Games vs. movies in 3D TV push


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When game producers started hustling to create the next generation of titles designed for 3D technology, experts predicted they would dance to whatever tune the film industry demanded from 3D television manufacturers.

But with the technology and specs still in flux, and 3D TVs just barely creeping into showrooms, game developers are proceeding with caution until the 3D market shakes down. The game business faces a uniquely tricky dual task of monitoring what formats surge ahead in the 3D race, while preparing titles that could attract buyers regardless of the tech winners and losers.

Sharon Roenman, director of iTV Business Partnerships, says movie studios will have the final say about 3D formats, and game designers will have to cope accordingly as 3D gaming requires more than just the 3D display format.

"For 3D play, you need more processing power, connectivity and 3D graphics cards for better 3D games," Roenman says. "These are not required for watching a 3D movie."

Roenman says advanced TVs might incorporate such technologies that require 3D rendering standards as OpenGL or DirectX, and generate a stereoscopic image accordingly in real time.

"Thereby enabling compatible games to run in stereoscopic 3D," she says. "Other important players would be the digital TV operators and networks such as DirecTV, Sky U.K. and ESPN who have announced 3D broadcast and will influence this standardization process."

Scott Steinberg, lead analyst for the consulting and research firm TechSavvy Global, says the speed with which 3D TVs become a rule for movies and games will depend on what compelling titles emerge from the glut of content on its way to those screens.

"We're seeing manufacturers rolling out sets already, with 3D films, 3D content networks and few 3D games starting to appear," Steinberg says. "TV manufacturers will be creating 3D screens for TV networks and movies first and foremost. For those sets to become industry standard for gaming, they will need quality content. The market is still open as to who will provide those breakout titles."

Companies are already jockeying for leadership positions in the 3D TV marketplace as the industry works out what will be its standards. The current crop of 3D TVs created by Sony, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba and Phillips are selling for between $2,000 and $3,500 depending on screen size, packaged

Blu-ray options and other add-ons.

But answering the 3D TV question may boil down to something even more simple, says Simon Carless, global brand director of UBM TechWeb Game Network and organizer of the Game Developers Conference.

Will we need passive, red and blue glasses? Or will we use polarized lenses like we used to watch "Avatar"? Or will the technology tend toward active glasses with liquid crystal shutter lenses?

"The games industry is on standby, waiting to see what emerges," Carless says. "Sony is a key player since they can package their TVs with their Blu-ray players and PlayStations. Microsoft is also moving to do more with the Xbox 360 ... putting more effort into making the system more 3D compatible."

Carless says there's still ample time for these companies to set the pace. The home entertainment business is still at least a year away from fully assimilating 3D TVs into homes, especially on the video game side.

Current and imminent game titles will need to be converted into 3D format first, like 3D versions of new shooters and sports games.

Then, says Carless, we will see more games designed just for 3D sets. But even then, the market will welcome games designed for and released in both standard and 3D TV sets.

"The billion-dollar question is: When will we see 3D TVs in enough consumer homes to make 3D programming and games standardized media?" he says. "The key element will be how fast consumers pick up 3D TVs and which brands, which qualities, will dominate."

The best in-home 3D video game experience will likely be the result of developers designing games especially for 3D technology.

"We will see the console systems driving

that game creation," says James D. Zahakos,

co-founder and president of Magnetic 3D, a developer of auto-stereoscopic 3D display solutions. "If the games produced for those systems enhance the gaming experience, then consumer demand will take over and drive where the technology goes."

Zahakos believes gamers are best poised to adapt to 3D hardware. "Many games already take place in a 3D space, especially shooters or simulators. The 3D possibilities only enhance that and make it more immersive."

The holy grail in all of this, says Zahakos, will be standardized, glasses-free 3D screens. "That will be widely accepted throughout the different media. And when you combine that with something like Project Natal (Microsoft's gestures-based technology), you'll have a total evolution in gaming," he says.

With the 3D TV market horizon still hazy, game designers in the meantime must keep the demands of the new visual technology in mind through every stage of a title's development.

Haden Blackman, executive producer of "Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2" for LucasArts, says the new tasks of creating a game to fulfill 3D imagery and detail changed the way the sequel was created compared to its top-selling predecessor.

While the game was designed to play on any TV, its visuals are designed and rendered with a scale and resolution unforeseen before the days of HDTV and 3D.

"The game industry serves up new innovations incredibly quickly," Blackman says. "But we want to make sure there's a marriage between the story we're telling in the game and the gameplay design that incorporates new technologies."

Blackman is quick to add that the 3D revolution is already a strong force within the George Lucas empire, but is reluctant to give specifics.

"That technology is something we're very interested in," Blackman says.

For developers of online entertainment and cross-media programming, 3D production for TVs and computer monitors means constant investment and research into new techniques.

Ultimately it's the drive to please innovation-hungry consumers (at an affordable price) that will drive 3D production and the implementation of new equipment and aesthetics, says Nathan Mayfield, co-founder of Hoodlum, an Australian-based, online cross-platform entertainment firm.

He says they "can't wait" for the 3D TV market to take shape. But he's cautious.

"The worst thing you can do when creating original entertainment is emulate what's already being done," Mayfield says. "You can't emulate a 3D environment online. You have to create for that environment from scratch."

For Mayfield, the strategy moving forward will be dictated by user habits.

"How will people use it? What media do they want it for in their homes?" he asks. "It's risky for any company to invest in new equipment and technology until that's all a known commodity."

As E3 dawns, with all its elaborate displays and ambitious rollouts, Techsavvy's Steinberg warns that the elephant in the room could, despite a rosy market outlook today, easily delay the evolution of 3D in home entertainment.

"(The economy) has consumers looking to save money," he says. "If they recently had to upgrade to HDTV, how willing are they going to be to buy a 3D unit?"