Time to tee up 3D?

Time to tee up 3D?

Summary: Now that 3D hardware is here, the content will follow, starting with The Masters this week. But is it compelling enough to convince consumers to upgrade?

TOPICS: Hardware

Now that 3D hardware is here, the content is starting to follow. But is it compelling enough to convince consumers to upgrade?

There are two ways to view 3D content, not counting your local cinema. The first is with a computer equipped with the right hardware and software. For the past several weeks, I've been testing Nvidia's 3D Vision technology using a desktop PC and one of the new full HD monitors with the required 120Hz refresh rate. The other way to get 3D--and the way most people will--is with one of the 3D TVs from Panasonic, Samsung or Sony. (I've had a chance to try out a Samsung 46-inch 3D LCD TV with a 3D Blu-ray player, but that's for a separate post.)

The box office success of Avatar and Monsters vs Aliens has kindled interest in 3D, but to date there hasn't been a whole lot to watch at home. That's finally changing. Sports is regarded as one of the "killer apps" for 3D TV and this week parts of The Masters golf tournament will be broadcast in 3D. This isn't first 3D sports broadcast--Cablevision staked claim to that with a March 24 broadcast of the Rangers vs. Islanders game--but it is the first that will be widely available. Cablevision, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner will all be showing some golf in 3D. In addition, IBM is streaming several hours of 3D coverage each afternoon from The Masters Web site.

Yesterday afternoon I watched the Par 3 Contest on my desktop with 3D Vision. I've also been testing it with several popular games, as well as videos and 3D photo collections. The results have been mixed, but overall the technology is very promising.

First, a quick rundown on my hardware. Technically 3D Vision will work with any PC equipped with GeForce 8 series or later graphics, but for more intensive games you'll want at least the GeForce GTX 260. My test system is a Dell Alienware Area-51 desktop with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920, 6GB of system memory, Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 graphics with 1.8GB of graphics memory and a 640GB hard drive. There are currently two monitors that support 1920x1080 video at 120Hz, the Alienware Alienware OptX AW2310 and the Acer HD235HZS. I tested with both 23.6-inch models, and they both worked fine. Finally, you need Nvidia's 3D Vision Kit, which includes the battery-powered glasses and wireless transmitter. All told this setup came in around $2,700, though if you already have a gaming PC, you can probably find a "3D-ready" 120Hz monitor for less and the kit itself is only $200. In addition, many Mitsubishi DLP TVs and some projectors from Acer, LightSpeed and Viewsonic will do the job (here's the complete list of 3D Vision-compatible hardware). The other option is the Asus G51J, a 15.6-inch laptop with 3D Vision that you can find for less than $1,600.

The 3D Vision setup still has a few kinks. Although the desktop and Alienware monitor both came from Dell, the installed software was out of date and did not include the drivers for the display. I had to download and install the drivers and 3D Vision software separately in order to get things working. (The setup is simpler with the Asus laptop or 3D TV since the wireless transmitter is integrated, and in the case of the Samsung LCD TV, you simply attach the player via HDMI and insert a 3D Blu-ray disc, and it works.) Also, while watching The Masters stream, Nvidia's 3D Vision Video Player would crash every 15 minutes or so, requiring a restart.

Despite these glitches, watching The Masters in 3D is intriguing. The 3D is at its best, not surprisingly, on shots with lots of depth such as the more dramatic holes on the Par 3 course with elevated tee boxes falling away over water to a distant green. But often it can also look artificial and gimmicky, particularly with the gallery in the foreground, which sometimes appears to be standing in front of the monitor, rather than in Augusta. The bigger issue is that images looked soft and slightly out of focus. Compared to the standard 2D stream of contest, the 3D version lacked much of the detail in the faces, clothing and grass, and on some shots it was even hard to make out the ball or the cup. It's not clear whether this is directly related to 3D Vision, or (more likely) has more to do with other aspects of the way the footage is shot (it uses different cameras and angles) and streamed online, but it does take away from the experience, especially if you're used to watching sports in crisp HD. Despite this, the Masters coverage is certainly good enough to show the promise of sports in 3D.

I've seen lots of other video footage in 3D, and how well it works really depends on the content and how far the producers try to push things on the scale from Avatar (relatively subtle) to Clash of the Titans (completely over-the-top). When it comes to still images, the technology has a ways to go. The effect is interesting, but none of the photo collections I've seen look very realistic. You can also shoot your own 3D stills and video with Fuji's FinePix Real 3D W1 (Sony is developing a 3D camera as well).

