Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More info has started coming in on Sony's 3D offerings...

...and it's not all good. I wasn't really thinking about the technology behind Sony's (and others) super-expensive 3D televisions yesterday. I was caught up in the hype (like most everybody else), and I had forgotten that it's not like "Captain EO" or "How to Train your Dragon". They don't use those thin grey-lensed plastic glasses-- They use electronically-controlled shutter glasses (which run about $150 a pair, btw).

This has created problems for people playing their demos at E3. If you've ever seen 3D with shutter glasses, you'll know how they work. I have tried them before, at an nVidia kiosk over at Fry's Electronics. They kinda suck.

Let's start with how they work for anyone who doesn't know, or has forgotten: Shutter glasses are "blocking" the image from either one of your eyes alternately at a very fast speed, and the TV is in sync with them, displaying images like: left-eye-image, then right-eye-image, then left-eye-image, and so on at a very fast speed.  

So why do they suck in general? Well, the fact that they're shutting each of your eyes alternatively means that by nature, they're blocking out light. Your image on-screen is dark and often hazy because of how the technology is tricking your eyes. OK, so it makes it a bit dark... that's not that big of a deal, right? Right. Except that playing games presents some other issues. 

Sony (and Microsoft of course) have been hyping HD this generation: True HD (1080p). They've also been touting their consoles ability to play games at 60 frames per second, so that the image is smooth and fluid. On the subject of frame-rate, lets remember that Hollywood movies usually run at 24 frames per second: This is the sweet spot that makes feature films look professional: Anything faster looks like how a soap opera does on TV-- "too real", and therefore "cheezy". When you're alternating images for the left and right eye consecutively, you effectively have to double the framerate for the video to keep the same fluidity that it has without shutter-glasses 3D technology. This works well for movies, as doubling the frame rate is only 48 frames per second-- a framerate that most devices can handle easily. For a game, however, this is a much different story.

The Playstation 3 isn't capable of displaying all of its super-polygonal amazing true HD graphics at 120 frames per second. Not even close. The fact is, most games can barely even hit 60 frames per second. Games like Killzone 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Uncharted look amazing in the graphics department, but usually don't run at 60 frames per second. 

The thing is, even though Sony and Microsoft hyped True HD in 60fps, most gamers are at least satiated with 30fps, as a 30fps game doesn't really look bad, its just not as fluid-looking as 60fps. So, fine. However, as I stated earlier, most Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 games don't even run at 60fps with all their cutting edge graphics and technology, so you can't cut it in half to get the "acceptable" 30 fps. What do you do, as a game developer, now?

You start "saving processor power" so that the game can run at a faster framerate. How do you do this? Well, by nerfing the graphics of course. In order to get their games to run at 60fps (30fps in 3D), these games need to decrease their graphic fidelity, their number of objects/polygons on screen, along with their depth of field, and also lower the pixel resolution so that the processor can run the game fast enough.

Impressions are coming in all over the internet from game journalists playing Sony's 3D offerings on the show floor, and they're unanimously mediocre. The image is dark, the 3D depth is not that great (shutter glasses, as I said before, tend to make your vision a bit hazy), and on top of that, the graphics are dumbed down-- showing less special effects, and a whole lot more "jaggies" on screen because of a lowered resolution. No more 1080p True HD, no more top-notch graphics, and no more 60fps-- in exchange for a darkened screen and hazy depth-of-field.

It will be interesting to see how many people want to shell out $4-$5000 for a 3D TV, and $150 per person in the household to play games in this capacity. Very interesting indeed.

I still believe that 3D entertainment in the household will be the next big thing-- I'm just not convinced that shutter-glasses are the technology that will usher it in.

For now, I'll just take a 3DS, myself. I don't want to wear goofy glasses, I don't want my screen darkened, and the graphics are already not in HD, so there's no compromise between the game in 3D and the same game in 2D on the platform.

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