Is 3D gaming the missing piece of the PS4 puzzle?

Killzone 3 made the case better than any other PS3 title: 3D gaming can work. Sony wisely used Guerrilla’s shooter to spearhead its big push with 3D TVs and then… it went quiet. But as I found out from recent snooping, the trail isn’t cold yet, and 3D may well be about to make a comeback with the dawn of PS4.

What next for 3D gaming?

It all started when I attended a Sony event and got chatting about the company’s long-term plans with one passionate employee who wished to remain anonymous. He lit up when I mentioned PS4 and threw a vital nugget of info my way: “We’ve only shown the controller, haven’t we?” he said, scoffing down a mini burger, “but there is some serious onboard storage in that thing.” For the rest of the day my mind was running wild: if PS4’s opening gambit was to convince us all of the connected and cloud-based future, why beef up the storage of the console so massively? My conclusion: 3D is coming back.

Sony has always pioneered wider media usage in its gaming hardware. Think the original PlayStation’s dual purpose as a CD player, PS2’s as a DVD player or – not least – PS3 and Vita’s aggressive expansion into media streaming.

In each example you can see the broader ecosystem of the company inching into its gaming hardware. So to get an idea of where Sony is headed with its next console we should look at the greater interests and advances across the board.

“We’re confident 3D will take off again
with more and more auto-stereoscopic
displays arriving in the future”

For PS4, it’s worth taking a peek at Sony’s camera and TV divisions. This is where I found Claus Pfeifer, strategic marketing manager of Sony Professional Solutions’ live production, and evangelist for – tah-dah! – 3D. “Around 200 3D Blu-ray titles exist, and around 240 3D videogames,” he tells me. “More types of 3D content are available [than ever], targeting a wider range of audience. We’re confident 3D will take off again with more and more auto-stereoscopic displays arriving in the future.”

3d tv sony 3d glassesThe mention of auto-stereoscopy (glasses-free 3D) is telling – a suggestion it’s the chunky specs that have been a barrier to the world of 3D gaming. Eidos Montreal super-producer David Anfossi agrees, “Wearing the glasses and consuming 3D in the home isn’t popular. The main reason is that 3D, in its current state, degrades the gaming experience instead of improving it. Games look worse: resolution decreases and the framerate drops. The advent of 3D TV without glasses should encourage 3D in the home.” Conversely, the rise of Oculus Rift, Google Glass and Sony’s 3D viewers, the HMZ series, demonstrate that there’s interest in head-mounted displays.

Andrew Jones, technical director of Sawfly Studios, feels wearable tech is the future of 3D: “The power of 3D is in immersion. Delivering this is all about technological innovation and economics. Mobile devices and 3D TVs can only deliver so much. The holy grail – the reason techies have been excited about 3D and VR for decades – is the visual part of the ‘holodeck’ experience. This means a head-mounted display. At some point a consumer-level VR device will have sufficient performance at the right price to make the leap from sideshow to main event.”

If the barrier of glasses is removed, and the issue of storage (3D movie downloads can clock in at 20GB) is unlocked by the purported beef of PS4, that just leaves the developers to satisfy. There’s also a genuine hurdle in the very nature of programming a 3D title: “With dual-rendered 3D, the engine draws the same image for each eye. It’s the strongest 3D effect, but is expensive,” says technical artist Thomas Smith. But Halli Bjornsson of Lockwood Publishing – one of the men integral in the making of PlayStation Home – is more optimistic. “3D relies on high framerates and resolution, both of which will continue to increase along with lower costs, so it’s inevitable [3D will take off],” he explains.

Sony is the master of futureproofing its hardware – and PS4 will be no different, thanks to the cloud, ‘serious onboard storage’, the console’s streaming capabilities, and its many other innovative features. Sony will have it covered and, quite possibly, be the company to determine the future of 3D across all its divisions. A new era indeed.

 

Uncharted 3 2D/3D comparions image source: Eurogamer

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