Friday, January 15, 2010

Taking the leap into the 3D world

As many other computer geeks, I’ve always been fascinated by 3D technology and admired the big Silicon Graphics 3D workstations of the early days and saw the early 3D movies with red/blue glasses or the next generation based on polarized glasses in the movie theatre.

This past fall I finally made the leap into the 3D world myself and equipped my computer at home with fully immersive stereoscopic 3D capabilities. I already had the benefit of having a PC equipped with an nVidia geForce-based graphic card, so all I had to do is get the goggles and upgrade my monitor to a model that is capable of 100Hz refresh frequency or more.

As you know, a 50Hz or 60Hz refresh frequency is necessary for a smooth monitor picture, and since the 3D goggles are basically shutter-glasses that alternatingly show one frame to the left eye and one frame to the right eye, you need a monitor capable of doing at least twice the 50Hz for a smooth 3D experience. After checking the 3D system requirements, I decided on the ViewSonic VX2265wm 22” monitor.

But I didn’t want to just watch pre-made 3D content – I wanted to create 3D content myself, so I purchased the Fuji FinePix Real 3D W1 camera that can shoot both 3D photos and make 3D videos.

So my complete 3D setup looks like this:

Since I also wanted to show the 3D photos off in our living room, I added the Fuji FinePix Real 3D V1 viewer (a 3D photo frame) and put it on a countertop to run a slide show of the latest 3D images.

So what can you do with such a 3D setup at home? Essentially there are three main uses:

  • 3D Photography: the Fuji 3D camera is as easy to use as any point&shoot digital camera with one exception – you have to constantly watch where you are putting your fingers, because the camera has two lenses in the front and it is very easy to get your finger showing in one of the two photos. The back of the camera has a 3D display so you can immediately correct for parallax problems if they occur (mostly in close-ups). Just like with any other digital camera you can record photos or movies and then transfer them to your computer. Photos are recorded in the MPO format, so for those of us who like to edit their photos in Photoshop this is presently a problem.
  • 3D Games: most of the modern PC-based games have you walk around in a virtual world as you drive fast cars, shoot zombies, or practice magical spells. As such a large majority of them already support 3D and you can just put on your 3D goggles, push a button, and you are suddenly inside the game in a much more immersive experience. I happen to play World of Warcraft myself, and it is just a lot more fun when my mage faces dragons like Onyxia in immersive stereoscopic 3D vision…
  • 3D Movies: Avatar was just the beginning. There is a whole bunch of movies coming out in 3D in 2010, including Alice in Wonderland, How to train your dragon, Toy Story 3, etc. While Sony and many other TV manufacturers are now gearing up for 3D TVs, I think I’d rather watch 3D movies on my PC…

Of course, one of the problems with 3D photography is that you cannot easily share the 3D photos you produce with other people, unless they have their own 3D display setup at home already. However, as an interim solution, there is a website called Start 3D that lets you turn 3D photos into pictures that wobble left/right to create the illusion of a 3D effect – and those can be embedded in websites or shown on web-based galleries.

As an example, here are just two 3D photos that I took recently and converted into the Start 3D format for inclusion in the blog. This is a meeting with my architects and the builder for our house restoration project:

And secondly we have a 3D photo of my son and wife on the balcony of the new carriage house posing for the special 3D effect:

If you’d like to see more 3D images of our construction site as well as some 3D family photos, those can be found on this 3D image gallery

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