Fueled by the adoption of modernized projection techniques, and popularized by films like Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, and Avatar, 3D cinema has risen to heights the technology hasn't enjoyed since its introduction in the 1950s.
The incredible growth and success of 3D film, coupled with the public's eagerness to bring the movie-theater experience home has stimulated an exciting string of innovations, helping to put 3D technology into more consumer devices than ever before.
3D TVs and Home Theater
The first products in the consumer electronics market to receive the 3D treatment were televisions and Blu-ray players. Throughout 2010, most major manufacturers rolled out 3D-enabled TV sets, which shipped with battery-powered shutter glasses.
Initially, an almost complete lack of native 3D television programming meant that most owners were required to purchase 3D enabled Blu-ray players to take full advantage of their new displays. Since then, ESPN and DirecTV have led the way in bringing 3D content to television, and there are now four dedicated 3D channels in the United States (three of them exclusive to DirecTV customers).
3D-ready television sets were initially aimed at the high-end market. Many early models cost upwards of $2500 dollars, but the technology has begun to fall into more affordable price brackets. There are currently offerings from most major manufacturers in the $700 to $1000 range for 40"-50" displays.
It's been sixteen long years since the launch of Nintendo's ill-fated Virtual Boy console. You can't blame Nintendo for trying, but their head-mounted "true-3D" blunder was released just slightly ahead of its time.
2011, on the other hand, is shaping up to be the year where 3D gaming finally reaches a tipping point. With dozens of titles in the works and 3D-enabled television sets rapidly becoming more affordable, gamers everywhere are in for a wild ride.
Provided you've got a TV that can handle it, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 are capable of 3D game-play. Unfortunately for Nintendo fans, there won't be a console based 3D option until Nintendo announces a replacement for the Wii.
3D Handheld Devices
As yet, the only handheld device available for purchase is Nintendo's recently launched 3DS, which makes use of a parallax-barrier screen to work its 3D magic.
In addition to the 3DS, HTC and LG have both announced Android based 3D smart-phones, each slated for a Q2 2011 release. The HTC Evo 3D and LG’s Optimus 3D will both use the same display technology as Nintendo’s 3DS handheld.
Parallax-barrier displays are the only consumer tech currently capable of producing 3D imagery without the need for specialized glasses. The main criticism against the technique is that viewing angles are notoriously limited, and the user must hold the device at a precise distance and angle in order for the 3D illusion to succeed reliably.
All three handhelds will be capable of displaying games, movies, and photographs in 3D, and each equips a dual-camera setup which allows the user to create 3D photographs and videos of their own.
Since 2008, 3D technology has been available in both laptop and desktop PCs using NVIDIA’s 3D Vision graphics package.
Despite having the largest availability of 3D titles (yes, even more than Playstation 3), PC gamers haven't exactly flocked to the format. Hardware is still relatively expensive considering you'll need a mid-to-high end NVIDIA graphics card, compatible 3D glasses, a 3D-enabled display, and a computer powerful enough for gaming.
Having said that, it's also worth noting that because PC graphics cards are already a generation ahead of console hardware, the PC is likely to remain the most visually compelling solution for 3D gaming until new consoles are released.
- Review of NVIDIA 3D Vision Kit
- List of NVIDIA supported 3D PC Games
- List of NVIDIA supported 3D Displays
The Future of 3D Technology
The expansion of 3D tech has been impressive and shows no indication of slowing down. The two major complaints levied against 3D technology are the cumbersome glasses required by most 3D displays, and the eye-strain that sometimes accompanies the experience.
- Reducing Eye-strain: Eye-strain is typically encountered when the eye is forced to adjust rapidly to different 3D depths. This can be alleviated somewhat as content developers continue adapting to the 3D medium and learn what techniques are least troublesome to the eye.
- Glasses-free 3D: Glasses-free 3D is already emerging in the handheld market and manufacturers are working to bring the effect to larger screens. Toshiba has previewed a well-received 3D laptop that requires no glasses, but the technology is much more difficult to adapt for larger screen sizes. Read up on glasses-free 3d
- Passive 3D at Home: Scheduled to arrive in consumer television sets very shortly, passive 3D uses the same polarized glasses worn in movie theaters. Far less bulky than the active-shutter glasses of today's 3D TVs, they also cost less and require no batteries. Visit our discussion on active vs. passive 3D.
In addition to improving today's current devices, 3D developers will likely push the technology into a wider range of electronics. Don't be surprised to see 3D webcams, photo frames, portable Blu-ray players, and a lot more dedicated 3D television channels.
The rest of 2011 should be an exciting time for 3D technology, with TVs continuing to evolve and the emergence of the 3D smart-phone market.