Opinion: Digital Gear: A new dimension to 3-D

Forget the funky movie glasses; 3-D is growing up

Sans the cheap plastic spectacles, 3-D has come a long way since its introduction for movies decades ago. Sharper images and deeper resolutions have made three-dimensional televisions colorful, accompanied by sleek and expensive 3-D glasses. 3-D technology has also made its way to webcams, binoculars and video games, and attempts are under way to get rid of those dreaded glasses. Alioscopy USA Inc. is developing 3-D display technology that could do that.

Minoru's 3-D webcam

The Minoru 3-D webcam resembles a hammerhead shark's head, with a camera on either side of its sleek contour. The cameras join images together to provide a full "stereoscopic" 3-D effect, much like the human eye, according to the company. But to enjoy the video effects on a computer, users have to wear 3-D glasses that come with the webcam. The webcam can be used with instant messaging software, and it also records 3-D video for sites like YouTube. The camera offers video output of 800 by 600 pixels at 30 frames per second.

However, 3-D images are usually blurry and viewable only with the special glasses. Therein lies the product's flaw, as noted by user Varun Arora on Amazon.com. "If the users at 'the other end' don't have the glasses, they'll see a blurred image, and you'll find yourself switching back to a 'regular' webcam," Arora says.

In the U.S., the Minoru 3-D webcam is available at Amazon.com for $89.95. The product is also available internationally through the company's Web site.

3-D gaming

If you thought Halo 3 on an Xbox was good, buckle up for the possibility of Halo 3-D. Nvidia Corp. demonstrated 3-D gaming with its GeForce 3-D Vision kit at the International CES in Las Vegas. The kit includes sleek 3-D glasses and an LCD monitor that provide a full-blown 3-D PC gaming experience. Using the glasses, I became hooked on a 3-D guitar game I was playing on a Samsung 22-in. LCD monitor. The close-to-high-definition imagery added incredible depth and reality to the game compared with traditional two-dimensional television images.

The 3-D Vision bundle is available on Nvidia's Web site for $598. The package also includes an infrared transmitter through which the glasses communicate with the monitor. Nvidia includes software that can convert close to 300 2-D PC games to 3-D. However, users at CES weren't excited about investing $598 in the kit until more 3-D PC games became available. The active shutter glasses can be bought separately for $199.

Panasonic mammoth

Panasonic Corp. introduced at CES a 103-in. plasma HDTV display that could show 3-D Blu-ray movies. The TV can display full high-definition images for each eye -- essentially plugging two 1,920-by-1,280-pixel resolution images into one screen -- which brings more detail, according to Panasonic.

Plasma is the only TV capable of delivering a full 3-D HD experience as it refreshes images at faster rates without compromising the image resolution, Panasonic said. "You will no longer just be watching a movie; you'll be experiencing the realism of Hollywood film," the company said.

The bad news is that users would again need a pair of glasses to watch 3-D images on the TV. The company hasn't announced a ship date for the TV.

3-D sans the glasses

Alioscopy at CES showed off 3-D displays that require no glasses. Alioscopy's 3-DHD autostereoscopic LCD display includes a lenticular lens that provides a 3-D effect from different angles depending on a viewer's position. Before the images reach the display, an algorithm first processes them to provide 3-D effects.

Alioscopy said the monitors are available in 24-in. and 40-in. models and will ship in volume through the company and partners later this year. Right now, the 40-in. and 24-in. models cost about $10,000 and $4,500, respectively, said Alioscopy CEO Philippe Roche.

The monitors are not targeted at TV for home entertainment, but for specific applications such as outdoor advertising displays. The company hopes to display broadcast TV through its monitors someday, Roche said.

3-D binoculars and camera

Distant images can be viewed and pictures taken in 3-D with the 3-D VuCam binoculars and camera from StereoVision Imaging Inc. By pressing a button, users can see "eye-popping" 3-D images from a distance wearing special 3-D glasses, according to the company. The binoculars use two 3.1-megapixel cameras to create single 3-D images. The camera has an 8x optical zoom and can shoot images up to 300 feet away. It also bundles software that can resize and readjust the 3-D depth of images.

To store pictures, the binoculars include a CompactFlash memory card slot and a USB port for external storage. Flash can be purchased as an accessory to shoot images in the dark. At $1,000, it is a pricey, but cool, device to own. It can be purchased from StereoVision's Web site.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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