3D vision

Stereoscopic technology has come a long way in recent years. Windows takes a look at the latest developments in 3D display technology

Tags: 3DNVIDIA CorporationSamsung Electronics CompanyUnited Arab EmiratesViewSonic Corporation
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3D vision A number of devices such as Samsung’s 2233RZ, Mitsubishi’s Home Theatre TVs, Viewsonic LCD displays and DepthQ projectors are 3D compliant.
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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  July 5, 2009

Stereoscopic Head Gear

Headaches and blocky graphics have traditionally been par for the course whenever donning a 3D headset to play video games. Despite these drawbacks though, there have been a number of generatiions of 3D glasses over the last few years that have appeared on the scene, with the latest generation looking most likely to be a relative commercial success.

In a nutshell, game developers for the first generation of glasses had to modify the games themselves so that they could be compatible with the 3D glasses. This meant that the glasses you bought wouldn't necessarily work with a number of games you would play. The second generation of this technology allowed for the 'screen' to take over, but this would just end up taking up processing time and made the whole process slower. It further resulted in bad resolution and blocky images, but it did work with hundreds of games.

The third generation modified the graphics driver but maintained the resolution of the image and this meant that only a few games could be played with these glasses. It has therefore only really been the fourth generation that looks as if it might be taken up more readily by consumers. The fourth generation involves the graphics card doing a lot of the work and light-weight LCD glasses flickering rapidly between two images so that we can see a 3D image. The result is that a lot more games are compatible with this setup.

NVIDIA have been at the forefront of the fourth generation with their GeForce 3D Vision Kit that works with NVIDIA graphics cards and which gives end-users the ability to play their games, watch their movies and even view their photographs on their PC in full-3D.

When it comes to gaming, the software that comes with the glasses automatically converts what Nvidia says are approximately 350 games into full-blown 3D vision without the need of special game patches. The glasses themselves are shutter glasses that provide the person wearing them with wide 3D vision. It delivers 2 times the resolution per eye and a wide angle view. It works in conjunction with 120 Hz LCD monitors, which enables 60 Hz per eye.

Now, there are a number of companies that manufacture these monitors, such as Samsung and ViewSonic. There's also a few HDTVs that the glasses are compliant with such as the Mitsubishi 1080p DLP Home Theater TV. It is also compatible with a number of projectors such as the DepthQ HD 3D Projector by LightSpeed design.

The glasses themselves also happen to be wireless, and a single charge on a USB cable means that one can get 40 hours of gameplay. It even has free photo viewer software that gives you the opportunity to view photographs in 3D. (From a PC perspective, one will need Windows Vista or Windows 7.)

The reality is that if you want to play games on this 3D format, you'll have to be using an Nvidia GeForce GPU as the other vendor AMD, is not heavy into the development of graphics cards. Of course, all of this places a huge amount of demand on the graphics card as it requires the creation of 2 images to generate the 3D effect.

But Nvidia is not the only player in the 3D glasses market. Vuzix have also got into the eyewear game with the company attempting to make its glasses a lot more chic than ‘geek'. The company says it has achieved a ‘sunglasses' look, but by judging by the image on the right, the verdict is still out on whether it looks dorky or not.

The Vusix glasses are more geared towards big screen viewing as the company has made what it refers to as the world's first wearable 16:9 screen. But some one of its glasses range is 3D compatible such as the AV230 XL+ and the AV920.

The AV230 XL+ is a wearable display that transforms a small portable video player screen into a personal home theater with a virtual 44-inch screen as viewed from nine feet. It is worn like regular glasses, and it includes separate focus adjustments for each eye and removable high-quality stereo earphones. Vusix says that a single removable AA battery affords up to 7 hours of viewing time and all this comes with 3D video support. It is compatible with all popular formats of 3D stereoscopic video including side-by-side and anaglyph.

Then there's the AV920 from Vuzix that features a wearable virtual 62" big screen compatible with almost any audio/video device. You can watch your movies with portable DVD players or personal media players in high resolution 2D as well as enhanced 3D. The AV920 even works with a video iPod and it has a small built-in lithium ion battery that allows for five hours of continuous use. Then there are also companies such as SeeFront that are looking to remove the need for the 3D glasses altogether by developing panels that project 3D images in themselves.

How does it work?

