Stereoscopic 3D still sucks

Some of you may have noticed a sort of 3D renaissance taking place recently in the entertainment industry. Such high-profile, quality releases as Beowulf and My Bloody Valentine 3D haven’t been doing the movement a whole lot of favors, but James Cameron’s next magnum opus—and first feature film since Titanic—is being filmed in 3D. All kinds of wacky stuff is being produced to play in 3D in IMAX theatres, as well. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was some crazy new technology threatening to revolutionize entertainment. Especially if you’re one of our younger readers, you may not be aware that this stuff already had its time, and guess what? It failed miserably.

This point is relevant because plenty of other firms are trying to get stereoscopic 3D going on your computer, too, including Nvidia with its GeForce 3D Vision. A kiosk I continually pass by at Fry’s Electronics has a monitor tweaked for stereoscopic vision, too. All you have to do is put on these crazy 3D glasses and you, too, can enjoy Hellgate: London (yes, this really is one of the games they demo it with) in stereoscopic, questionable-quality 3D! Given how well it worked, I wouldn’t pay five bucks for it, much less three figures.

I’m not inclined to point fingers at this company or that company when I say 3D is frankly still an awful idea. Consider what’s arguably one of the best stereoscopic 3D implementations on the market right now: Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Vision. I’m told it produces excellent image quality, but there are some real barriers of entry here. The technology requires a 120Hz monitor, and it incurs a fairly precipitous performance drop. Most damningly, while it’s pretty much offering the pinnacle of 3D glasses, the fact that 3D glasses are even present is a problem in itself. If I take a head count of my close friends, at least 50% of them wear glasses, and while that’s anecdotal (I also associate with an abnormally large number of southpaws, for what it’s worth), it’s still indicative of a large number of people for whom 3D frankly isn’t going to work that well. Ever put 3D glasses on over your regular glasses?

The problem is that stereoscopic 3D is still, in my opinion, more or less asinine. When I have to put on these kooky glasses (or fit them over my regular glasses, which is uncomfortable at best), I feel like it just screams “gimmick.” In fact, the whole concept has always felt like a gimmick to me. All I have to do is pop out my Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare DVD for proof of that. The 3D finale of the movie isn’t just a failure because the movie sucks (and it does, but I love it anyway), but because 3D just isn’t all that exciting. It had a very brief run of popularity in the 70s and 80s before dying a well-deserved death. I love Captain EO as much as the next guy, but 3D had to go.

My biggest problem with 3D is that, frankly, it’s not 3D—just an approximation of it. When you put on the glasses, it just feels like an optical illusion. This is compounded by the fact that for some of us (maybe just me?), there’s something of a concerted effort required to get the most out of the experience. It’s not one of those things where it just looks perfect from every angle; there are certain ways to look at it that seem better than others. Having my viewing experience of a film or game significantly altered by not looking at it dead on just seems silly to me. And as I said before, after all this trouble, I don’t think it looks that good, especially with the coloring, contrast, and brightness problems it can induce.

I wouldn’t care quite as much if 3D were just a fad, but it unfortunately has lasting effects. Although video games aren’t going to have this problem—they’re inherently predisposed to producing three-dimensional spaces anyhow—movies produced for 3D have historically turned into artifacts of the era. Taking advantage of 3D in film means shooting scenes in a fashion you ordinarily wouldn’t do, and there’s a very good reason for it: outside of 3D, those shots tend to look really, really lame. Consider the sword pointed directly at the camera in the cinematic abortion Beowulf. I’m sure it looked fantastic in 3D, but it just doesn’t work in regular viewing.

The final bone I have to pick with 3D is a more obvious one: do they really think we’re this naive? I’ve noted that 3D came and went decades ago, and I believe very little has changed since then. The technology hasn’t undergone any radical evolutions, and you’re still wearing the same stupid glasses. They’re just slightly different stupid glasses. As a consumer, I feel somewhat offended by having old trash being pawned off to me as new hotness, especially knowing full well that it never had legs to begin with.