Games lend themselves more easily to the 3D treatment since by nature they already contain a lot of information about depth. This is why more than 400 titles already work to varying degrees with 3D Vision, according to Nvidia. I've been testing it with three titles: Batman: Arkhan Asylum; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2; and Resident Evil 5. I'm not a big gamer, but it's clear to see why this immersive experience will have strong appeal, especially as games are further optimized specifically for the 3D environment. I've had numerous colleagues--both gamers and non-gamers--try these games in 3D and everyone likes it. PC gaming is a relatively small market, but as the hardware becomes more prevalent and less costly, gaming in stereoscopic 3D should catch on.

The big market, of course, will be TV, and The Masters is just a teaser. ESPN will launch the first dedicated 3D channel in June with the kick-off of the World Cup in South Africa. Earlier today FIFA and Sony announced the lineup for World Cup games in 3D--one match per day for a total of 25 days. In all ESPN 3D will broadcast 85 live events in its first year including college football and basketball, NBA games and the X Games. DirecTV recently announced it will carry ESPN 3D along with three other 3D channels. The satellite provider also plans to air Major League Baseball's All-Star game in 3D with Fox. And Sony, Discovery and Imax have formed a joint venture to launch a 3D channel in 2011. Some of these channels will operate only when covering live events, but others will broadcast 24 hours a day. While only a handful of movies are available in Blu-ray 3D (hopefully you really like Monsters vs Aliens), that should change by the holiday season.

The 3D technology isn't perfect yet. It is a natural fit for gamers, but it will take some time to figure out how it works best with TV and movies. Still, as more of this content becomes available, 3D should start to find a home in the living room.

Topic: Hardware

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  • Too much or just generational

    I took my wife and 15 year old son to see "Clash of the Titans." It was available in both 2D and 3D at the theater. No takers in my family for 3D.

    3D has a brief "cool" effect, but it's unpleasant to watch for very long.

    On the other hand, I've been watching 2D my whole life. Perhaps my brain simply can't adjust. Perhaps the path to 3D adoption is targeting very young children, rather than sports and movies for us older folks.

    It would be interesting to get side by side comparisons of tickets sales for theaters where both the 2D and 3D version are available.

    Personally, I believe 3D is a market loser now and for some time to come.
    • Clash of the Titans is fake 3D

      It's a shame that these fake 3D movies are ruining peoples' initial impressions. It really isn't tough to explain...if you are looking at someone 3 feet away, each of your eyes catches details at the corresponding side of their face (earings, for example). These fake 3D movies are trying to just shift an image to the side and call it good. I highly recommend seeing Avatar to "get" why 3D will be great and adds a wonderful dimension of realism.
  • RE: Time to tee up 3D?

    "often it can also look artificial and gimmicky... images looked soft and slightly out of focus. ...the 3D version lacked much of the detail in the faces, clothing and grass, and on some shots it was even hard to make out the ball or the cup."

    So it was terrible then.

    Consumers want to move forward with technology, not backward.

    Movie Studios, CE manufacturers and broadcasters are all pushing this on the public that really hasn't asked for it.
  • Never underestimate PC gaming.

    "PC gaming is a relatively small market . . . "

    . . . but should never be underestimated. I [b]DO[/b]
    think there's a lot more PC gamers out there than people
    in ZDNet think there are, and the PC tends to set the
    standard for the highest quality gaming experience out
  • 3D on my iPhone

    While I initially thought that 3D was just the old fad rexus, I've found that I'm starting to take more 3D photos on my iPhone. It's not as nice as a device like the new Fuji camera with dual lenses, but it's workable and fun. 3D Camera is my app of choice, though there are others. I'll probably upgrade my TV/monitor to view some of these in the future. For now, at least we're having some hardware fun!
  • Thanks but no thanks.

    My HDTV isn't even three years old and I'm supposed to "upgrade" to 3D? Pfft! Plus you need to buy specialty glasses for this crap to work? And the reward is a lousy image but in 3D. Whoopee. Pass.
  • Prescription glasses problem...

