Xbox 360, but that did not stop some game developers to experiment and add stereo 3D support using anaglyph or Side by Side and Over-Under output modes in their games. A bit later on Microsoft has finally added official support for stereoscopic 3D output for their console, but still the company did not focus that much on stereo 3D support in order to help game developers make more games that support the new feature. Stereoscopic 3D support was there, so that just Microsoft could say: “yes, we also support stereo 3D on our console like the competition”. The number of games supporting stereoscopic 3D mode on the Xbox is much less than on the PS3, and there is also the added confusion among customers between the support for the old non official stereo 3D rendering outputs and the new official one making it even harder for gamers that are not so knowledgeable in stereo 3D to make the decision to get a 3D display and try the feature on the Xbox 360. Microsoft however is not complaining, as stereo 3D support was never a key feature for them, as I’ve said they probably just wanted to be able to say “we support that as well, so the competition has no advantage over out our product”. But we need not forget that Microsoft is more of a software company than a hardware one and their focus is still mostly on the computers than on mobile devices and gaming consoles, though these are markets that they are actively developing as they still play the role of catching up to the competition, unlike with PCs where you can say they are the market leader and they set the trends. Just a reminder that one of the features that the new Windows 8 is going to have is native stereoscopic 3D support for output on compatible 3D display hardware.
Now, moving to PCs. Here we have two major players – AMD (ATI) and Nvidia, with both companies stereoscopic 3D mode for professional applications for quite a while along with different level of consumer level stereoscopic 3D support. Nvidia has been supporting stereoscopic 3D for years already dating back to CRT displays, however when the switch to LCD monitors happened the company has stopped developing their more generic stereoscopic 3D driver and has later on returned with a “new version” of the driver with the 3D Vision technology launch, focusing a lot more on stereo 3D support than before. AMD (ATI) has been working with middle-ware partners such as iZ3D and DDD for quite a while not having that much direct involvement, but lately they have become more active and have introduced their HD3D technology. The problem with the solutions offered by both companies is that they have strict hardware requirements and will not work on just about any 3D display that you can pick up. And while the iZ3D Driver and DDD’s TriDef 3D solutions provide more generic support for different stereoscopic 3D viewing methods, Nvidia’s 3D Vision is more closed and limited in terms of supported modes. The lack of common standard here and interoperability between the two solutions with different hardware is what is essentially confusing the users and if they decide to try and build a 3D setup and don’t get all the requirements correctly they often end up giving up on stereo 3D for a while. Both AMD and Nvidia do support 3D HDTVs through their solutions, meaning that it is easier to use a certain model of a 3D HDTV with each of the stereoscopic 3D solutions, however PC gamers generally prefer to go for 120Hz 3D LCD displays that can provide 1080p 3D mode with 60Hz per eye as well as 120HZ refresh rate when playing in non-stereoscopic 3D mode. The good thing is that both solutions work well with older games as well as with newer titles, converting them into stereoscopic 3D mode in real-time, though some games may have various issues as they have not been optimized to be used in stereoscopic 3D mode when being developed. Intel has also joined with promoting stereoscopic 3D support on their integrated graphics solutions, but not for gaming of course, instead it is for photo and movie playback in stereoscopic 3D mode, though only their more recent and higher-end processors with integrated graphics only meet the requirements for that.
Another thing that is more recently also getting a momentum in stereoscopic 3D support on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets with the reason behind that being the fact that the processing power of these devices has greatly increased and allows them to also provide good stereoscopic 3D experience even in games. The situation with the 3D-capable mobile devices is pretty much the same as with other solutions, what is delaying their faster adoption is mostly the lack of good stereoscopic 3D content to use on them.
So what is clearly still an issue ahead of all stereoscopic 3D gaming solutions – on consoles or on PC, is the lack of enough good content – stereoscopic 3D movies and stereoscopic 3D games. You need to have a big choice of quality 3D content, no matter if it is games or movies. So now that all of these companies are having the hardware, though it may not be perfect or easy to use for beginners (another issue), they should start focusing on making good 3D content for it. Without good content to play on your stereoscopic 3D hardware you’d quickly conclude that it is pointless and stupid thing, especially considering the price you need to play to get things working, with the most affordable solution being the Nintendo 3DS, though far from being the best one. So what is the conclusion of all this, instead of blaming the 3D technology for not being good enough, widely accessible, or easy to be used, all of the above companies should be pushing more not only to improve in these areas, but mostly to provide more and I stress on MORE good 3D content for their products. It is simple as that, focus more on 3D content and not on 3D technology, and it seems that things are still being done the other way around.