When I spoke to Scott about this, he said 3D was one of the ways movie theaters were trying to stay relevant. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time theaters—and studios—have tried to innovate to maintain business. Your movies are in wide-screen right now because of the advent of television; prior to television, films were shot in standard aspect. But wide-screen worked because it more closely approximated how we see, which is to say we have a greater field of vision laterally than we do vertically. It also didn’t require us to do anything different to watch our movies. We didn’t have to put on glasses, or stand on our heads, or anything.

I think 3D is a naked attempt to stave off obsolescence for a means of distribution that wouldn’t be fast approaching death if its real shortcomings were addressed (but that’s a rant for another time). And at the end of it all, my point stands: 3D sucked then, and I don’t believe anything has changed.

Comments closed
    • Firestarter
    • 11 years ago

    I think 3D will have to wait until we can plug our visual cortex straight into our Intel 9.8 Jiggawarp videocard.

    • dustyjamessutton
    • 11 years ago

    I took my son and daughters to see, fly me to the moon 3d. And I will say, the whole movie looked amazing. I did get that lazik surgery, so everything was very sharp and clear. Only problem is one of my daughters is an infant, so I missed half the movie during diaper changes, crying, fixing her a bottle, etc, etc.

    • floodo1
    • 11 years ago

    I 100% disagree. Harry Potter in 3d (the whole 2 mins of 3d anyway) was AWESOME. The part where shards of glass where falling….amazing experience.

    Furthermore PLENTY of companies have displays that don’t require glasses. I see them every year at Macworld and CES.

    • burntham77
    • 11 years ago

    You know what would be better than 3D movies? Good movies.

    • Prospero424
    • 11 years ago

    I agree. 3-D for film really is just a gimmick at this point, and will remain such until studio-quality camera systems capable of making it look GOOD are:

    1. Developed

    2. Actually something studios want to buy and USE for all top-tier productions

    3-D for video games is a much more interesting prospect, even if no one’s done it correctly AND affordably yet. I honestly still don’t know if Nvidia’s current system is at all promising, but it seems like any 3-D video game display technology with any hope for widespread adoption would have to start with someone like Nvidia, AMD, or Microsoft. But if it’s tied to one brand, it just won’t work.

    I’m glad they’re at least working on it. It’s cool.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 11 years ago

      What? You didn’t love Space Spuds from Haitex Resources when it came out 21 years ago?

        • Prospero424
        • 11 years ago

        Mmmmmm… Space Spuds…

    • doobtribe
    • 11 years ago

    Good article, shared my views on the topic completly and couldn’t have said it more kindly and politicly correct myself.

    • willyolio
    • 11 years ago

    there’s another problem with “3D” images, and i think it’s one of the biggest contributors to the nasuea feeling. focus.

    we determine the distance of an object through many ways (angle between our eyeballs is just one). whenever i look through a stereoscopic image, i can see the 3-D-ness but it still feels very “fake.” mostly because my eyes’ lenses still focusing on one single distance, while the angle between them is telling them to adjust for something at a closer/further distance.

    it just feels really uncomfortable, i.e. the “optical illusion” feeling.

    • Willard
    • 11 years ago

    live 3d football games are the new hotness though:
    _[<http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122749333275552323-lMyQjAxMDI4MjI3NDQyOTQzWj.html<]_ FWIW I saw Cameron's "Aliens of the Deep" in IMAX 3D and I thought it was anything but hoky (except for the scenes about possible life on Io). One scene featured a lacy deep-sea jellyfish (here on Earth); the 3-d effect was essential to getting a real impression of that particular critter. TLDR: It appears Cameron already knows how to use 3d for narrative effect, and not just gimmicks.

    • BiffStroganoffsky
    • 11 years ago

    What they need for this tech to become viable is to find the right venue. Forget James Cameron and think Ron Jeremy.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Convincing 3D imaging will not happen until there is a device that can directly interface with our visual cortex or some of holograph.

    Otherwise, you are stuck with pseudo-3D on a 2D display.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    The last time I remember seeing 3D Glasses on a PC was around the GeForce 2 Days. It was a joke then, and still is really. I’m very glad TR isn’t trying to sell it off as the best thing since sliced bread.

    • ludi
    • 11 years ago

    The problem with 3D is that the only way to truly replicate it is to give each eye a discrete image to view, and since this requires two separate displays in close proximity to the user’s eyes, the displays must have a high resolution and surrounding image information from the outside world must be blocked off.

