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A Developer's Guide To Stereoscopic 3D In Games
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A Developer's Guide To Stereoscopic 3D In Games

August 17, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[Wondering what the landscape for stereoscopic 3D games looks like? This in-depth article from Darkworks SA co-founder Guillaume Gouraud examines platforms, display technologies and middleware, to offer a look at the landscape for developers planning to implement 3D into their games.]

Whether you love it or hate it, stereoscopic 3D is here, and with it comes new challenges that will certainly have developers and publishers questioning if they have the technological muscle and understanding to make the leap into this new arena.

To help, we'll cover how stereoscopic 3D works, while also examining various technological solutions making true depth possible. And with the new surge of technological advancements over the past years, there is indeed plenty to explore.

3D Platforms

In 2006, a new wave of consoles introduced High Definition content within the video game industry. While this shift proved to be a delicate subject for some, the majority of the console industry embraced HD as a hot new technology that promised to advance the gaming experience with stunning visuals and a never-before-seen level of immersion.

Several companies did well throughout this transition, while others were not so fortunate. All the same, HD is now entrenched within the industry.

Fast forward to the year 2011 -- now 3D is poised to secure its position as the future of interactive entertainment. As evidence of this evolution, electronic titans Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have all opened their systems to be 3D capable.

Sony first issued an update in 2010 to the PlayStation 3's firmware, permitting it to play new 3D-enabled Blu-rays and games. Microsoft too made the jump with the Xbox 360, putting the responsibility on developers to incorporate 3D into their titles.

While Microsoft is not pushing this feature just yet, the system equals the 3D quality already available on the PlayStation 3. Nintendo also made its move into the third dimension by developing the world's first handheld 3D gaming console, the 3DS.

How 3D Imaging Works

To understand the various elements involved in creating 3D-enabled games, it's necessary to first examine how 3D images are processed by the end user. Furthermore, we will also take a look at the fundamental technologies used to display these images.

The process that enables the viewing of three-dimensional objects is known as Binocular Single Vision. This allows us to distinguish between two and three-dimensional images based on the fact that we have two distinct eyes that provide slightly different perspectives of the same object.

When the object is viewed, because our eyes are positioned inches apart from one another, each eye observes separate and slightly dissimilar images from the other, which is call parallax. Our brains don't see the two separate images as double, but rather it fuses them together through a process known as stereopsis to form a single percept. This allows us to not only distinguish the length, width and height of objects, but the depth and distance between them as well.

Understanding 3D Technologies

To exhibit true depth using display mechanisms, there is one universal law that all 3D technologies must have in common. That is, using the same guiding principles as our visual system, 3D displays have to rely on sending slightly different perspectives of the same image to each eye. While there are variations on how this is accomplished, ultimately the technologies can be divided into three categories. Those are passive, active shutter and auto-stereoscopic display. All are explained in detail below.

Passive (Filtered Lenses)

Filtered lenses are often referred to as "passive glasses" as they do not require the use of batteries nor do they need to be electronically linked to the display mechanism, which active systems require. Instead, they use simple optical filters to selectively sort the right and left images to the correct eye.

Anaglyph visualization was the earliest form of passive 3D and was developed more than a hundred years ago by Wilhelm Rollmann. The workings behind this technique are fairly straightforward. Using strongly different, almost chromatically opposite colors, the left and right images must be dyed and printed on top of one another via the same, two-dimensional medium such as a plain sheet of paper. The viewer can then decode the fused image by wearing a set of glasses that contain corresponding colored filters, sending a precise image to the correct eye without interference.

A company called TriOviz has recently commercialized glasses they call INFICOLOR that use a part of the technology that enabled these sorts of anaglyph 3D glasses, but with a modern innovative twist -- the use of much more complex filters that allow wearers to perceive natural colors with great viewing comfort. INFICOLOR glasses allow regular 2D HDTVs to render 3D images; they work with games that have been pre-treated with TriOviz's technology.

More recently, a newer version of passive technology has emerged using polarized lenses. Many of you are most likely familiar with this technique as it's commonly used by RealD and IMAX 3D to display movies in true 3D. However, as of late, TV manufacturers such as Vizio and LG have also decided to incorporate this system into their new lines of 3D TVs.

The technology works by interlacing the left and right images together using a unique screen made of two emitting filters on top of one another. Each image is displayed using a property of light called polarization. This allows the passive-polarized glasses to then selectively filter out light between two images using the corresponding polarized films. Therefore, each eyepiece must be polarized in a different direction, allowing separate images to be delivered to each eye. In this manner a 3D effect is achieved.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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