    What about people who wear prescription glasses? Are the manufacturers thinking about us as they are designing these exspensive glasses? I mean will the 3D glasses fit over them? Not everyone can wear contacts or even like to bother with them. I guess we will be stuck with the cheap cardboard ones and will have to tape them onto our real glasses, lol
    • 3D Glasses Info

      The 3D glasses with the new TVs are NOT cheap cardboard ones. They are expensive electronic ones and do fit well over the prescription glasses I wear, although my introduction was only about 20 minutes. I don't know how I would like them if worn for a longer time.

      I agree completely with the reviewer about his description of the viewing experience, though. That is, some shots were awesome, some had noticeable problems and for some you could hardly tell it was in 3D. I, for one, will not be rushing out to buy this, though.

      I'm still not convinced of a long term demand for this. After all, we have more than 50 years of 3D experience with movies and each time it comes along for a few movies and then goes away for a number of years. Right now is another fad, primarily because of Avatar. On the other hand, maybe sports and video games will be the things that make this go at least semi-mainstream.
      Bob C User
  • Clash of the Titans

    My wife, who's 50, and I went and saw "Clash of the Titans" in "3D" this week. It was her first-ever 3D movie. She wasn't very impressed and neither was I. She thinks 3D is more suited to animation than live actors/camera shots.

    I wonder if I can get her to see "Avatar" for comparison?
    • Clash of the Titans

      Clash of the Titans was originally recorded as standard 2D. A 3D effect was later added to cash in on the 3D craze (and increased prices). It's 3D is definately not as good as movies originally recorded in 3D. But in the end all movies are subject to what the director/producers are willing to invest in the 3D experience.
  • RE: Time to tee up 3D?

    What about motion sickness? I like 3-D in theaters, but the 3-D gaming systems I've seen up 'til now make me literally want to hurl.
  • RE: Time to tee up 3D?

    Sorry no sale here. Why am I going to put on weird goggles, wire/sync them up at home when I will be getting up, moving around, or speaking to others? I think 3D is still a mass market loser except for the occasional flash in the pan hoopla. Yeah, like now. I've spent quite enough on an OPPO HD/Bluray and updating my A/V sound system for awhile. Maybe the money would be better invested in producing quality material.
    • Wireless

      This technology doesn't require wires or sync. I think it's the same polarization technique used in theaters. I do wonder how it works with non-standard viewing angles, though.
    • BINGO!

      Yes, the real key for movies is producing quality material and using 3D, occasionally, when it really enhances the product. Witness Avatar. Otherwise, it is just a gimmick.

      For sporting events, I just don't know if it enhances it or not. I saw the Masters in 3D but was not convinced. I would now like to see a few other sports (football, baseball, hockey) on 3D TV and see if they benefit. If not, I would say forget the whole thing.
      Bob C User
  • 3D or Not 3D - That is the question ?

    Well my answer is very simple - No way ! I am not going to sit in my loungeroom wearing silly little glasses (after having just spent a big wad of cash upgrading the perfectly good wide-screen plasma I just bought). I can imagine that in a generation or two they will be laughing their socks off at pictures of today's 3D adopter families sitting around the telly wearing those ridiculous glasses. You want me to invest in 3D ? Then start making it real 3D - I want Princess Leia in her bikini out on my loungeroom floor so I can walk around and view her from any angle.
  • Proper 3D = Holography

    I remember hearing about a holographic TV back in the late '80's. It was a "base unit" that threw a cloud of ionised particles into the air above it - I don't know what means was used to keep that cloud cohesive. From there, a full 3 dimensional image was "projected" into the cloud of particles, allowing viewing from any "side" except "underneath". But like a number of truly stunning rumor-ware products from the '80's (like the bio-engineering "hard drive" that was actually a pig's brain cell read by lasers), the holographic projector seemed to disappear into some skunk-works storage room - probably like the one where they stored the Ark of the Covenant in the Indiana Jones movie...

    One things for sure: all the tech we see / hear about these days is a minimum of 20 years "out of date". The mind boggles at why we are kept mushroomed and denied access to the good stuff, and just what sort of great toys "they" are playing with. Beam me up!
  • Come back to me, when I don't need the glasses...

    I tried watching in the cinema, but by the end of the film, I was having to take the glasses off every few minutes and rub my eyes and my nose, both were very sore...

    Give me real 3D, without the need to glasses, and I'll look at it again.