    With that done, the illusion will still be extremely fake unless the user has the ability to rotate through at least 160 degrees or so of horizontal movement and 100 degrees of vertical movement simply by moving his or her neck, and the image tracks naturally.

    In short, what we need is some sort of Virtual Reality helmet and game code that can support it. But right now the hardware would probably cost between $500 and a kilobuck, and then there’s the PhysX chicken-and-egg problem of getting programmers to support something that is neat when it works, but which a majority of users won’t have.

      • khands
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, Nintendo tried with the Virtual Boy, anyone remember that thing? I soooo wanted one… until I tried it and couldn’t get used to it at all.

        • Sargent Duck
        • 11 years ago

        I remember standing in line at K-Mart to play the demo machine they had going. I can’t remember the date, but I think late junior high? I remember playing it and thinking/saying “this sucks! It’s a bunch of sticks!”. No desire to buy one, but I’d go back and stand in line again to keep playing.

        • ludi
        • 11 years ago

        Yeah, I remember that. Its biggest drawback was that the economical processing technology of the day was limited to rendering wireframe effects…in monochrome. The 3D effect was somewhat convincing, but the awe of playing StarFox with an LED-red lattice structure that could shoot down other LED-red lattice structures wore thin pretty quick. At the end of the day, it was the exact kind of gimmick that Dustin is ranting about.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 11 years ago

      At my job we’ve done some stuff with stereoscopic vision, the method we use involves using two projectors and lenses that polarize the light. Then you polarized glasses that filters out one image from each eye. There is a room around here that’s called the cave where they’ve done this for 3 of the walls and the effect is rather convincing.

    • Hollow
    • 11 years ago

    Both Geoff and now Dustin put the term “new hotness” in their review / article, did you guys just both watch MIB2 ?

    Oh,.. and yes this 3d tech should stay deceased.

      • Dissonance
      • 11 years ago

      For me, the new hotness… along with old and busted… comes from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Yeah, that dates me.

        • Pettytheft
        • 11 years ago

        That’s where I remember hearing it. And Fresh Prince re-runs are all over the place.

    • sotti
    • 11 years ago

    how bout stereoscopic 3d games + the wii head tracker
    §[<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd3-eiid-Uw<]§ drrooool

      • Naito
      • 11 years ago

      That is VERY freakin cool!

      • danny e.
      • 11 years ago

      bump. that is cool.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 11 years ago

      Yes!! Now that is 3D! Me want now!

        • Freon
        • 11 years ago

        It’s not 3D! There is no stereo separation between eyes. It can only headtrack one person. There is no real 3D effect at all.

          • Johnny5
          • 11 years ago

          @Freon
          A view that changes depending on movement of the observer is one of the monocular visual cues of depth like different images on each eye is a binocular cue of depth. Both are part of the (still not complete) 3D pie.This can be simulated as moving a character in-game will change the view, but as there is dissonance between onscreen cues and the rest of the environment, the effect is weaker than if it is done by detection of head motion.

      • mongoosesRawesome
      • 11 years ago

      I’ve tried this, and for some reason the head tracking illusion didn’t work very well for me. We filmed it and it worked great, just like in Jonny Lee’s videos, but the effect doesn’t come through when you are being tracked and not the camera.

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 11 years ago

        So, it is like Queen says, “It’s a kinda magic”?

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        True, although the idea is very, very good, the firstmost way we feel 3D is by eye focus, where the fact that each of our eyes gets different information is most important. This is why they’re trying to push the same idea since decades (“3D glasses”) and that’s still how I see the future of 3D as of now, but it needs far more refining than the technology Sotti linked.

        I guess most people will just hold out until opaque holographic 3D living room projectors get into the mainstream.

        • NeronetFi
        • 11 years ago

        Maybe someone should invent glasses to use with this that have sensors in the lens that can track your eye movement. So when you eyes move you it can set focus on a differnet point.