So, how does 3D recognition work? Well, with normal vision, our eyes view objects from different angles and then coalesce each image from our two eyes into a single 3D image. This is basically the phenomenon that is the perception of depth.

This is where the traditional red and green glasses came in, giving each eye a different view. The brain then puts those two images together and this forms a 3D image in the mind. The electronic 3D glasses obviously work in a similar way.

In a nutshell then, you'll have an LCD display (RGB) that produces right linear polarisation and left linear polarisation. What happens then is that a 3D phase-difference film creates right circular polarisation and left circular polarisation. The glasses then create a blockage of the left-circular polarisation and right circular polarisation, which, in turn, helps to create the 3D recognition in the brain. When it comes to Nvidia's glasses in particular with lenses that are capable of opening and shutting very quickly. The lenses flicker on and off, and you will need to have an LCD monitor or CRT monitor.

When it comes to 3D monitors that don't need glasses, it's a reasonably similar story. It ultimately works with what can be described as a ‘mind-trick'. In a typical monitor, the pixels are synchronised to send out a single image. With 3D monitors, however, half the pixels are used to create one image, while the other half are used to create what can be called another but similar image. On the other hand, a monitor can take up all the pixels for one image and toggle between left and right images rapidly. When the switching is fast enough, the brain forms a 3D image in the brain.

To create, the 3D effect without glasses. Phillips and Sanyo, for instance, have developed screens that have an elaborate array of lenses in the front of the pixel array. The lenses project the right and left images accurately toward the right and left eyes and thus eliminate the need for glasses that would block images for the other eye.

With Phillip's 42 inch televisions, the 3D effects begin to kick in at around 4 metres from the screen. Phillip's monitors can even project up to 7 or 8 images, which means that regardless of whether you move around the screen you can still see the 3D display.

The pros and cons

The thing with glasses such as these is that the compatibility with regard to certain games varies. Nvidia literally has a list of which games are compatible and which games aren't. It ranges from the categories of Excellent, Good, Poor and Not Recommended. Games in the Excellent category include Call of Duty 4, Far Cry 2 and Gears of War. Some of the games in the ‘Good' category include Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Need for Speed Underground 2. Finally, there's a ‘Fair' category, which includes Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X and FIFA 09. There are games in the ‘Not Recommended' category, which includes The Godfather II. Either way, the compatibility with regard to many games is quite good.

A common complaint with 3D technology in the past is that it has sometimes caused headaches and drowsiness, and this has been one its main sticking points. Moreover, it's questionable about whether this 3D technology has a captive market. But it seems as if there is some sort of future in 3D display companies such as Acer even getting in on the act. Acer is planning to launch a 15.6-inch notebook which will support full 3D at the end of October, according to Campell Kan, Acer's Vice President of the Mobile Computing Business Unit.

The notebook, which has been developed with Wistron, will come with built-in software that can convert 2D movies to 3D, and will fully support 3D movies. Users will be required to wear stereoscopic glasses for the 3D to work, but Acer is working on a model that will remove the need for these. Since the machine will come with Windows 7, Acer is holding off on their release and pricing information until Microsoft starts shipping the OS.

WINDOWS will carry a full review of the NVIDIA 3D Glasses Kit and it's accompanying 3D monitor in the next issue in our Hot Kit Reviews section.

3123 days ago
Jonathan Kris

Hi Clyde, I have the Merlin itheater cordless and that cost me only $320 - true it has a lower resolution than the vuzix 920 but the Merlin has built in memory and does not need an external video player (it decodes divx etc internally) - and the resolution is 480x320 not 320x240

I think after adding freight of approx $30 and 5% duty you will end up paying over $400 for the vuzix without a local warranty

for me the merlin unit is a bargain

3606 days ago

Hi Ahmed, Im with you on the Aramex shop n ship. actually my wife already had an account, and now I've started using it. The reason I wish these so-called electronics chains out here would carry non-"fast food"-like electronics is that we could get a hands on feel of such niche products before we commit to buying them. @ wiley, yes i know about the Marlin wraparound displays and their newly introduced 3D version as well, however the price is more than what higher end displays are (www.vuzix.com) and the marlin has a lower resolution display (320x240) per lcd on the wearable display ;-) Regards

3612 days ago
Wiley Dozis

Merlin have been doing wearable media screens for ages in Computer Plaza. Ahmed, with you on Aramex and Amazon, etc., people are always wondering how I get my stuff first! :)

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