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Review: Stereoscopic 3D

Stereo 3D + Games = Immersion

Stereo 3D gives the player natural two eye depth perception in the simulated 3D environment. In movies, this is great, but in interactive games it’s much more important. For example, in a racing game like Motorstorm, the core play mechanics involve dodging obstacles, maneuvering between vehicles, making jumps over hazards, etc… Judging distances in the 3D environment is a very fundamental part of those play mechanics and using your brain’s natural depth perception makes the game fundamentally more realistic and immersive. When experiencing this title in 3D for the first time, it felt like I could really see into the game; like I was looking into a miniature toy universe.

The Games

So far I’ve played GT5, Wipeout, Super Stardust, Motorstorm, Tumble, the Sly Collection, and Auditorium in stereoscopic 3D. Games like Super Stardust (and Auditorium) had some gorgeous 3D eye candy, but the game largely took place on a 2D surface, so natural depth perception was not useful in terms of game mechanics.

The best games I’ve played so far to really make use of your brain’s depth perception is Motorstorm, Tumble, and Sly Cooper. Tumble is a 3D block puzzle game (like the physical block game Jenga), and stereo 3D really makes the game easier and more engaging to play.

If you don’t like a game, 3D depth perception won’t change that. But if you are into a game, 3D definitely enhances the experience. Call of Duty: Black Ops is an amazing game with 3D support, but personally, it’s just not my cup of tea. In the next few months, the AAA titles that I’m dying to play will come with S3D support included. Motorstorm Apocalypse and Killzone 3 are the big ones scheduled for early 2011, and the S3D trailers for those games look phenomenal. I look forward to trying the Ico/SoTC remakes, and of course, The Last Guardian in S3D as well.

Netlix Streaming

This was a surprise to me, but yes, selected titles on the Netflix streaming service feature full stereo 3D support. I still can’t get basic sub-title functionality such as that found on DVDs with streaming movies, so I was shocked to see 3D support working already.

The TV

I got a 2010 50″ Samsung Plasma, with two pairs of 3D glasses, and a set of 3D blu-ray movies, for $1500 with tax and shipping. Panasonic’s models supposedly has slightly better picture quality, but those units sold for quite a bit more. The new Samsung sets are super thin, are very low power/heat next to the other plasmas I’ve seen, and have all kinds of extra features I haven’t explored. Overall, the 2D picture quality is excellent and the 3D effect is perfect.

There are two downsides: One is that the included glasses are battery operated. Samsung sells rechargeable glasses but you have to buy the separately. The other downside is that the glasses seem to occasionally lose 3D signal for a few seconds.

Hardware Trade Off

Unfortunately, 3D engines have to make trade offs to render separate left/right eye images. Generally, they need to sacrifice some resolution or FPS or rendering effects or a combination of the above. What’s nice, is this is an easy feature to deliver as a user-selectable option, so that the people who don’t have the appropriate setup or don’t want the effect don’t have to sacrifice anything.

Comment on Mass Market Appeal

The mass market generally favors simplicity over quality. Consider audio. How many gamers have a traditional amplifier and speaker setup versus just using whatever speakers are inside of their TV? The quality difference is usually massive yet most people just don’t care and choose the more convenient option.

I am not predicting sales phenomenons or new waves in pop culture with stereo 3D. Nevertheless, this extra level of realism and immersion is here for those enthusiasts that enjoy it.

[review pros=”Natural Brain Depth Perception
Enhances fundamental depth perception in 3D games of all types
Stereo 3D is awesome!” cons=”Limitations of todays hardware
Glasses periodically lose 3D for a few seconds
No headtracking goggles yet” score=”95″]