Friday, 23 April 2010

Sony Outlines 3D Plans

Today at the 3D Gaming Summit in Los Angeles, Sony’s David Coombes (Platform Research Manager) discussed plans for the upcoming 3D enabling PS3 firmware update, talking about how it will affect the machine’s performance in actual game scenarios, whilst also detailing ways to curtail certain issues using a game’s existing engine, and code base. Specifically he mentioned using an existing split-screen game engine as the base for rendering the two separate images required for 3D to be displayed, as the extra work has in theory been mostly carried out already. But more on that later.

Coombes specified that the firmware responsible for delivering 3D content via the PlayStation 3, would be released in two separate waves. The first allowing the option of playing 3D enabled games on the system; and the second, to allow the playback of 3D Blu-Ray movies, which should arrive soon after the initial update. Part of the plan is to have the PS3 at the forefront of the 3D home revolution, or so they hope, along with their flagship range of Bravia 3D ready LCD TVs coincided for release at around the same time as the firmware update.

In terms of game development in 3D, Coombes confirmed that for a game to be playable in 3D it would have to have been coded and designed for the medium in order for it to work. Meaning that unless a game is specifically written to take advantage of the 3D technology, it won’t be displayed in 3D. Sony will not be providing any kind of post-process 3D conversion software into the firmware update, stating that whilst it would be possible, they are leaving that for other TV manufacturers to do.

Instead Coombes proposed a series of solutions in order to help ease the performance burden of having to develop with 3D in mind. For example rendering a scene in 3D takes roughly twice the computational power than that of rendering in traditional 2D, with each frame having to be drawn twice. However not all aspects of the scene need to be handled this way. Coombes gave the example of shadows, which are generally flat, and could easily be shared between left and right frames used to make up the 3D image as a way of rendering certain objects only once for each frame. These objects, or graphical effects, would have to be made up of ones which have no-3D information, or rather, no depth buffer, in order for the process to work. The savings however, can lead to a performance boost or could be used to leverage the remaining GPU power for other optimisations.

Some games though, are already ripe for an easier 3D conversion process. Coombes highlighted titles which featured a split-screen two player option as having most of the graphical optimisations already needed for a quicker route into rendering in true 3D. Essentially 3D works by rendering two individual frames, one for each eye, and uses shutter glasses to alternate each image to for form a single frame displayed to the user. With split-screen rendering the engine is basically drawing everything on screen twice, requiring very few optimisations in order to work in the context of creating a 3D image. Using this as a starting point, it could allow developers to better optimise their titles, keeping higher framerates and more detail that otherwise might have been lost.

PS3 3D games, and 3D Blu-Ray movies will be compatible with all 3D enabled HDTVs that meet the HDMI 1.4 standard. The ‘3D Ready’ official standard in the UK also means that TVs displaying the slogan will be compatible with all PS3 games and Blu-Rays that are available in this format. Also, in terms of scaling, it was reaffirmed that the PS3 would scale the 3D output to whatever resolution was supported by the users HDTV (720p, 1080i and 1080p), depending on which check boxes have been ticked in the ‘Display Settings’ menu in the XMB.

Lastly, Sony revealed that final 3D software development kits have been in developer’s hands since January this year, and announced that they would be showing off a whole host of 3D enabled titles at E3 later on this year. Along with this, Sony reiterated the list of known compatible titles including PAIN, Wipeout HD, and Motorstorm Pacific Rift.

With 3D being the buzzword of the moment, and with gaming potentially leading the way on early uptake of this latest display technology, we at IQGamer will be following its development very closely.

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