The Gadget Show Live 2010: Part 1

Well this year I booked early, last October to be precise, so I managed to get Super Theatre tickets as well as entrance to the exhibition. The Super Theatre tickets were well worth the extra money and the live show itself was really good. I will write more about the show in the next few days, first I want to talk about some of the more exciting new tech that was on show in the exhibition, 3D.

One thing I expected to see lots of at the exhibition, as it seems to be the next big thing, were 3D TVs and I was not disappointed. Not by the lack of companies showing off their 3D systems at least, the TVs themselves however… Well, you’ll see.

There are three different 3D technologies that are going to be appearing in TVs soon (not including the old Red/Cyan method). Panasonic and LG have two very different ways of delivering three dimensional imagery to your brain, both required glasses and a special TV, obviously both provide a slightly different image to the left and the right eye to give the illusion of depth, but the similarities stop there. The Panasonic system uses glasses that blank one eye then the other, these shuttered glasses are in sync with a 120Hz display that is showing the left and right images one after another. I found the glasses bulky and they didn’t fit well over my own glasses (a must if I am to focus on something more than a meter away) very well at all, I had to more or less hold them on. The 3D itself worked but felt a bit like a Magic Eye image, whether it was the bad demo loop or the technology causing this I don’t know it would be nice to try all of the tech with the same demo loop (Avatar trailer?) to get a better comparison. Besides the bulky glasses needed to use this system there is one other huge drawback. The shuttered glasses cause aliasing with any other screens but worse, they also cause it with electric lighting which means the lights start to flicker horribly, and I mean headache creating bad. The exhibitor said it was because of the strip lights used at the NEC and as most people don’t have them in their TV room at home it would not be a problem. He is right about one thing, a conventional bulb won’t do this, but I am almost certain that you will get the exact same effect with the energy savers most of use these days.

So I didn’t think much about Panasonic’s offerings to the realm of 3D, but was LG any better? in a word, yes. LG use polarised glasses rather than shuttered which means that there is no electronics in the glasses themselves so they are far lighter and less cumbersome, the glasses are identical to the ones you would find at a 3D cinema, the clever bit in LG’s system goes on inside the TV, getting the two images displayed at the same time but in oppositely polarised light. I assume that the TVs themselves have twice the resolution of a standard set and on top of the normal RGB filters for each pixel there is also a 0deg90deg filter to polarise the light from each pixel, this will probably make the sets more expensive (no prices have been released that I can find yet) but it has far less other drawbacks from the active shutter system. I found it was more comfortable to watch and seemed more 3D where the Panasonic system seemed to be made up of layers.

There is a third technology that I did not see which will make 3D possible without any kind of glasses, but as I didn’t see it there or have any idea of how it is supposed to work I can’t really say any more about it.

[EDIT] Gizmodo have just posted an article which states that Sharp and now Hitachi are working on glassesless 3D, they are wondering if it will be able to compete with Panasonic’s offering, but I still think that LG are the ones to beat.

Though I have just mentioned two manufactures this is purely because I got a go on their kit, all the other big names are making their own versions using one of the three technologies and which will be the one to go for only time will tell. Of course 3D may not take off at all, Gizmodo published this article yesterday saying why bad 3D will make people give up on the idea altogether and it is a good point, without good content these systems are useless, it is all very well releasing Clash of the Titans in 3D but if it is a shit film 3D won’t make it better, even a good film will not be improved by 3D unless it is done properly. In the first Gadget Show magazine Jon Bentley says (of 3D):

I loved Avatar – but I’m not convinced people can be bothered at home.

So will it take off for home viewing? I don’t think it will until the content is there, and without the installed user-base to sell the content to, who is going to make the content? Well there is one area which has had 3D content for years but very few ways to view it in 3D. Video Games.

The final system I had a look at was NVidia 3D Vision. By installing this software and hooking your computer up to a compatible monitor or projector you could watch 3D movies and play nearly any game in 3D. Like the Panasonic system it uses shuttered glasses. For movies this is fine but in games there is a slight issue, NVidia list anything newer than an 8 series card as working with this system (recommending an 8800GT as the minimum) but what you have to remember is that for every frame you have to render to get the game running in 2D you need to render two to get it to work in 3D. Basically running 3D will cut you frame rate in half so you will need bleeding edge hardware to play the latest games in 3D.
Most of the demos I saw where almost certainly using the upcoming GTX 480 cards which will cost around £450 or more when released (and as they were in some of the computers Scan had on their stand it is clear they are with OEMs and probably not far from general release) but to be fair lower end cards will work with some games at least, as I saw a 3D laptop with a GTX260m (ASUS G51J 3D) running Street Fighter IV and despite kicking out enough heat to cook your Sunday dinner it was coping very well.

It is my opinion that 3D is not yet ready for the home, NVidia are closest as they have the content, but they use a system with bulky glasses (though I suspect it would work with any other 3D system with a little tweaking, PCs are good like that), it does make Batman: Arkham Asylum look brilliant but at the cost of half your frame-rate. When more proper 3D films have been released (ones that don’t think it necessary to add “3D” to the title) then I think it may catch on, I won’t hold my breath though as it seems just as likely to me that it will be seen as a gimmick and remain in selected cinemas showing plot-less films with bad acting but good special effects.


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