About the Visor

March 24, 2010

The Virtual Boy marks Nintendo´s biggest business flop in the company´s history. The red-color-based stereoscopic device didn´t see the success that Nintendo wanted to achieve. Yesterday, the same company announced to risk another attempt at introducing 3D to video games. The Nintendo 3DS-announcement came completely out of left field, nobody expected it to be mentioned on a random Tuesday morning. There are lots of reasons that could explain why Nintendo did announce their next generation handheld now, but that is irrelevant to this article. What counts is that 3D makes a return to gaming. It´s not the first mention of 3D in a long time, though. Not only is Sony working on 3DTVs, but also have Nintendo-fans been hyping the rumored Nintendo ON-system, one of the most popular fakes in the video games history, that was supposed to feature a 3D visor, also called 3D glasses. It´s these 3D visors that I´m going to talk about in this article. What kinds of technologies are there, why do many gamers love the idea of a visor, and what would it actually bring to the table of further evolving the gaming experience?

eMagin´s Z800-visor

The technology of Visors

There are basically three different 3d-glasses technologies, two of them active, the other one passive. Active means that the visor is more complex, using electronic hardware, usually more expensive, while passive visors are cheap, non-complex items.

First technology are the shutter glasses, or also called “Liquid Crystal Shutter Glasses”. These are active visors, as they work in synchronization to the image shown on screen. The shutter glasses works via blocking or passing light through the device, working together with the framerate of the display used. It uses two different timed images, which results in lowering the actually experienced framerate into half, i.e. if you have a 120 Hz-display, you´ll get 60 Hz-output. The visor itself uses said liquid crystals to alternate between blocking and passing light. In terms of comfort and usability, many people reported that this kind of 3D is rather tiring for the eyes.

The next technology is called “Display Glasses“, though I like to call them “3D-video glasses”. They´re also the most expensive ones. That´s because these glasses actually have two displays built into the device. Basically, there´s a small screen for each eye. It should, thus, be obvious why this is the most expensive technology. And that´s also how it creates a 3D-effect, by offering each eye its own image. For a better understanding of how these two displayed images look like, close one of your eyes and look at an object in front of you. Then close the other eye and look again. You´ll notice that both times your field of vision will have change the angle of that object. That´s how these visors work. Now, this technology is also the most interesting one for gaming, not only because you wouldn´t need a TV anymore, but also could it create a free-look, without any sort of borders. Just turn your head and you´ll be able to look around inside a virtual world as if it was real. Most prominent manufacturer of these visors is eMagin.

The last technology is actually not only a single one. There´s quite a lot of different approaches, but they work very similar in the end. The glasses itself are totally inexpensive and cheap, specially compared to the above mentioned visors. The most prominent glasses of this kind are the red-green visors you sometimes find in TV-magazines. There also exist glasses that don´t rely on red and green, but otherwise polarize the light that´s coming from some source. No matter what kind you use, it always comes down to light being polarized, so that there´s two images created, one that can only be seen by the left, and one that can only be seen by the right eye. Each images slightly vary and thus create the 3D-effect. That´s the kind of visors youll get to use in cinema, for example when watching James Cameron´s avatar. Cheap doesn´t mean that it´s not good, but these passive glasses handicap is that they are dependent on the output-source, which is why Sony and other TV-manufacturers are working on a unified 3DTV-standard.

Nintendo´s Virtual Boy

A fascination called visor

Now, why is it that these 3D-visors are attracting so many people, fascinating a lot of gamers? First of all, it´s because 3D-effects are awesome. That´s not a well explained point, but everyone that never before has seen 3D, and then watches some IMAX-3D movie will go away with that reaction, “awesome”. The way artificial objects jump in the viewer´s face is something that cannot be explained with words. In terms of video gaming, 3D plays a big role for immersion, something that has become more and more important the more powerful video game-systems became. Games like Fallout 3 or GTA4 show what is possible in terms of creating a more or less believable virtual world. What´s missing is the accurate presentation of these worlds, which is exactly what 3D could make reality. Specially the 3D-video-glasses, such as those from eMagin, are fascinating. Their technology would allow for entering virtual worlds. That sentence doesn´t give justice to the importance of what it does. You have to imagine it like this: This technology would be as far as gaming and virtual worlds can go…without creating the Matrix, the one from the same-named movies. Virtual Reality couldn´t be enhanced any further. Well, maybe the invention of full body-holograms could do something similar, but then, at the point we´re able to use holograms for mass market-use, we´ll probably also be able to enter the Matrix.

Importance for Gaming

What would such a visor mean for games? That´s what many less-interested gamers ask whenever some enthusiast brings up that topic. There are a lot of possibilities. I just mentioned the creation of a true virtual reality-experience. Move your head to look around and the image displayed on the visor will change accordingly. It´ll make you feel as if you are inside another world. But it could also be used for flat games, only creating a simple 3D-effect to enhance the images quality. That´s what people expect the Nintendo 3DS to do, where you could play a Paper Mario-game and all the different objects are outputted on different layers within the 3D-image. It doesn´t have that much gameplay-purpose, but it is still a big step toward improved immersion. 3D-visors could also be used in third-person games like The Legend of Zelda. Again, the image would be outputted to feature a very nice 3D-effect, but additionally, by moving your head you could look around inside the world of Hyrule, while your neutral head-position would be locked onto Link, the game-character. That would create a different feeling of immersion compared to the above mentioned first-person-experience, and it´d remove the need of camera control. Simply look around to change your field of vision.

Virtual Reality

In the end, where 3D-visors would succeed in is making the old wish of a virtual reality come true. So many books and movies gave us impressions of what such virtual realities could be like, see Tron, Digimon or The Matrix. It´d be the ultimate dream-machine, letting you experience whatever you want, but cannot in reality. It´s such an enormous thing that wouldn´t only impact the gaming industry, but potentially every single human´s life. When everyone can have any experience, it could change the way we treat our life, our sense for working, our demand for certain wishes. You wouldn´t need to be a millionaire to drive a Ferrari. Just hop into your virtual reality and drive on. Just like that. Of course, visors alone wouldn´t make that experience. There´s also the control interface that needed to be worked on, but seeing how motion-controls are becoming standard on video game system, that shouldn´t be a problem in the future. And even then, the most important part of creating a virtual reality are the visuals, the 3D-effects, the free-look. The hardware for that experience is expensive, but at least it seems people will be getting used to wearing glasses, with 3DTVs forcing you to wear these. It´s an exciting time we´re living in, from an entertainment point of view, and by writing this article I wanted to give all the people that didn´t know that much about the often mentioned visors more insight into the topic, and, most importantly, why a lot of people love the idea of using them in video games. Visors are talked about so often, so hopefully you now have a clearer picture about the whole fascination.