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I love Stereovision – I hate stereovision

Posted by Jon Peddie on February 4th 2009 | Discuss
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I'm all for anything that will make gaming more fun. For the past ten years that has been primarily more better’er GPUs and APIs to be able to get at them. Great sound with true 5.1 positioning came online and added life to games around five years ago. About four years ago we began playing with better physics, and somewhere in the shadows of the PC gaming industry AI work was advancing too, but not as widely discussed. A sub set of the AI and physics was rag-doll and Natural Motion so the AI would behave more, ah, naturally. So what’s left? Depth that’s what.

But how can I get it?

Probably the best way to experience stereovision gaming is to use a headset with individual micro-screens for each eye, like the Vuzix  VR920 (~ $400 http://www.vuzix.com/iwear/products_vr920.html ). They  can be adjusted to suit individual physiology and have the added advantage of allowing you to look around in a world instead of simply staring straight ahead. Their drawback (now) is their limited resolution 640 x 480 with panning to 1024 – so far the micro display industry hasn’t lived up to its promise.

The other choice is a dual screen approach like the 22-inch 1680 x 1050 layered IZ3D monitor (~ $400 http://www.iz3d.com/ ) You’re basically driving two monitors with this approach and the IZ3D monitor for example has two DVI connectors on it so your AIB has to be able to drive two displays. This display uses light weight polarized glasses and gives a reasonable stereo view, but in my testing I found it to problematic in getting it set up – you have diddle with the depth and then the far separation, and it’s very game dependent. A similar approach is offered by Pure Depth (http://www.puredepth.com/sub_tech_what.html). ATI and Sony’s PS3 is supporting the IZ3D approach.

A third choice is the Nvidia 3D Vision (~ 600 http://www.nextdaypc.com/main/products/details.aspx?PID=6956741&rsmainid=ND0130014) which is a combo product containing a  22-inch 120 Hz 1680 x 1050 Samsung monitor and Nvidia’s shutter glasses and associated driver software. This is the most straight forward approach, and as Samsung, LG, Viewsonic and others bring out 120 Hz screens, at competitive prices (I think they are at $400 now) that mass produced technology will overwhelm the novel multi-screen approaches like IZ3D and Pure Depth (although they may gain some traction in novelty phones.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

But real-life stereovision, the stuff you and I experience all of our waking hours is volumetric, not flat with special effects. 3D represented on a flat surface will always be flawed, because it isn't 3D. It's 2D with fake depth – synthesized depth. You encounter the problems associated with this right away with the cursor for aiming in stereo 3D FPS games – it just isn't where you want it to be. Other things are wrong too and seem to float in space unnaturally – so it’s distracting and annoying.

It’s frustrating because the demos look great. If you went to Fry’s 3D IZ3D deal, or CES, or Nvision you got to see a really terrific setup and if you’re like me, you wanted it – had to have it. But then when you set it up in your place things aren’t quite the same, and a call or two is needed to find out why, even if you did the unheard thing of reading the manual. 

Eventually you can get to the controlled experiment that was the demo you saw, except that was using Left-4-Dead and you want to play Crysis. Well forget about it, you can’t play Crysis. You can play Call of Duty pretty well, Stalker Clear Sky is OK, not great but OK, Spore works, and so does Eve Online. Fallout 3 is OK, again, not great, and FarCry2 is horrible.

I’m not going to list all the problems in each game, it’s clear that these are all patches and retrofits, and that no game – NO GAME – has been designed with stereovision in mind.

I get tired…

Playing a game in stereovision makes my eyes and head tired. My brain and eyes have to do too much work to make the trick work, and I play games at night after working in front of a computer screen for ten to twelve hours. My poor little brain is all worn out. Dealing with stereo takes its toll.

So it’s OK for a half hour or so, I did play Fallout 3 in stereo for over an hour once. 

It’s so dark in here

The other problem is these systems aren’t super bright. You’ve got multiple layers of LCDs to push light through so by the time the back light in the monitor works its way to the screen (or screens) and then through the glasses there’s little of it left. That results in making you turn off the room lights to get max effect. And now your eyes and brain, and maybe inner ear are really taking a beating. (Yes, you may experience some nausea - I got woozy in Stalker after running around dodging Freedom fighters.)

An immersive stereo gaming experience requires that I be able to move, duck, and peek around corners. If I do that with current stereo stuff things get fuzzy, float in space, have weird edges that sparkle and have perspective distortions, or stop having depth. In fact, to get the image toned down you just about lose all depth – that’s evidence of the games being patched and not designed for stereo.

This IS the future

It’s going to take year before all this is fixed, but once it is I truly believe stereo will be as common an accessory to gaming as 5.1 sound is – but remember, that didn’t happen overnight either. What do I recommend? See some demos first if you can, and spend some time 15 to 30 minutes minimum trying it out. If you are possibly in the market for a new monitor I recommend getting a 120 Hz unit. That decision will limit you to shutter glasses (there are a couple of other choices beside Nvidia: http://reald-corporate.com/scientific/crystaleyes.asp, http://www.ray3d.com/glasses.html, and more will appear now that Nvidia has validated the concept.) The IZ3d is a fine monitor and reasonably priced, and the polarized glasses are lighter and less dependent on the IR transmitter needed for shutter glasses. If you can see some demos of both types you’ll be able to make a choice based on your needs – one size does not fit all.

If you like stereovision, visit Neil Schneider’s web page, http://www.mtbs3d.com/ However, so far Neil seems to only review IZ3D stuff.

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