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Is the Stereo 3D Gaming Doomed to Fail or What, No Really?

July 16th, 2012 · 5 Comments · Other S3D Tech

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 As a product the Nintendo 3DS was a nice thing, but with a bit outdated features when it was released – small 3D screens, not very powerful for more realistic graphics, even the 3D camera was with pretty low resolution.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full compatibility Nintendo couldn’t just go and upgrade other hardware inside the new XL console, so it is still outdated, even though it is offering stereoscopic 3D support with no glasses required.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.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Shivoa // Jul 16, 2012 at 14:52

    With DirectX 11.1 standardising a stereoscopic 3D interface for games to code to, I think PC 3D is only going to get better from here forward. Hacking of rendering pipelines / shaders is only going to become easier for users (especially as we move forward and older/retro games start to be less primitive 3D but there is plenty of extra performance in modern machines to do other things during the render process) and so the less than perfect renders may be a thing of the past in the future. I’m currently playing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and the 3D is great other than a stupid shadow sprite that only draws for one eye below each of Ezio’s feet and a larger one around some NPCs. The real shadows are great, the SSAO is great, it’s the cheap flat circular grey sprites that aren’t really needed that are broken. I put up with the slightly weird look of a dark area only in one of my eyes because the game really sings in stereoscopic but if I had the spare processing time to inspect each DirectX call and then tell that interceptor to cut the few calls that reference that specific texture then I could remove it from the one eye and it would all be exceptional. Things like more user-friendly tools for creating custom profiles for modifying the render calls of a game and replacing shaders (ending up with a database of settings for a custom tool for stereoscopic gamers to fix games when developers don’t have the publisher support to do it themselves) will make far more games perfect.

    While movies may have started to give up on 3D content, most games are genuinely created from three dimensional (ok, flat polygons) scenes. As long as there is the rendering power (and with PCs there is always some people with far more rendering power than others who all need to play the same games) to draw the scene once for each eye then stereoscopic gaming (with full control of the separation and convergence given to the user to tweak exactly how they want it) should continue to be healthy. 120Hz LCDs will continue to get better and with Direct X standards it’ll all be unified rather than nVidia and AMD having completely separate camps and interfaces for any developers who do want to explicitly support it (rather than just avoiding faking any 3D stuff in the scenes they send to the GPU and letting the drivers deal with making the magic happen).

  • 2 HCForde // Jul 16, 2012 at 18:40

    Critical mass is always the tipping point. With the upcoming DirectX 11.1 we are moving quickly to that point. Apple will jump on when the technology is more mature.

    I remember when color televisions were introduced here in the USA. There was little content but they did advertise “IN COLOR”. Some people sold color plastic sheets to put over the TV screen, there were solid colors and a multi-colored single sheet that were available to “simulate” color TV.

    The same thing(in principle) is occurring here but at a higher technology level. This may also be why IZ3D was seeing the writing on the wall and was attempting to get out ‘gracefully’; It will take deeper financial pockets to play in this game now. TRIDEF has tentacles in more projects so they are better positioned to be a major player.

    I don’t believe that movies have given up on 3D, but they do need to be wiser on what they produce in 3D and how they market it until the cost of these endeavors is reduced. Doing 3D production poorly or not advertising it properly does not do the technology any favor.

    As for Windows 8, I believe this platform is to consolidate Microsoft’s position in the marketplace. DirectX 11.1 is an important piece of the puzzle. Windows 8 will have a ‘PDF’ type nature in that the files and some programs will have greater compatibility across mobile, console, & computer platforms. Microsoft owns the marketshare of the computer world whether we like it or not. Their critical mass and what they do push others in what they do and vice versa. When Microsoft gets in it is because they see the technology as being viable.

    On the home front I believe that everybody wants 3D but they do not want to pay for it. Like anything else when the cost of something decreases the demand for it increases

    As the black and white standard became color, I believe that 3D will become just as common. We live in a 3D color world so why shouldn’t our technology reflect that. In that same line of thought and progression I have heard that a holographic display will be commercially available soon.

    It won’t last though, it will just be a fad……………!!!

  • 3 Shivoa // Jul 18, 2012 at 04:26

    It appears I am LTTP on this (my previous post): http://helixmod.wikispot.org/Front_Page

    There is already a community project to use a DX injector to remove or fix effects that are not correctly implemented in stereoscopic 3D.

  • 4 miaku // Jul 18, 2012 at 17:09

    Great aricle and great posts: for me, the future of 3d lies solely on the hands of Sony and their next gen console, they have bet on 3d technology like no other, and if PS4 integrates properly with their 3d ecosystem, 3d will thrive, and that will benefit all other 3d industries.

    Their efforts on Ps3 have produced mixed results, mostly due to the lack of power on PS3 providing 3d experiences where they had to lower resolutions, framerate and effects to add 3D, creating some horrible pixelated experiences like Killzone 3, and only retro compilations like ICO/Shadow of Colossus etc offering decent 3d. If PS4 supports 3d properly, they will be able to produce great 3d games and it will move the 3d industry forward. 3D TV market, even though not massive, has a decent good share so it’s a reasonable business decision, and it could help PS4 to offer something different against competitors and integrate well with all their current 3d investment.

    On the other hand, if 3d is not actively supported by any of the next gen console makers, it will suffer a lot. New shaders and effects will probably have problems on 3d if not programmed specifically, they will not just work per se like with old titles, DX11 and supposedly UE4 will help but fewer and fewer 3d games will work on PC solutions, and thus hardware makers will manufacture less 3d compatible hardware, making 3d industry as a whole shrink.

    About the Wii U and nintendo lack of interest on 3d, the answer is simple, Wii U is a 1.5 current gen console, and as PS3 and Xbox 360 this gen, support of 3d is not there due to their lack of processing power to render properly two images at onces at HD resolutions, so nintendo shy away from 3d for this reason.

    Still, even in the worst case scenario, I’m sure that when the manufacturers ara capable of producing perfect 3d without glasses, with no headaches, at reasonable prices for the technology, 3d will come back again. This 3d gen has proved that the interest is there, but current technology isn’t there yet to satisfy the demand of high quality 3d.

  • 5 Eqzitara // Jul 19, 2012 at 03:33

    [From a pc 3d gamer’s perspective]
    Great article. My concerns as well, especially since I have to try my best to fix games using helix’s wrapper (thanks for the plug shivoa) that dont render properly = / and I worry about a grim future. My guess is around 95% of games that are “3d-vision ready” were companies sponsored by nvidia in some shape or fashion and its probably same for amdhd3d. The economy is terrible as is and no company will do anything that they deem to have the potential of not being profitable.
    The negative responses from hand-hand devices / consoles is not helping. Hand held devices almost “force” s3d on the user and combined with a pretty high amount of people who have issues viewing 3d content and throwing “motion” into the mix is disastrous. Consoles are outdated as is and running at max performance for games. S3D nearly doubles the needed performance….. this is also bad.

    I agree for the most part but I do think a technology can be the decideing factor. The problems with 3D mainly are the users who can not view it properly generating negative press.
    They simply can not view 3d(nothing can be done) OR
    3D causes eyestrain/headaches due to low hz.
    24HZ in 3d content is just way too low. I am one of the users who can not comfortably watch anything that low. An upgrade in format especially combined with a major content release would be much needed boon. I am hoping that manufactors will produce 3d tv’s based on a new higher hertz format soon, hopefully based on the release of the hobbit. (They would probably do one of those get the hobbit blu-ray disc with our 3d tv lol)

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