CES 2010 Aims to Resurrect 3D

Las Vegas is a city of smoke and mirrors.

It's appropriate then that the biggest new innovation of sin city's Consumer Electronics Show this year is itself a bit of visual sleight of hand: 3D.

Giving images a sense of substance and heft have long been a goal in video gaming. More than once, that has meant playing around with the idea of pumping graphics at gamers through glasses or peripherals meant to deliver an extra dimension.

But there's a reason they've never taken off. Often the 3D tech required wearing glasses to work, putting one more barrier between a gamer and the experience.

What's different this time around? Very little.

Speaking to a gathering of media at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, CEO and president of Sony Corporation, detailed the interest the multi-faceted company has in 3D, spending an hour pitching the technology and new Sony 3D TVs to the crowd.

He showed us a Jimi Hendrix concert in 3D, sea turtles swimming in 3D and even brought singer Taylor Swift up to sing and be recorded and instantly rebroadcast in 3D.

The heads of IMAX and Discovery promised us that the time was right for 3D on TV. The head of ESPN took to the stage to explain how FIFA and PGA were getting the 3D treatment.

And it will be Sony's video game console, the PlayStation 3, that will bolster these efforts.

"The PlayStation 3 will be our foothold for bringing more 3D into the home," Stringer said. "All of our existing PS3 units will be firmware upgradeable."

One upgrade to the console will allow the PS3 to display video games in 3D on supported TVs, another will upgrade the Blu-ray player to support 3D, he said.

The mammoth CES Sony booth included playable versions of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and Super Stardust HD.

While Gran Turismo's 3D visual added a bit of flair to the game, when seen in 3D, the high-speed racing title seemed to have a few visual issues.

Super Stardust HD, on the other hand, used the 3D tech to give a sense of surprising depth to the Asteroids-like space shooter. The ship and the planet it floated over rotated in layers of graphics that appeared to drop away from the screen.

But neither of the games playable in Sony's booth was built from the ground up for the new technology. That is coming, though.

"We are going to announce a [3D game] lineup soon," said Sony hardware marketing director John Koller. "The first and third-party lineup is going to be substantial, it's a pretty robust list of games...new IP, new franchises but also existing franchises [that] really kind of place the player in the game."

Sony may have been the only game maker at CES with so direct an interest in 3D gaming, but they weren't the only ones showing off 3D video games.

Computer games have been chasing the 3D dream for decades using an odd collection of video cards, peripherals and special glasses.

This year's CES included a new offering from graphics card maker NVIDIA that can be used by game developers to add 3D to a game.

Capcom's CES showing included a PC version of upcoming third-person shooter Dark Void. In the game, players zip through an alternate dimension shooting robotic aliens. Adding 3D to the mix gives the game an almost nausea-inducing level of realism.

Many of the television manufacturers packed into the Las Vegas Convention Center also used video games to show off their television's ability to deliver 3D video. There were TVs showing off Gears of War 2, Batman Arkham Asylum and a video game based on Avatar.

Some TVs used polarization, some used alternate-frame sequencing, some could add 3D to any video. But every one of them from LG's to Panasonic's to Sony's technology, television or computer, have at least one similarity: They all require the viewer to wear glasses.

Over the course of the week I tried on a dozen different 3D glasses. While some were more comfortable than others, I can't imagine wanting to wear any of them on a regular basis.

More importantly I can't imagine that my wife and my son would be willing to pop on a pair of glasses every time they sit down to watch television.

It's one thing to wear glasses while sitting still for a two-and-a-half hour movie at a theater, but introducing such an unreasonable bit of technology into the home seems like a bad idea.

It seems like an even worse idea when you consider that the 2010 3D televisions could become obsolete in 2011 when Phillips hopes to introduce 3D televisions that don't require glasses.

Die hard early adopter that I am, I think I'll be sitting this one out.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.