Digital Gear: A new dimension to 3D

By , IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, 3D, webcam

Sans the cheap plastic spectacles, 3D has come a long way since its introduction in movies decades ago. Sharper images and deeper resolutions have made 3D TVs colorful, accompanied by sleek and expensive 3D glasses. 3D 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 is developing 3D display technology that could do that.

Minoru's 3D webcam

The Minoru 3D 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" 3D effect, much like the human eye, according to the company. But to enjoy the video effects on a computer, users have to wear 3D glasses that come with the webcam. The webcam can be used with instant messaging software, and it also records 3D video for sites like YouTube. The camera offers video output of 800 by 600 pixels at 30 frames per second.

However, 3D images are usually blurry and viewable only with the special glasses. Therein lies the product's flaw, as pointed out 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 3D webcam is available at Amazon.com for US$89.95. The product is also available internationally through the company's Web site.

3D gaming

If you thought Halo 3 on an Xbox was good, buckle up for the possibility of Halo 3D. Nvidia demonstrated 3D gaming with its GeForce 3D Vision kit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The kit includes sleek 3D glasses and an LCD monitor that provide a full-blown 3D PC gaming experience. Using the glasses, I became hooked on a 3D guitar game I was playing on a Samsung 22-inch LCD monitor. The close-to-high-definition imagery added incredible depth and reality to the game compared to traditional 2D images on TV.

The 3D 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 2D PC games to 3D. However, users at CES weren't excited about investing $598 in the kit until more 3D PC games became available. The active shutter glasses can be bought separately for $199.

Panasonic mammoth

Panasonic at CES introduced a 103-inch Plasma HDTV display that could show 3D Blu-ray movies in the future. The TV can display full high-definition images for the right and left eye -- essentially plugging two 1920-by-1280 pixel resolution images into one screen -- which brings more detail, according to Panasonic.

Plasma is the only TV capable of delivering a full 3D 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 says.

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

3D sans the glasses

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

Alioscopy said the monitors are available in 24-inch and 40-inch models, and will ship in volume through the company and partners later this year. Right now, the 40-inch and 24-inch 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 an outdoor advertising display. The company hopes to display broadcast TV through its monitors some day, Roche said.

3D binoculars and camera

Distant images can be viewed and pictures taken in 3D with the 3D VuCam binoculars and camera from StereoVision Imaging. By pressing a button, users can see "eye-popping" 3D images from a distance wearing special 3D glasses, according to the company. The binoculars use two 3.1-megapixel cameras to create single 3D images. The camera has an 8x optical zoom and can shoot images up to 300 feet (91.44 meters) away. It also bundles software that can resize and readjust the 3D 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.

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