Op-Ed

Op-Ed
From the Vault: In 3-D

Allen Varney | 6 Apr 2011 13:00
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Every "three-dimensional" game you play is a pussy. On your flatscreen TV or monitor, your so-called 3-D game presents nothing but an illusion of depth, a sleight, a fake. When will we get computer gaming in three real, no-kidding spatial dimensions?

Answer: By some standards, it's already here. But if you're waiting for something really cool, stick with the fakes.

Getting to Third
A device that creates 3-D imagery is stereoscopic. If the images are viewable without special gadgetry (glasses, goggles, ViewFinder), the device is autostereoscopic.

Flat-panel monitors create 3-D effects using "spatially-multiplexed parallax" to create a different image for each eye. Everyone knows anaglyph images, those movies and comic books with red and blue images printed out of register. The illusion of depth arises when you view them with red-blue glasses. One anaglyphic computer game, among many, is Polish programmer Jacek Fedorynski's Quake II for Red-Blue 3-D Glasses; he's the guy who did Text Mode Quake II. There are several other kinds of stereoscopic goggles, like electric shutter glasses that flick open and shut 50 times per second in synchrony with "right" and "left" frames on your monitor. If you try playing Counter-Strike that way, please post Flickr photos of you wearing the goggles. Tag them "dork."

The main problem with stereoscopic glasses is, after using them you throw up. Fortunately, there are many ways to create autostereoscopic (non-goggled, non-nauseating) parallax, such as splitting the screen via physical barriers, polarization and beam splitting. A promotional .PDF brochure from 3-D monitor company SeeReal Technologies includes short summaries of some major hardware approaches.

You can also get an autostereoscopic effect with software alone, such as the popular Raster3D program scientists employ for molecular imaging. Workstations that use Raster3D often split the screen into side-by-side "stereo pair" images, so you must cross your eyes to see them in 3-D. Here's a sample stereo pair, but be warned: If you have trouble seeing those Magic Eye stereograms, don't even try this.

The 3-D monitor industry simmers continually. The Stereoscopic 3-D Web Ring currently has 139 members. Established enterprises like Dimension Technologies and Real D Scientific, as well as relative newcomers like SeeReal, cater mainly to the military, oil companies and specialized markets like industrial CAD/CAM prototyping, scientific (molecular and medical) imaging and photogrammetry, the spy's practice of deducing physical dimension of objects from measurements on photographs.

Gaming? Not so much. In 2004, SeeReal licensed its technology to the German game company Trinigy for use in the Vision game engine - seemingly without result. None of the other companies boast gaming connections.

Meanwhile, work in holographic animation, or holovideo, has slowed a lot since MIT's famous Media Lab closed its Spatial Imaging Group in 2004. The holographic video project created only two prototypes, the Mark-I and the Mark-II, but "the Mark-1 display is capable of rendering full color 25x25x25mm images with a 15 degree view zone at rates around 20 frames per second". The Mark-II display provides 150x75x150mm images with a 36 degree view zone at rates of around 2.5 frames per second" - unexciting benchmarks for a Halo player.

Some MIT Media Lab grads later founded Zebra Imaging, a 3-D holographic imaging company that makes a cool Holo-Touch Workstation not far short of Minority Report. But again, they promise no gaming prospects.

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