Nvidia has been putting serious effort into its 3D Vision platform, promising that 3D gaming is the future - and positioning itself right at the heart of that push. According to Nvidia's Andrew Fear, the gamble is paying off.
3D Vision, which is a 'platform' consisting of Nvidia-manufactured wireless 3D shutter glasses and certified-compatible monitors from a range of hardware partners including Acer, Lenovo, and Benq, isn't Nvidia's first foray into the world of 3D gaming. Way back when, the company launched a similar technology which completely failed to take the world by storm. This time around, however, there's considerable interest - and it's largely down to a new approach to the problem.
Speaking to press at an Nvidia briefing yesterday, the company's senior product manager for 3D Vision, Andrew Fear, explained that a lot has changed with the company's approach to 3D - and that this time around it won't be making the same mistakes.
"When I first started at Nvidia," Fear explained, "one of the very first things I was asked to do was to figure out how to monetise our 3D driver - and this is back in 2000, 2001. At the time, all we really had were Elsa Revelator glasses, some drivers, and CRT monitors. So, the problem was that this is all kind of a hodge-podge of technology - it really wasn't a great experience for our customers. You didn't know that if you bought these glasses, did it work with that monitor, did it work with this GPU, did it work with that driver?"
That incompatibility was one of the biggest drawbacks of Nvidia's first tentative steps into the world of 3D - and combined with a lack of support in the games of the time to ensure that the early shutter glasses never took off in the way that the company intended. Worse still, the combination of on-off shutter glasses with the cathode ray tube display technology of the time led to severe flicker on even the most expensive monitors - giving users headaches during extended use.
3D Vision, Fear argues, is different - and not just because flickery CRTs have been replaced with rock-solid LCDs. By working closely with hardware partners, and requiring them to submit their displays to Nvidia for 3D Vision certification before they can be put on the market, compatibility and quality is assured - and the company's control of the ecosystem is a positive, rather than a negative.
"People criticise us for being too controlling of the ecosystem, you know, not opening up blindly for everyone," admitted Fear. "That's one of the reasons we do it: if we just said 'hey, 3D for everyone' and just threw it out there and see what sticks, it would just be a free-for-all market of not very good technology. So, we want to make sure it's a good experience - we want to take our time to make sure the glasses are great, make sure the quality of the panel is great, make sure the quality of the solution we bring to market is great."
It's certainly proving to be a popular approach with end-users: figures from a survey of Nvidia GeForce owners suggest that over 60 per cent will be actively seeking out a 3D Vision-certified display for their next upgrade, compared to just 20 per cent when the programme first launched.
The 3D TV market, by contrast, lags behind the PC market in terms of interest and adoption of the technology - and Fear believes it's all about the content. "Television manufacturers always struggle with 'we need to get more content,' right? There's only so many 3D movies," Fear joked. "What makes the PC market a little bit different is that we've got a whole library of game content. We've also got user-generated content - you know, we've got digital still cameras, we've got DV cameras, we've got all sorts of things to let users create that content."
With Nvidia working to get 3D Vision support added to the major game engines, it's a library that continues to grow - with over 500 games supporting the 3D glasses technology already. "We've worked with some of the leading game developers on their applications, like Battlefield, Battlefield 2, Mafia II, Just Cause 2, Avatar, Crysis 2 - we've put a lot of effort on making sure you can play these games in 3D. There's been some new games that have come out this year - Bulletstorm and Crysis 2 have already launched, Portal 2 also, Witcher 2, and new things are forever coming up. So, all these titles - we've put effort into them to make sure the games look great in 3D.
"For us, it's really exciting because we're seeing more and more game developers that are putting in the effort to add 3D on their own," Fear explained. "Three years ago, we had to spend a lot of time and say 'hey, can you please make this game better in 3D,' and now they're doing that on their own."
While 3D TV hasn't taken the world by storm, and interest in Nintendo's glasses-free 3DS console appears to be waning, Nvidia remains confident about its 3D Vision technology - but with rival AMD gearing up its own efforts in this area, it remains to be seen for how long the green camp can maintain its lead.