The problem with 3D: Where it works and where it does not

  • Analyst Opinion - Like a lot of folks I was looking forward to seeing the Super Bowl ads once again. The game was actually great, but historically, the ads have been more fun to watch than the game itself. The ads I was most looking forward to were the 3D ads heavily sponsored by Intel and DreamWorks. It was a good catch for Intel, because HP, DreamWorks, and AMD used to be the team of record and Intel replaced AMD in what is clearly one of the more high profile partnerships in IT. DreamWorks recently indicated it was going to go 100% 3D. The heavily promoted ads promised to give a first taste.
    However, when I put on the paper glasses, I was very disappointed. The next night, we watched Chuck in 3D and after about 10 minutes, the paper glasses came off. On the other hand, I have been playing World of Warcraft with the Nvidia 3D set up and have to admit it is cool. Let's chat about 3D in this column.

    3D: So much promise, so little result

    I've been going to 3D movies since I was a kid. Most truly sucked, while some of the best (at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando) use 3D and audience effects (chairs moving, water spraying, winds etc.) to create immersive experiences. These amusement park rides and shows set the bar for 3D and it is hard for theaters to match this concept of somehow being part of the movie.
    Most recently, I wanted to see Beowulf and Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3D. The first was damaged by a poor script and the second was kind of fun, but the 3D part seemed to get in the way, because the system wasn't running right. It was Dolby's 3D system and it is believed to be one of the best, which is why the Dolby theaters generally (but not always) use high quality glasses that can make all the difference in the world.  This may have been part of the problem with the Intel experience.
    The other problem for the Super Bowl and Chuck was that people who did not have glasses needed to be able to enjoy the commercials and TV show. While the ads kind of sucked - largely because of the ad content and not 3D - they looked fine without the glasses. Actually, Chuck was a great episode, but the problem with both was they didn't look much better with them and there lies one of the big issues with most 3D images - they look horrid without glasses.  Having spent thousands so I don't have to wear glasses and knowing how many of us hate them, I really wonder if a glasses-based technology is going to work. I do think they should make the glasses look cool as most of the good ones look like glasses even Clark Kent would not wear.

    Gaming in 3D

    I fell in love with this when I first saw the Nvidia 3D demo several years ago.  With a strategy game, it turns a 2D flat surface into something that looks like a small model with little toy tanks and soldiers battling it out. It really adds that extra something. Kind of like that 3D chess game in the Millennium Falcon in the first Star Wars movie.   

    For World of Warcraft, it is kind of cool, but you really notice the lack of physics and 3D objects.  The objects look like flat cut outs fanned out in a 3D field. Like you made everything out of paper.  In addition, you have to use a special monitor and only two of those exist - both in 22" with one coming from Samsung and the other from Viewsonic. For someone who currently uses a 19" or 22" monitor, this is fine, but I use a 27" and a 30" and 22" looks tiny after playing on one of the big screens. Mitsubishi has a line of TVs that support this technology in models that currently sell for less than $1900.

    3D movies

    The movies on the Nvidia demo disk are very cool. It almost feels like your monitor is a window when it is a HD 3D shot and it would be so cool to be able to do something that looked this great on a bigger screen (there are some TVs and projectors that support this technology and I've seen the result at events and it is wonderful). The problem here is 3D movie content. There just isn't that much of it.  So I think of this as something you could do to impress family, neighbors and friends - just not really enjoy yourself yet.

    Wrapping up

    It is a shame about the Intel effort, they really tried hard to make this work on existing technology and while they did not damage the viewing experience for those that did not have the glasses, they did not enhance it enough to make it worth wearing the glasses either. I think it is great they tried this and I hope they continue to work on it. But at least for now, it just isn't ready for TV.
    On the Nvidia technology, if you are into strategy games and the game you love is supported by the Nvidia drivers, this is where the most benefit will be found and I actually think it is worth the $600 for the monitor and glasses (you need both). For a massive multiplayer it is impressive, but only if you can live with a 22" monitor and or one of the large Mitsubishi DLP TVs that support this technology. If you are in the market for a big TV anyway, the extra $200 for the glasses would allow you to do things with the TV your neighbors can't and that is probably worth the price of admission as there is a lot of wow to this on a big screen.
    Finally, I really have a problem imagining people wearing special glasses to watch TV.  And for folks who wear glasses wearing two pairs just seems to be an impossible barrier to cross. For the PC, it is kind of cool for some things and it is worth checking it out when you see a store display and even if you don't buy such a setup. I think you will be impressed. If you get a moment, I would love to know what you think when you see them.  

    Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.