If you are already a gamer playing in stereoscopic 3D mode or are at least following what has been happening with stereo 3D you have probably noticed that lately stereo 3D gaming is being left aside and both AMD and Nvidia are focusing on 4K gaming as the next big thing in gaming. The question here is if 4K gaming will become the norm in a few years or it will have fate that stereo 3D gaming does currently have – not supported and left to the community hoping that it will keep it alive. Nvidia has done great by reviving its old stereoscopic 3D drivers and pushing both hardware manufacturers and gamers to go and try stereoscopic 3D gaming a few years ago and thus creating the big market for stereoscopic 3D gaming itself. Of course there were also other solutions already available at that time, but they did not have the needed resources and the interest in general in stereo 3D was not that strong back then. AMD on the other hand also supported kind of stereoscopic 3D, but it was “outsourced” to partners such as iZ3D and DDD, because the company never did have very strong interest in stereoscopic 3D gaming. With the boom of the interest in stereo 3D after Cameron’s movie Avatar and because Nvidia already had strong positions in the stereoscopic 3D gaming market that it has helped create, AMD had to do something more and the HD3D technology has been introduced. The problem is that AMD did not try to push game developers to support this technology (this often happens with the innovative technologies they announce) and while Nvidia has done a better job at first, lately they give the impression as they are not considering their 3D Vision technology as something they need to push anymore. So at the moment only DDD are actively developing their TriDef 3D solution and are pursuing not only stereo 3D on the PC, but also on other markets such as mobile devices and they are even offering a beta support for the Oculus Rift.
Meanwhile what happened to the market is that people yet again got interested in VR technology and gaming in VR environments mostly thanks to the Oculus Rift project and the really good feedback it got not only by consumers, but by developers as well. And just like stereoscopic 3D the Head Mounted Displays are nothing really new, they are just something that got revived yet again thanks to the recent huge boom in technology for mobile devices that allows you to pack good enough hardware in a small package and most importantly at an affordable price. The revival in the interest in VR gaming has also helped the development of various non-traditional controllers, but while the hardware is here or will soon be available the biggest issue that remains is the availability of software that will support it. With the Oculus Rift things are already moving quite well and with the introduction of the consumer version of the device in 2014 it could really be the next big thing in gaming and not 4K. Even the lower resolution development kits of the Rift have demonstrated that the resolution is not the most important thing for gaming, though it helps, it should not only be all about the resolution. The experience you are getting while gaming is way more important than to have some more pixels and that goes not only when talking about the hardware you are using, but also for the games you are going to be playing.
Let’s get back to 4K gaming and see what is happening there and why. Hardware companies already started promoting the new technology supporting 4K as 1080p or Full HD has apparently gotten old and widely adopted, so the industry needs to provide something new. Obviously increasing the resolution of a display is a good choice as you will need more powerful hardware that is capable of supporting the higher resolution, and before the technology starts to become widely adopted the prices will be high and the profit will be good. Both AMD and Nvidia will want you to buy not just one high-end video card, but two or even three in order to be able to play in 4K resolution at maximum detail levels in the latest games. And it is not only the video card, you will also need a high-end CPU, more memory, faster disk drives etc. so this will be driving the hardware market forward obviously. At the moment however not that many people are readily giving 3-4K USD for a PC and then again that much for a 4K display like the Asus PQ321QE (there are not that many options available yet) just to be able to got higher resolution.
