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Gaming leads the 3D way

I’ve been converted. A few weeks ago I finally had my first taste of 3D cinema in the form of the new Toy Story film and was severely disappointed. But now I’ve seen the future of 3D - handheld and glasses-free - and it looks good.

Nintendo is set to be the first company to launch the technology with its 3DS games console, due out sometime next year, and recently gave The Engineer a sneak preview. Part of me wanted to see images leaping hologram-like out of the screen, but what I got was actually better: an immersive, non-gimmicky experience that provided a genuine improvement in image quality.

When I first arrived at Nintendo’s preview event, I thought I may have stumbled across an even bigger technology story: demonstrating the consoles was an army of heavily made-up and fake-tanned blonde women, who all looked so similar they could have been clones, or possibly androids. But this was an unnecessary distraction, as the 3DS was more than capable of grabbing my attention.

Almost all of the problems that 3D cinema suffers from had disappeared. No inconvenient glasses to put a grey sheen on the images. No eye strain, thanks to a handy slider for controlling the intensity of the 3D display and adjusting it to your individual eyesight.

Pictures were sharper and more lifelike for both games and movies. There’s even a camera for taking 3D photos ­- perhaps the most futuristic aspect of the device. And best of all it didn’t feel like a gimmick or a distraction, just a massive improvement in the graphics that my brain quickly came to accept as standard.

Blue Nintendo 3DS games console

Nintendo’s 3D technology doesn’t require glasses and the strength of the 3D display can be adjusted for each viewer’s vision or turned off completely

After the 3DS, normal games consoles seemed boring and lifeless. As I returned to The Engineer’s offices, I found myself wondering why the pictures in the video ad screens in the Underground weren’t in 3D.

Nintendo has so far been very coy about the technology behind the 3DS, but it seems likely that the screen includes some kind of polarising lens that directs light to your eyes, creating a different image for each one to create the projection of depth.

At the moment you can only see the 3D effect if you’re holding the console directly in front of you, although there is some scope for movement. And it’s this problem that will delay glasses-free 3D screens from appearing on our TVs in the near future.

However, Microsoft (and probably others) is already working on a solution that will allow the image projection to follow viewers around the room. Given the rapid acceleration of TV development, it’s not hard to imagine a time when almost every screen we look at is in 3D.

The pictures on our TV and computer screens have gradually been getting sharper for decades, with the relatively recent development of HD marking a big, if somewhat overrated jump. But if the 3DS heralds a period where glasses-free displays become the norm, it really could be the single biggest leap in image quality since the arrival of colour.

Although I’m still not convinced by Toy Story 3 3D.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Pleased you have finally seen the light (in 3D). The whole point about 3D is that there has to be a way of 'fooling' the brain into thinking there is one view from two perspectives - that's why we have two eyes. To hear there is a system able to work without glasses - albeit in a limited and controlled way -is encouraging but I still feel the real solution has yet to be found.

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  • I don't think that 3D will be the success that developers are hoping for. It seems more of a fad, in regards being in the home. It requires a much higher level of audience engagement and concentration to appreciate the "3D", i think only "early adopters" will invest in this, they will need to improve the 3D functionality significantly for it to become a successful in the home. maybe in 10 years time? However 3D will probably remain as a dominant gimmick in the film industry, for the foreseeable future, acting purely as a cash cow. I am intrigued to see how it does in the gaming industry, as it probably will be very successful, as this could be the only thing that would encourage a larger market to invest in 3D tv's for the home.

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  • I believe Nintendo might be using a technique similar to that of the STEREOKINO theatres in USSR in the 50's. They used a screen with an array of tiny vertically aligned cylindrical lenses running the full height of the screen.
    Same problem of very specific viewing area, but the theatres housed several hundred people, and no glasses were required.
    Early 3-D post cards (non-holographic) used the same technology.

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  • African Queen with Humphrey Bogart in black and white, any day.

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  • 3D technology basically used for creating games. 3D helps to follow the process of replication which develops the strategy of the games in duplicate copies of any particular act. 3D animations are now used in making the movies also.

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  • I've been waiting for commercial take up of this since I saw it three years ago:

    Surely a progression of that is the future?! Can't wait until it is... :)

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  • Lenticular lensed screens have been around for a long time.
    We had one at work about ten years ago, there were dark bands as you moved left-right and the pixels of the screen fell outside direct line to a lens.

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