Pocketnow-U: 3D Displays, Dimension and Drawbacks

With many of the large mobile OEMs still unimpressed with the performance of 3D displays in the mobile market, it seems we may be nearing the end of another fad. With big names like HTC, LG, Sharp, and even Nintendo throwing solid efforts behind the technology, you’d think in 2012 we’d have something significant to show for it. Sadly current glasses-free 3D technology simply stands as a bit of a gimmick with far too many drawbacks over its 2D counterpart. Before we can talk about drawbacks in the mobile sector however, we should examine how they work.

How it works:

Devices like the HTC Evo 3D, LG Optimus 3D, and the Nintendo 3DS all use what is called an autostereoscopic screen. Stereoscopy is the technique of creating the impression of physical dimension, on a 2D panel, by using two separate images. These images are generally produced to appear as if they were taken at distance of the human eyes apart. When the brain later combines these two images, a mental sense of depth in the imagery is formed. Although these images can be mentally combined by those trained in freeviewing, most users require filtered glasses made to physically separate the images going to each eye. In the case of an autostereoscopic screen, a physical parallax barrier instead facilitates this combination of images.

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Inside the 3DS screenEffectively, a parallax barrier is a sheet with a series of slits that resides behind the pixels and the backlight. These barriers serve to channel beams of light to pass through different pixels and into the user’s eyes. This system provides a clear image with a decent viewing angle, but at a cost of 25% additional draw from the backlight to achieve comparable brightness.

Limitations and Drawbacks:

As I have explained, to generate 3D imagery for the user there are quite a few extra hoops an OEM needs to jump through above and beyond a standard display. This includes higher costs for the manufacturer on the screen, added strain on the CPU to effectively render the display twice at the same resolution, more power from the backlight to produce similar brightness, a generally thicker display panel to incorporate the parallax barrier, and a much larger battery to compensate for the additional draw. All of these factors add up to a glasses free 3D experience that many describe as unimpressive.

For myself, I am unable to enjoy the parallax barrier generated autostereoscopic experience due to the severity of my corrective lenses. I end up needing to turn it off completely to use these devices at all. Thankfully I can still enjoy other 3D technologies, including lenticular autostereoscopic displays seen at CES, without issue. That being said, many others are cut out of this 3D party entirely due to other vision issues, such as amblyopia – lazy eye, minor muscular imbalances or eye separation beyond average. These issues leave users either unable to view the 3D entirely or with painful headaches due to mental strain in focusing/correction.

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One of the many users unable to use 3D due to vision limitationsSo with added costs in production, heavy strain on the battery, a much larger device, and effectively cutting out a good portion of users, is the end result even worth it?

Personally I say no, not now at least. Without stunning results I still see 3D as a bit of a gimmick everywhere. Granted when it is done right, like in Avatar, I agree that 3D certainly adds additional positive depth to the content. In the case of the Nintendo 3DS with 3D effects enabled: battery life is nearly cut in half, you are required to sit a specific constant distance, and viewing angles for onlookers are severely limited. Considering these significant drawbacks are on a mobile gaming device, that is simply not ideal. Until the significant drawbacks of 3D technology can be mitigated, I don’t expect to see another onslaught of devices toting an additional dimension. Currently I most enjoy the accelerometer generated 3D effect seen on the Zune HD, and although this is not at all stereopsis, the added depth is appreciated.

What are you opinions concerning 3D mobile technology? Do you currently own a 3D device and would you recommend it to a friend over a 2D counterpart?


howstuffworks – Nintendo 3DS

Reuters – For some, 3D movies a pain in the head

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