Acer is working on a new line of 3D capable netbooks. The game based around James Cameron's Avatar is set to be the first major video game built for 3D. Samsung and LG both have 3D HDTV's out on the market right now, and over in Japan they have 3D mobile phones that don't even require glasses. Wherever you look around the world, 3D technology is marching towards ubiquity. DDD is leading that march.
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DDD (site) is a Perth, Australia based company that specializes in 3D software. Their TriDef technology can be found in the new 3D Acer notebooks, Samsung's 3D HDTVs, and a variety of Sharp 3D notebooks overseas. Chris Yewdall is the CEO of DDD and last Friday I had a chance to talk with him about the future of 3D. Here's what I learned.
On Glasses Free 3D.
“There's been a number of products that have been launched commercially that give you 3D without glasses.”
While it may seem far-fetched over here in the U.S, glasses-free 3D technology has existed in Japan and Korea for several years now, thanks in no small part to DDD. They supplied the TriDef software that Sharp used on many of its earliest 3D 'without glasses' phones and notebooks. Intrigued, I asked Chris just how glasses-free 3D works.
“The main difference [between glasses-free and glasses 3D] is where you have to sit. You broadcast from the screen two slightly different pictures. You are seeing the left and right images at the same time. The Sharp laptops broadcast those two pictures to very different areas and you have to sit at the right place to see the 3D. They're really only made for one person at a time.”
That's why we haven't seen any glasses-free laptops made for widespread use. They're much more limited (and much more expensive) than making a traditional 3D laptop.
“With the glasses you can see the 3D anywhere, so it's a much less restrictive environment.” said Yewdall.
On Acer's 3D Laptops and Nvidia.
Acer released information about their upcoming line of 3D laptops just a few days ago. There's been a lot of buzz about them since, including some rumors that Nvidia was behind Acer's 3D technology.
“The one thing I'd like to see cleared up is that this might be an Nvidia solution. It's not.” said Yewdall.
While Nvidia does produce 3D technology most of their work is done on contract basis with specific products in mind. DDD's TriDef technology was designed for a much broader spate of applications.
“The nice thing about DDD software is that we're sort of agnostic as to retailer. You tell us what type of display you have and we plug the pixels in so you can see it in 3D.”
The first 3D laptops that DDD had a hand in were manufactured by Sharp, and meant mainly for medical and scientific use. They were very expensive pieces of equipment, which is thankfully a trait that the new Acer laptops will not share.
“I think with Acer you're going to see much more competitive pricing.” said Yewdall.
On Samsung's 3D HDTVs.
“I think that the U.S has lead the market in 3D television, oddly enough. Samsung launched a series of 3D ready DLP TVs in 2007...[and] plasma 3D TVs in early 2008.”
Samsung's 3D televisions all use DDD's TriDef technology, which allows them to transfer pretty much any modern movie or console video game to 3D in real time. You just pop your DVD in (or hook your console up) and the television does the rest. While the price of 3D TVs will need to come down a bit before they're ready for the mainstream, the technology itself is already well developed. Glasses-free 3D televisions are obviously the next step. I asked Chris how far away we were from seeing them.
“It's certainly something that people have put a lot of time into trying to deliver. 3D without glasses works quite well on small screens like mobile phones. When you need to have a lot of people able to view it, problems start.”
The technology exists, but in order to have a 3D television that more than one person could use you'd have to sacrifice a great deal of clarity and image quality. By contrast, current HD 3D technology offers incredibly high resolution, at the comparatively small cost of wearing dorky glasses.
“What you can do with glasses on the Acer Notebooks and the HDTVs is HD 3D. It is absolutely gorgeous.” Yewdall added, “To get the same resolution out of a glasses free TV you would have to use an 8 megapixel LCD panel.”
Chris stated that a panel like that would cost around $20,000, putting it well out of the price range of anyone whose last name isn't 'Gates'. That doesn't mean we'll never see an affordable glasses-free TV, it just means we'll have to wait a while.
“We will get there, but realistically it's on the horizon. Users are happy to sit there with glasses on as long as the content is good and the picture quality is good.”
The 3D Future of Gaming.
In my research for this interview, I learned that DDD offers software that allows gamers to play virtually any modern game in 3D. Lots of great games, like Empire: Total War, BioShock, and Assassin's Creed, can all be played in 3D thanks to DDD's software.
I'm an avid gamer myself, and the potential of playing Empire in 3D was too awesome to ignore. I asked Chris why 3D gaming has kept a relatively low profile so far, and when we could look forward to a major game being built specifically for 3D play.
“The latter will happen this year.” Yewdall said, referring to the upcoming Avatar game. “DDD and Nvidia have been the main movers behind this [3D gaming]. Nvidia 3D Vision is essentially extra capability for the graphics card. Any game you can play today, the card will create two images for it.”
He added, “DDD has different software. We call this TriDef ignition. It isn't in the graphics card, it's actually one layer above that as a piece of software. It looks at the commands the game sends to the graphics card and turns them into 3D commands. You can pretty much play any game on it.”
Since its launch in April 2009, over 140 games have been converted to 3D using the TriDef Ignition software. Some of the titles have been converted by DDD engineers, but many of them have been added by players themselves.
“As soon as a new game becomes available our players can create their own profile and share with anyone. We're not so restrictive as Nvidia with the displays, you can plug our software into any display. We have a pretty open approach to letting anyone use any display with our products.”
It's this attitude that makes DDD such an exciting company to watch. The best way to stimulate 3D gaming is by creating a demand for it. By allowing players to convert their favorite titles to 3D, DDD is building a strong base of 3D gamers. In the long run, I think DDD's open policy will benefit not only them as a company, but the whole gaming community as well.
The true mark of success for any technology is when it becomes ubiquitous. The Internet, the personal computer, and the cell phone all reached this plateau some time ago. The smartphone is well on its way right now. I asked Chris if he thought 3D technology would ever reach that point.
“That's very similar to a question you might have asked a few decades ago when color TVs first came out. Now we've got color screens on our PCs, our notebooks, our TVs. 3D is really a logical progression. Adding depth to an image makes it more realistic and lifelike to the human eye. In the next five years or so you'll see an increasingly large number of TVs and PCs with 3D built into them.” said Yewdall.
He added, “When companies like Acer and Samsung become involved in these markets it's not because they want to sell a small number of them.”