Trioviz and Darkworks Pave the Way for 3-D Gaming

by Michael Karagosian
©2008 MKPE Consulting LLC All rights reserved worldwide
originally published in the 15 December 2008 issue of Digital Cinema Report

In the last issue I reported on the wave of investment on-going in the 3-D space. Fascinating developments will be appearing for some time. So will the inevitable conferences. This past week was witness to the 3-D Entertainment Summit in Los Angles, with a list of speakers and panelists that makes one wonder who was left to be in the audience. What caught my eye, however, was an interesting announcement from Trioviz and Darkworks that was timed for the event.

With the dense slate of 3-D movies coming up, developers are keen to produce technologies that bring 3-D into the home. The wonderful thing about consumer 3-D is that there are so many methods to choose from. There is no shortage of schemes to compress left and right stereoscopic images into one, so that 3-D broadcasts can use conventional transmission technology. There are many ways to get stereoscopic images onto a DVD or Blu-ray disc. There are several types of display possible, each requiring a different method of sequencing the left-right image. There are a number of different types of glasses, and, of course, methods that require no glasses. All one needs to see 3-D at home is to have the right decoder on hand, the right display technology, the right glasses, and all of the bits in-between to make them work together. And then figure out the right combination all over again for the next movie. Sounds like a piece of cake? Well, if it doesn't, then you may find yourself joining the ranks of those that say it'll be 10 years before 3-D at home is viable. Some might say that 3-D in the home technology will make you yearn for the good ol' days when it was only HD DVD vs Blu-ray.

Where the challenge of bringing 3-D into the home seems less daunting, however, is in 3-D games. This has to do with two important and unique components of the gaming industry. First, the distribution channel for 3-D gaming already exists. This is due to the fact that, unlike movie entertainment, game content is generated on the fly by the game engine. In fact, all aspects of the game are controlled by the game developer, making it possible for the developer to allow a user to configure the game to the 3-D display of their choice. In other words, one doesn't buy a 3-D game console. One buys a 3-D game designed for their console, and configures each game for 3-D display that one owns. Thus, the pre-existing distribution channel for 3-D. The second aspect of gaming that makes it a natural for 3-D is the demographic that this industry targets. The youthful player of video games is a prime consumer of 3-D.

In contrast, movie distributors have no comparable control over the home 3-D experience. The distribution method requires a decision to be made regarding how the 3-D content is encoded. Without standards, there is no guarantee that the encoding method selected by distributor A will be the same as that of distributor B. Without standards, there is no guarantee that the player owned by consumer A decodes 3-D in the same way as that of consumer B. And on the problem only gets more complex as you get deeper into the system. The consumer 3-D experience must be standardized throughout the entire supply chain, including the components in the home, for there to be a successful home 3-D content market. So 3-D is great business for the standards bodies. I was recently told that no less than four standards organizations were engaged in some form of 3-D standardization activity.

With less moving parts cluttering the path to success, the display industry would be smart to target the 3-D game market. But is a special display needed at all to enjoy 3-D games? The answer to this question is what makes so interesting this past week's announcement of a partnership between game developer Darkworks and 3-D technology provider Trioviz.

While they were in LA for the 3-D Entertainment Summit, I met with Alexis Arragon, technology manager at Darkworks, and Christophe Brossier, CEO of Trioviz. Darkworks is known as the developer of the horror game Cold Fear. Trioviz offers a fascinating 3-D display method that is viewable both with and without 3-D glasses on ordinary television screens. When watching Trioviz-prepared content with its 3-D passive glasses, you see the content in 3-D. But if you take the glasses off, you just see it in 2-D, without the double images normally seen with stereoscopic content. I won't go into the details of the technology. It's safe to say that the 3-D is not as good as 3-D digital cinema, but it is surprisingly good. When viewing game content with their method, it was obvious that this would be a fun way to play.

These two companies are jointly developing a "software development kit," or SDK. The SDK will make it a snap for any game to generate Trioviz 3-D displays. As it happens, all quality game software already keeps track of where its objects and characters are in 3-D space. This is necessary even with 2-D displays to correctly place objects and give them the right perspective. For a Trioviz 3-D game display, the game developer will simply supply both objects and depth map to the Trioviz software display engine included with their distribution, and within milliseconds, the viewer will see Trioviz 3-D on a regular television screen.

The intent of this discussion is not to promote a particular 3-D technology, but to bring forward a real-world example for how much simpler it is to bring 3-D games to the home than to bring 3-D movies to the home. To bring 3-D movies to the home, lots of decisions have to be made if uniform 3-D distribution channels are to develop, most of which cannot be simply left to the consumer. But in the game market, the distribution channels for 3-D content already exist. With technologies such as Trioviz, a generation of game players could soon become accustomed to 3-D in the home without a single standard being written. With a little luck, they'll be watching 3D movies at home when they grow up.