The truth is that you can get much more realism and fun while gaming with either VR or stereo 3D and that can happen at a fraction of a cost that 4K would require at this point, so undoubtedly the question that arises here is if 4K is the next step in gaming or not? This depends a lot on how things move in the following year or two, so we need more 4K monitors becoming available and at a much lower price in order for normal consumers to start buying the hardware. For the moment 4K gaming is only for enthusiasts with deep pockets that love to brag about their PC being top of the line and it will be like that for some time. Sure it was a similar situation with stereoscopic 3D when it was reintroduced with the 3D Vision technology a few years back, it was more expensive, but not as what 4K costs at the moment. With Stereo 3D gaming it was the experience that it provided compared to playing a game on a normal 2D monitor that quickly drove people into adopting it and with 4K it is just more of the same – you get more pixels. And more pixels and higher pixel density just make the image look smoother and hard edges not so apparent even when not using AA filtering, so it does not add that much to the immersion inside the game atmosphere and making the experience more realistic like when playing a good game in stereoscopic 3D or in VR mode. So the future of 4K gaming for now is a bit cloudy and unsure and while you should not totally ignore it for the moment, you should not also jump immediately on the 4K boat either. The industry is not yet completely ready with the technology required for 4K, so it is best to wait and see what happens in 2014 before making a decision, and let us see if the sequel of the movie Avatar in 2016 will bring back the interest in stereoscopic 3D technology or maybe the wide availability of good autostereoscopic 3D solutions (glasses-free) in a few years or…
If you are a stereoscopic 3D gamer playing games using Nvidia’s 3D Vision or 3DTV Play solutions, then you should be well aware of the fact that it is not very often that new games come with perfect stereoscopic 3D support. Some games can become much better looking in stereo 3D support with just a few simple tweaks and other require more serious attention, but game developers rarely take the time think about these, in fact most developers are still ignoring the constantly growing number of stereo 3D gamers that probably already is a few millions large market. So it is up to the stereoscopic 3D community to think about solutions to finding a way to deal with the problems in games that need fixing for better stereoscopic 3D support and the results are quite good so far. One very popular such solution referred to as the Helix Mod which is essentially a DirectX 9 wrapper DLL file that can give you the ability to modify the pixel and vertex shaders in games using DirectX 9 to get them to work better in stereoscopic 3D mode. The person going under the username Helix who made the solution has shared it so everyone could help and people are already contributing various solutions with removed or modified shaders in games that cause issues when rendered in stereo 3D mode. This mod is intended for 3D Vision and the fixes available are targeted at users with 3D Vision or 3DTV Play setups, so it may not work with other solutions for stereoscopic 3D gaming. Here is a list of fixes for various games that are available so far that can help you get better experience when playing in stereoscopic mode using 3D Vision or 3DTV Play:
You may have noticed that Nvidia has been quiet on the stereoscopic 3D gaming front for a while lately and that was a sign that either they are preparing something new and big or they are busy with other things. And now we just learned that unfortunately it is not the first, but the second thing. Nvidia has just revealed their new Tegra 4 mobile processor – a quad core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU coupled with a 72 custom GPU cores second-generation battery saver core and improved battery saving features to ensure not only faster performance, but also maximum energy efficiency and longer usage time on a single battery charge. Of course Tegra 4 builds on op of the performance of its predecessor Tegra 3, though while still a quad-core chip it should be faster, but the real improvement is the significantly improved in terms of performance GeForce GPU that should offer up to six times the GPU horsepower of Tegra 3 according to Nvidia. And with all this extra GPU power one would think that Nvidia is finally going to focus on mobile gaming with stereoscopic 3D support more, unfortunately stereo 3D support is not even mentioned yet in any of the already released information about the new Tegra 4. Instead the focus moves to the use of the improved processing power for features such as Computational Photography Architecture (real-time HDR photography) or 4K ultra-high-def video support, along with LTE capability with optional Icera i500 chipset.
If you remember Tegra 3 did support stereoscopic 3D output in some Tegra optimized games via an external 3D-capable TV set using HDMI 1.4 output, but not all Tegra 3-powered devices did come with that feature available. Tegra 3 did not have official support for integrated stereoscopic 3D-capable displays, the much talked WikiPad gaming tablet based on Tegra 3 that was supposed to have a stereoscopic 3D display turned out as a disappointment, as the stereo 3D display was dropped from the features of the final product and we are still yet to see something come out on the market. And one would think that Nvidia, a company that is one of the major drivers of stereoscopic 3D gaming, would continue to further improve their mobile products to make them not only faster performance wise, but also better feature wise. So you can say that quite a few stereoscopic 3D gamers were hoping to finally see Tegra 4 with support for integrated stereoscopic 3D displays along with much wider support for stereoscopic 3D games on external 3D-capable display devices using HDMI 1.4. Now that the chip has significantly improved GPU performance it should be easily capable of utilizing that for converting 3D games into stereoscopic 3D ones just like 3D Vision does on the PC. And while the announcement of Tegra 4 did not even mention stereo 3D support, this does not mean that the chip will not have it, it only means that such a features are not a priority at the moment and while they still might be present, their announcement could come at a later time when more specifications of the new mobile Tegra 4 chip become available.
