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.