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Five Reasons 3D Display ISN'T Doomed (A Rebuttal)

Neil Schneider, Executive Director of The S-3D Gaming Alliance (, responds to Steve Peterson's claims that stereoscopic 3D displays are doomed.

I'd like to respond to a blog written by Steve Peterson on  In it, he lists "5 Reasons 3D Display is Doomed".  It's a very fixed position, and I feel compelled to share some insight of my own.

First, Mr. Peterson's article begins with the statement "I realize that a great deal of enthusiasm has been expressed about its prospects, but that's mostly by executives with a vested interest in seeing it succeed. What are the real chances?"

I will first remark that this "3D executive" took an interest long before 3D was popular. started as an idea posted in the early Nvidia 3D gamers' forum (I'm "Chopper") over four years ago, and grew from there.  Much of MTBS is put together by volunteers who invest their personal time because they love 3D gaming and want to see it succeed.  This gamer driven movement is what later made The S-3D Gaming Alliance possible.

If I have a vested interest in 3D, it's because I'm a customer first.  Now to respond to Mr. Peterson's remarks:

1. 3D Is Expensive

"The new generation of consoles helped catalyze the purchase of HDTVs, and now we ask customers to drop at least $2000 on a new set so they can play 3D titles?"

Over ten years ago, the first traditional HDTVs were sold in 1998 for between $5,000 to $10,000 US - and the dollar was valued higher back then.  Looking at a current Best Buy online listing, the most expensive 3D HDTV featured is the Samsung 55" unit going for about $5,000 US (Model UN55C9000).   The Samsung 46" 3D Plasma is going for about $1,400 US (Model LN46C750).

In the 2D market, Samsung's 65" (Model UN65C6500) is going for over $4,000 US, and the majority of mid-range units are going for about $2,000 a piece.  Not so far off from the 3D world, if you ask me.  I only focused on Samsung for consistency, but it's a very diverse market including Sony, LG Electronics, Panasonic, and more.

A leading criticism Mr. Peterson uses against 3D is that people won't buy a second set, let alone make a purchase like this in the current economy.  According to DisplaySearch, LCD TV sales saw a 50% increase in 2009.  According to ISuppli, even during a recession, 2009 saw a first quarter flat panel sales increase of 7.8 million units, or 17 percent.  This was attributed to cocooning, or cutting back on travel in favour of a great home entertainment system.

We have to remember that these tail-end buyers aren't the early adopters, they are the bargain hunters.  If indeed people want the 3D benefits, and all the customer data we have to work with says they do, then it's a brand new product cycle for the early adopters looking to upgrade their living room experience - which is justification for a second HDTV in their home.

While I admit that $1,400 is very reasonable for a 3D HDTV, the 3D market is clearly targeting the early adopters now, with the mass market to follow - similar to HDTV.

2. It's Nauseating

"Headaches, dizziness, nausea... not exactly the effects you want your game to induce."

If we look at the 3D cinema world, there is a lot of repeat business happening with masses of people going to 3D movies.  Unfortunately, cinema has a handicap that forces them to come up with a single 3D experience for everyone.  Despite this, the papers have not been strewn with claims of Avatar 3D nausea - just sales.

In the gaming space, we have a double-edged sword.  You can customize the 3D experience individually, right down to the level of depth, and how much of that depth is inside and outside the screen.  Very exciting stuff!  Unfortunately, it can be an uncomfortable experience if gamers don't choose their settings properly.  There is a small learning curve here.

It's unfortunate that Samsung's warning label was blasted across the media the way it was.  MTBS has countless members who have been happily gaming in 3D for a very long time, and see this as a protective corporate measure - not a warning of things to come.

3. Resolution/frame rate loss

"3D requires you to give up half the frame rate, or give up resolution, in order to display twice as many frames as normal. Many processes result in lower brightness (a big problem with 3D movies)."

I'm going to let you in on a dirty gaming industry secret.  While the console spec encourages 60 frames per second game play, many top game developers render at 30 frames per second.  So while the expected drop in frames is getting its share of media coverage, most gamers won't notice.

As far as resolution is concerned, only a handful of console games render at 1080P.  720P is closer to 2D standard than most realize.  Using traditional 2D gaming as the standard, this drop of resolution and performance isn't a big deal at all.

The brightness aspect has to do with the choice of 3D television and glasses more so than anything else.  Similar to HDTV progress, 3D displays are getting brighter to compensate, and there are future 3D innovations to come, I'm sure!

4. No New Gameplay

"So far it's not clear what 3D display brings to the game design table in terms of enabling new forms of play. The Wii showed that relatively simple and cheap technology could bring innovative new gameplay modes; so did the DS with its two screens. I have yet to hear how 3D display will enable new game play, or even refine current gameplay. Without something new to offer, will customers buy into it?"

It's not about the game play - it never was.  According to The 2009 U-Decide Initiative, the number one reason for gamers to regularly buy updated equipment (e.g. GPUs, CPUs, Sound Cards, better displays, etc.) is game immersion - the desire to feel part of the game.  3D ties into that perfectly, which is why so much interest has developed around it.

There have been some experiments around treating depth as part of the game; like catching fireflies in a net.  However, immersion is the big motivator right now.

5. 3D is Dying in Theaters

"The highly anticipated wave of 3D movies has washed over the theaters and pulled away, leaving the beaches exposed. Avatar did great business, but successive movies had lower audiences."

A source wasn't quoted for this remark, so I'm going to take an educated guess.  The Wrap ran an article featuring a chart of 3D movies, and their declining 3D to 2D revenue share.  What The Wrap failed to mention was that each listed movie had fewer and fewer screens to work with.  When Avatar was released, they had virtually no 3D competition.  Now that multiple 3D movies have to share the limited 3D screen space at the same time, the audience numbers look very different - artificially so.

We also have to remember that Avatar was the biggest selling movie of all time with a 15 year development history - not a 2D/3D afterthought conversion.  Not even Steven Spielberg can shatter movie sales records week after week after week.  If life were like that!

I will conclude by saying that while 3D has a committed and exciting future, the whole industry is going through a learning curve.  Several organizations including The S-3D Gaming Alliance, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Panasonic, Blitz Games Studios, Steelseries, Zalman, and more, are doing a study of what gamers think about 3D and which experiences excite them the most.  It is hoped that what is learned from The 2010 U-Decide Initiative will help shape video games to come.

Once the study is complete, over fifty prizes will be drawn including a 3D HDTV, gaming headsets, a 3D monitor, and over 40 console and PC video games.  The preliminary results will be revealed at GDC Online (formerly GDC Austin) in October.

Both traditional 2D and experienced stereoscopic 3D gamers are welcome to participate...even Steve Peterson!

Thanks for reading!

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