VR: it’s not all about looking like a twat. Apparently.
In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. So it is written. All well and good, but apart from the gold hat, and ability to pull faces at people without them knowing (a pastime which seems to lose its glamour almost before I can finish describing it) there can’t be a lot else to write home* about can there?
For, paradoxically, this Cyclopean chieftain has nobody else in the world with which to enjoy his vision. No-one to share his incredible sights and sensations. So frustrating, and that's a bit like how it feels to be a 3d glasses gamer writing this. Even now I can only try to describe to you the experience. I can't show you, because your two eyes are as much use as an entire nation of sightless ones. Instead, here's a .jpg which will probably serve to confuse rather than inform.
You’re pissed mate. Don’t deny it, your face is all blurred.
There, now we've got that out of the way. That’s what you see, with your primitive man eyes. Looks like a pub-fight in the 23rd century from Concussed Barman Cam doesn’t it? However, add a pair of stylish 3d glasses, and it all becomes gloriously clear.
Why do we need them?
3d games, right? Full complement of dimensions, polygons and textures all presenting a pleasant gaming experience, putting you "right there" in the thick of the action. From original Doom to Far Cry and Half-Life2, the immersive 3d experience you can lose yourself in. Up to, and including, the point of inescapable bladder failure. Except it isn't really is it? What you get are 3d rendered images on a flat screen.
Nothing wrong with that, except it's exactly how one-eyed people, in their own big lonely soft-cornered kingdom, would play games. Those who, by quirk of fate or accident, can never experience proper depth perception and have no other choice. If you close one eye right now, the only perception you'll experience is the fuzzy obfuscation of your conk. Imagine that? Now keep it closed and fire up quake2 or something. See now? Superfluous peeper syndrome. Fact : you only need one eye for 3d gaming. Two is a bonus, but one will do just fine. Three, however, is pure, unashamed geekery.
Digital junkie’s “shooting-up kit” Mi casa, su casa.
What do they do?
I’ve just told you. 3d Specs open up your "third eye" without the need for recreational drugs or expensive surgery.
What do you need?
For PC :-
- A 3d graphics card (nvidia cards have separate stereo 3d drivers and are highly customisable, ATI support has been flaky in the past, but I’m given to understand that it is becoming better.)
- A crt monitor with decent refresh rate (75hz min, 120hz optimal) See why in the “How do They Work” section.
(At the time of press, e-dimensional.com have just introduced LCD monitor support too)
For TV :-
A telly. A console of choice.
How Do They Work?
Simply put, your monitor input connects to an adaptor, which then connects to your video card. This allows the rendered images on screen to be split, into two separate images, which your bespectacled eyes then extrapolate into full stereo imagery. This is achieved through the miracle of shutter glasses, which flash many times a second, in harmony with the refresh rate of your monitor. At first it looks like two separate blurry images. But as your eyes and brain do the math, it falls into place, you can gradually increase the image separation as your eyes get used to it, which, in turn enhances the 3d experience even more. The first time you do this and realise it is far, far better than you imagined is a real “wow” moment.
You will experience less flicker the higher you set your monitor’s refresh rate. At 100hz (rather than the standard 60hz) It’s smooth and pretty (always check that your monitor can support higher rates)
Settings can be tweaked on-the-fly. Such things as screen convergence, stereo separation, and even the backplane can be messed with, though thankfully, nvidia drivers come equipped with a whole slew of automatic configs for individual games, and are regularly updated. If your chosen game uses a crosshair, it is useless because it will be drawn at the wrong screen depth. Again Nvidia stereo drivers thoughtfully include a correctly set laser-sight, which can be toggled to replace the game’s original one. It’s all clever stuff.
Vorsprung durch Pageflip, as they say in Dusseldorf.
Why hasn't it caught on ?
a) Cosmetic reasons. Looking like a cock is merely one of the obstacles to be overcome if you are to fully enjoy the 3d experience. Allay these fears by shunning everyone around you and moving to Kettering.
b) Remember VR headsets? In theory the Tech of the future. In practice, lawsuit magnet (people walking off cliffs and crossing the M6 on helmeted Zelda quests. This, combined with the regrettable "Hurl Factor" effectively killed off the whole idea like a drunken suggestion for a sitcom involving sex offenders. Perhaps industry is still wary of the issues relating to the changing of people’s perception in this way. There are lots of warnings, disclaimers and even a “medical test image” to negotiate before you can join the stereovision club.
c) Fiddling about with esoteric settings to get it working. Although now it has never been easier to flip into the third dimension, like some Lovecraftian behemoth or John Major. Forums like the one at stereovision.net (link below) are a big help.
Where Can I Get Hold of a Pair Urgently?
You can now buy shutter glasses for your TV too, which means 3d Emmerdale as well as your favourite console games. Quite how the flicker aspect is tackled with the low frequency of a television signal remains to be seen. Two pairs of wireless glasses and a tv adaptor? $129.95 (about 72 quid) (Links at bottom of page)
With all this majestic dynamism, you’d expect game coders to be champing at the bit. However, the amount of tweaking required to run games in 3d with different engines is testimony to the fact that it’s perceived as no more than a clever gimmick. In fact, apart from stereovision mode on Magic Carpet (which is nothing like how 3d specs work) this correspondent can think of no other game which takes account of the technology that can transform their dull flat games into a vibrant, holographic experience. In a way that’s good, because otherwise we’d have the gaming equivalent of Jaws 3d on the shelves, and we don’t want that. Oh no. Luckily, OpenGL and DirectX games are incredibly stereovision friendly.
Zelda 3d “Pointing at the audience with a fishing rod” mod.
It’s also been said “It’s better in 2d.” Certainly a lot less hassle. You can open that other eye now. Sorry.
Exceptionally good games to play in stereo.
- Quake III arena (fragalicious in-your-face ferocity)
- Star Trek Elite Force (the best ever, astounding holographic depth)
- Return to castle wolfenstein (scarier than hairy women)
- Roller Coaster Tycoon3 (1st person 3d coaster ride action - cheap day out!)
- Tiger Woods 2005 (the ball cam view is stupendous)
- Battlefield Vietnam (summer of love in the killing fields)
- F1 Grand Prix Challenge 99-02
To name but a handful.
*Assuming that anyone were able to read it. Ahem.