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A 3D View of How We Got Here

Computing is heading towards an era of any place, any time, and any device user experiences with information delivered through write-once reach-many content and applications across all platforms. Neil discusses the choice the industry is facing.

A Very Important Choice Indeed!

Computing is heading towards an era of any place, any time, and any device user experiences with information delivered through write-once reach-many content and applications across all platforms.

The journey to this era is the Client-to-Cloud Revolution, which includes the clients, the cloud, the tools and applications, and all the networking infrastructures that bind them together.  The revolution is far bigger than any one company and it will require significant collaboration at all points.

As a result the computing industry is facing a choice — will it collaborate and build a world that all the players of the market can live in and very effectively compete for market share, or will it be a very divided ecosystem of separated bubbles of varying sizes, each working to its own abilities and finite strengths?

How did we get here — a personal view.

My first work in modern computing was in stereoscopic 3D gaming back in 2007.  My excitement began with what was then known as 3D LCD shutter glasses at a time when the technology was growing less and less compatible with the available displays and monitors.  I launched the Meant to be Seen website to prove that there was demand for stereoscopic 3D gaming, and in combination with the popularity of 3D movies in Hollywood and other efforts, there was enough excitement and proof that 3D had legs for multiple industries to take it seriously.

Nvidia 3D Vision Setup ("Old Faithful")

Stereoscopic 3D gaming was made possible by 3D drivers.  Developed by Nvidia, iZ3D, and Dynamic Digital Depth, the software captured DirectX API calls while a game was played, then the driver created a second camera view where none existed before, and passed on a stereoscopic 3D image to the display. This was accomplished even though the game was never designed to be played in true 3D form to begin with.

Notice the missing shadow in the left eye of this stereoscopic 3D rendering!

The experiences were amazing although there were some tradeoffs.  Games often had to have their eye candy reduced or one would get various visual problems. Some games required limited stereoscopic 3D settings which took away from the wow factor, and others were just terrible 3D implementations because the software didn’t work or not enough time was invested in making the game a rewarding 3D experience.

Consumers also had difficult choices to make.  Few 3D glasses worked on more than one type of 3D television, games were coded for only one brand of graphics card at a time, and the few standards that were agreed on were very poor because they prevented gamers from using their display equipment and high-performance computers from realizing all they were capable of.  A case in point: imagine having a 1080P television, and being forced to game in shoddy 720P resolution despite having the beefiest computer around?  That was a terrible state of affairs!

The reason this situation developed was because  many suppliers thought they were big enough and self-sufficient enough to own the 3D market.  It’s a very believable and understandable conclusion; that if a vendor sponsored the right sports programming, or if they owned the right ecosystem, or if they locked down the right content makers in cinema and gaming, they could own the 3D market.

Those plans  did not work out.  Two of the three stereoscopic 3D driver developers are out of business, the third dropped consumer 3D support entirely, and even though 3D movies are still in wide release, it is nearly impossible to buy a 3D television to see the same film at home because they aren’t sold anymore.  I think you can still buy a 3D projector, but that’s probably a very specialized afterthought market by now.

Imagine how different the 3D market could have been if there was a standard for 3D glasses to work on every display and television. How much customer frustration could have been prevented by achieving just that?  How much more product could have been sold?  Imagine if stereoscopic 3D games didn’t require a creative software hack to get an unreliable 70% visual result?  What if it was plug and play instead of plug and pray?  What if the standards supported all displays and all graphics cards in the full resolutions that 3D televisions and computing horsepower were truly capable of?  Imagine how profitable this whole market could have been for technology and content maker alike. And imagine the joy consumers would have experienced.

Epic Games' Mark Rein (left) and Neil Schneider at
Unreal Tournament in 3D exhibition at SIGGRAPH

That stereoscopic 3D industry was very important to me and I am very proud of the hard work and the amazing products that came out of it by everyone.  It’s the industry model that failed, and I think there is a lesson to be learned from that.

Fast forward to 2019, and the 2007 stereoscopic 3D displays, content, and applications seem exceedingly simple compared to the ambitions of today’s Client-to-Cloud Revolution.  It’s not enough that 5G or high bandwidth technologies exist.  It’s not enough that there are behemoth datacenters with unbelievable amounts of computing horsepower.  It’s not enough that that there are millions of customers lying in wait and that there are countless types of computing client platforms that will benefit from this.  So much more is needed to make this ecosystem work beyond that 70% of potential deliverable.

Cloud gaming is one of the industry’s new developments in this revolution, and the basis is that instead of having a powerful localized computer or console, you can get all your content streamed to you live from remote cloud computers through high bandwidth technologies like fiber optic cable, 5G, Wifi6, and more.  Just some of the players in the field include Google Stadia, Microsoft’s Project xCloud, Sony PlayStation Now, Hatch Entertainment, Blade Group, Nvidia GeForce Now and many more with more to come.

Similar to how stereoscopic 3D displays enriched my gaming experiences, there are all kinds of long-term benefits to cloud gaming and similar ideas that I am personally excited about.  One of its remaining challenges is the latency or the delay between the gamer’s reaction time and seeing the actual changes on screen adds some limits to the experience potential.

Google Stadia

To account for this the Google Stadia product will use artificial intelligence to compensate for the latency associated with cloud gaming.  The idea is that while the player is gaming, the AI will estimate what the player plans to do and adjust for this through prediction.  In other words, to make up for the latency, the plan is for the computer to do some fortune telling to make the game seem like it is performing better than it is.  Google expects the technology to be available within the next couple of years.

I agree with Google’s assessment.  Like the stereoscopic 3D driver of gaming’s past, artificial intelligence mixed with cloud streaming will probably deliver an experience comparable to what gamers are hoping for or accustomed to locally.  It’s a brilliant idea.  Still, wouldn’t it be amazing if work was done in parallel so that this solution became unnecessary?  Or better yet, even more groundwork is laid down so that all kinds of opportunities could be taken advantage of that weren’t available before?  It strikes me that if a $280 billion dollar company such as Google requires inventing this kind of innovation from scratch, it means the challenge and the best solution is bigger than any one company – MUCH, MUCH, BIGGER.

This is why the Client-to-Cloud Revolution is very exciting and necessary, and why steps are being taken to build this as a computing era rather than a series of disconnected product introductions.  The benefits to this revolution are clear: it delivers the best customer experiences, it helps avert serious risk by all parties, it builds a viable ecosystem for vendors to compete in, and most importantly – it helps everyone deliver products that work and sell right out of the box (or digital box!).

I expect that everyone reading this has a part in this developing Client-to-Cloud Revolution.  If you are responsible for your organization’s strategy and roadmap in compute, network architecture and telecommunications, immersive technology, or innovative content and applications, the ecosystem is gathering at The International Future Computing Summit this coming November 5-6 in Mountain View, California.  Your voice is important, and we look forward to seeing you there!

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