          • Johnny5
          • 11 years ago

          It would be nice but it would have to be sensitive enough to know if your looking at the blade of grass or the Korean behind it, which is not easy. It’s not a matter making everything in the periphery less clear, your eyes do that already. It’s a matter of making things blurry that are at a different depth than what you’re focusing on. If it can say you’re looking at pixel x,y plus or minus a bit it can assume you’re focusing on whatever is there and as it’s a representation of a 3D world, make things a different depths out of focus. It’s problematic though. Are you looking at the very edge of the wall or by the wall, at the grate/window/grass or through the grate/window/grass. It would be possible to detect at what depth your eyes are focusing by shining a light (at an invisible frequency) in your eye and detecting in what direction it bounces back, but as long as we have a flat screen, we HAVE to focus on the plane of the screen, not in front or behind it, so it’s useless.

          You can only go so far creating the illusion of 3 dimensions from a 2D image. Holographs (which are problematic anyways) and multiple 2D screens are limited to depth (and width and height) in those dimensions. The only way I can see of getting around this we could: a) develop the technology to shine individual rays of light in appropriate directions so they converge (or do not converge) on the retina OR b) input the electrical impulses directly into the optic nerve, which besides requiring implants would require advances in understanding of physiology on a very detailed level. Both a and b would need increases in computing power.

          Hearing is easy to perfect. Smell, taste, and touch (including position of body parts, vestibular system, etc.). would again require electrical interaction with neurons. I would consider getting a Matrix-style implant for perfect virtual reality experience (and no death, very little pain).

          /rant

        • SonicSilicon
        • 11 years ago

        §[<http://www.free-track.net/english/<]§ There are few titles it works with, unfortunately, but at Least America's Army is one so you can try it.

      • Shinare
      • 11 years ago

      agreed, “I wanna see some games!”

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 11 years ago

        haha, 2nded. “i wanna see some games!!” *shakes fists*

    • SonicSilicon
    • 11 years ago

    I bought stereoscopic shutter /[

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 11 years ago

    I was just talking with my wife about this. We picked up some glasses from Publix for the Aliens vs. Monsters trailer during the super-bowl.

    • Game_boy
    • 11 years ago

    Well, Nvidia needs the cash. They also need it to use CUDA to cover for the fact that AMD’s GPU has much better FLOPS and can therefore do GPGPU much faster.

    It’s a gimmick.

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 11 years ago

    My eyes just can’t see the 3D stuff. I don’t know why, but with those dorky glasses on, all I see is just a big blur. Talk about frustrating and eye straining.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 11 years ago

      Geoff has the same problem, according to Scott.

        • Dissonance
        • 11 years ago

        Not quite the same problem, at least with Nvidia’s latest tech. My right eye is extremely dominant, so I was only seeing the right-eye image, which looked fine. No blur or headaches to report… but nothing more 3D than I’m used to getting on a normal monitor without the glasses.

          • Aphasia
          • 11 years ago

          I have about the same problem really, I’m very left dominant because i had a really “lazy eye” on the right as a child. Was almost going blind on the right. Although some years ago I made en effert to learn how to interpret the “hidden” stereoscopic images that is based in patterns and only comes together in your cortex when you look beyond the image itself.

          Nowdays i can switch over to the right eye and the shift the right/left balance almost at will, although it requires a bit of concentration. But i managed to learn to see those stereoscopic like these.

          §[<http://www.eyetricks.com/3dstereo.htm<]§ That said, it also improved the normal stereoscopic perspective. And normal 3d shutters glasses with 100-120 refresh that only shows one image for each eye at any time will work fine and always did. Although the last time i used em was with an old TNT 2 Ultra implementation that worked with a specific driver set. Quake in 3d was rather hard though.

      • bthylafh
      • 11 years ago

      Me either, and haven’t been able to since birth.

      • Corrado
      • 11 years ago

      Mutants… the lot of ya.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Nice cover pic. The scientologists would be proud.

    • WaltC
    • 11 years ago

    The whole idea behind /[<3d games<]/ is that you play the game "in 3d" without the need for cumbersome atrocities like "stereoscopic 3d goggles"...;) The "3d" in "3d games" is supposed to take care of that much more convincingly. And it has, imo. Why would you take something so great and ruin it with stereoscopic gimmickry? I know that $$$ is the obvious answer, but still, that seems like grasping at straws...;)

    • 2cans
    • 11 years ago

    Stereoscopic 3D still sucks , thanks for the laugh

      • cygnus1
      • 11 years ago

      Agreed

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