Along with Tegra 4 Nvidia has also announced a new interesting mobile gaming device based on that chip, it is called Project SHIELD. This device reminds a lot a console controller, but is actually a complete portable Android-based gaming console in a form factor very similar in size to a controller. Project SHIELD is based around Tegra 4 processor, comes with a a flip-out 5-inch 720p multi-touch retinal display with faster response (yes RETINAL, not Retina as in Apple’s devices, though the meaning behind that is pretty much the same), full sized gaming controller and supposedly will provide a really good stereo sound for a portable device. The batteries in the device should be capable of 5-10 hours of gameplay or if you’re watching video up to 24 hours of playback time from a single charge and this definitely sounds good for a portable mobile device. Nvidia’s Project SHIELD uses Android as its operating system, allowing you to play the games that are already available on Google Play, but it will also support streaming online gaming from your PC at home. This means that your computer at home will act like a gaming server that will stream the games you own onto the Project SHIELD where you’ll be able to play them just like if you are sitting in front of your computer, or almost just like. The limit is 720p resolution as your computer will be streaming video to the device, though you will be using the Project SHIELD to control the game, and you can connect it to a bigger monitor or a TV set through the available HDMI port to have a larger screen you can play on, but probably still be limited at up to 720p. Project SHIELD is the first announced device based around Tegra 4 and while there is still no price announced, it is expected to ship sometime in Q2 of 2013 first in the US and Canada, with a worldwide rollout to follow.
Unfortunately as with the Tegra 4 announcement not a single word about stereoscopic 3D support regarding the Project SHIELD. The display of the device won’t be 3D-capable for sure, but the hope that remains is if the HDMI output will support 1.4 and if the device will be able to convert 3D games in stereo 3D (using profiles) as some Tegra 3-based tablets can. Apparently we’ll have to wait some more for additional specifications and features to be announced, but even at this point Project SHIELD does seem as an interesting mobile gaming product already, even if it does not come with stereo 3D support at all. And Project SHIELD will for sure turn out to be a competition to other similar upcoming mobile gaming products that are also expected to be launched this year such as the WikiPad or the OUYA, though these will come out with the older Tegra 3 platform. One thing that makes Project SHIELD a better choice than OUYA for example is the fact that the device comes with both a touch-screen and a joypad controls and so you will be able to play pretty much all already available games and will not have to wait for specially developed ones or made compatible to be played with joypad as still most games for Android are meant to be played from a touch-screen. Of course there are some apps that allow you to map commands to a joypad, but doing so without a touch-screen could be a problem. Though with the design of Project SHIELD and the position of its display it will probably not be the best device to play only with the touchscreen, at least you’d be able to map the game commands to the joypad controls. On the other hand the most significant advantage that the OUYA will probably have is the lower price as I highly doubt that Nvidia will be able to sell Project SHIELD for $99 USD, we can expect Nvidia’s Tegra 4 console to sell for something more like $299 USD. And as we know the lower price can really make a difference in helping a product become mainstream and widely accepted, and now if OUYA could also support stereo 3D (since it is based on Tegra 3 it could, but will it?).
But enough with Tegra 4 and Project SHIELD, maybe now it is time for Nvidia to start turning a bit more attention back to the 3D vision gamers, so that in 2013 we could see more happening in the stereo 3D gaming PC scene as well, and not only hope for something to happen in the mobile segment where apparently there is more to be desired in terms of stereo 3D support…