Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld gaming device that uses auto-stereoscopic technology to render images in 3D. Auto-stereoscopic is just a fancy way of saying that you don’t need any specialized glasses to see the 3D images. The screen itself is structured in such a way that parts of the image are directed to the viewer’s left eye and other parts of the image are directed to the right eye. This parallax barrier technology (another fancy word, eh?) allows the viewer to experience 3D gaming without bulky, battery-hogging active shutter glasses or the lighter, but equally unstylish, polarized glasses. When it works, parallax barrier 3D is an effective way to render 3D gaming images—when it works.
The first problem with a handheld gaming device that uses parallax barrier technology has to do with how the technology works and what people expect from a handheld platform. To work properly, parallax barrier screens have to remain in a relatively fixed position relative to the viewer’s eyes. For the 3DS, this means that, to enjoy the 3D images, your line of sight needs to remain almost perfectly perpendicular to the screen with your eyes remaining about 12 inches from the screen. This would be difficult enough with a TV-based console with a fixed screen, imagine doing this with a handheld unit. Don’t imagine—hold your hands 12 inches in front of your face and keep them as still as possible. Keep holding your hands in that position, without moving your head either, for the estimated 3 hour batter life of the 3DS and you’ll get a sense of the difficulty involved.
For parallax to work, the right images need to reach the right eyes. A slight change in the position of your hands, head or eyes, and the 3D image will start to fall apart. This is one of the major stumbling blocks of parallax technology; slight changes in the field of view can cause major changes in the quality of the 3D image. So, even if you can hold your head and eyes perfectly still for hours on end, you would still have the problem of moving the 3DS. This seemingly minor problem becomes more serious when you consider that the 3DS uses and internal gyroscope and accelerometer to track the motion of the 3DS for use in augmented reality games.
That’s right, the 3DS is designed to work with 3D games that allow you to move the device around, interacting with the 3D images that you won’t be able to see while moving the 3DS. Confused? It seems impractical to have motion controlled games on a platform that loses its most notable feature when used with motion controlled games. The motion feature would seem more reasonable if it were only for 2D games, but there are 3D game titles for the 3DS that are designed to work with the motion sensors. In practice, it may work better than it sounds; however, it may take some time to get objective reviews about this feature from 3DS users.
Battery life is another major concern with the 3DS. With the WiFi feature turned on, expect about 3.5 hours of gaming and about 4 hours with WiFi turned off. For consumers who have owned previous incarnations of the Nintendo DS, this is a significant loss of playing time. The first generation Nintendo DS could be played for 6 to 10 hours on a single charge, and battery life with the DS line consistently improved with each iteration—until now. If you’re buying this to play around the house, it’s not a big deal; however, the main selling point of a handheld gaming platform is portability. We buy handhelds so we can play games on the go—if your “on the go” is going to take more than 3 hours, you’ll need to find an outlet to recharge. If you’re buying this to keep the kids quiet on long trips, a car charger is an extra expense you’ll probably need to look in to.
The 3DS is backward compatible with the older DS and DSi games but will not work with games that use a Gameboy Advance port. Of course, the 3D feature won’t work with DS or DSi games, as it only works with newer games specifically designed for 3D functionality. Older games may appear stretched due to the larger screen on the 3DS, but native resolution is available with a few key presses.
One of the more intriguing, but, as yet, unrealized features of the 3DS is its ability to play 3D video content. Nintendo has announced partnerships with several studios, including Disney and Dreamworks, to release 3D content for the 3DS. Since watching movies doesn’t require moving the 3DS around, this may be the best use of the 3D feature on the system. You could sit the 3DS on a fixed surface, start a 3D movie and veg out on a long trip.
The 3DS has some problems that early adopters should consider before making a purchase. Parallax barrier technology has some serious limitations that make it problematic in a handheld gaming unit. Short battery life limits the usefulness of the 3DS for people who spend a lot of time playing games away from a power outlet. And, with a $250 price tag, the 3DS is the most expensive in the DS line without really offering any substantive gains. So, the question is, do you give up battery life and shell out 250 bills for the novelty of 3D?
Monday, May 16, 2011
As with any new technology, there are some problems and concerns with 3D television. Price is a major factor in any decision to purchase a 3D TV. Prices for 3D sets start at around double what a comparable 2D set would cost. If you add in additional costs such as extra 3D glasses, the price can really start to add up in a hurry! For 3D sets that use active glasses, extra pairs can run more than $150! The active glasses are also bulky, require batteries (another cost), work only with specific sets and must maintain constant communication with a transmitter on the TV or they will lose sync and stop rendering 3D properly! Most sets only come with one or two sets of glasses, so a family of four can expect to shell out an additional $300 or more just to let the entire family watch a 3D movie together! Another hidden cost of 3D is in the extra equipment necessary to view 3D movies. That blue-ray player you paid a mint for last year won’t cut it—you’ll need an upgraded model to watch 3D HD movies. Most digital tuners will require an upgrade to view 3D television content like that offered by ESPN 3D. And, since 3D is an immersive experience, it works better with a larger field of view. This means that, to get the best 3D experience, you need to buy the largest screen you can afford or fit into your living room! Bigger screens are, of course, more expensive but can have a huge impact on the quality of your 3D experience!
Entertainment variety is another consideration with 3D TV. Unless you just want to watch Avatar over and over again, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from right now. The list of titles is growing, and broadcasters like Discovery and ESPN are starting to offer 3D programming, but the pickings are still pretty slim! Some movies are being converted to the 3D format, but true, original 3D content is developing more slowly. As more home viewers adopt 3D technology, the variety of content is sure to increase—it’s simply a matter of how long you’re willing to wait to see an entertainment return on your investment! One of the bright spots on the variety horizon is with home video game consoles. Sony and Microsoft are both pushing 3D titles for their Playstation and Xbox consoles. If the gaming community drives up 3D sales, more manufacturers and producers will be willing to take the plunge into the 3D market.
Advances in glassless, or autostereoscopic, 3D technology may make you want to wait before adopting one of the current models of 3D televisions. Current models all use glasses to help your eyes interpret the 3D images. Whether those glasses are the wildly expensive active models or the less-pricey passive models, they all still require you to wear a set of 3D glasses for the entire length of the movie—even if the glasses are ill-fitting, heavy or uncomfortable! There is hope for the future, as some manufacturers, most notably Toshiba, have production model 3D TVs that are slated for release this year and don’t require the use of special glasses! However, 3D TVs that don’t require glasses have been promised to consumers for years; so far, none have entered mass production!
The autostereoscopic 3D sets solve the problem of bulky or expensive glasses, but they also create a new set of considerations. The sets use parallax barrier technology to create a 3D image without the need for glasses. This is done, in its simplest form, by having the screen, or a barrier in front of the screen, act as the 3D glasses, splitting the image and sending it to the correct eye to create a 3D effect. In essence, the screen acts as a giant pair of 3D glasses, allowing multiple viewers to see the 3D image from different angles while watching the TV. In practice, the technology still has some kinks that early adopters may want to think about. The image is dependent upon the correct part of the split image reaching the correct eye—viewing angle and motion can severely affect the quality of the 3D picture! The screen ends up creating viewing “zones”—each of these zones is an ideal place to view the 3D image from. If you’re not sitting in one of the zones, you may have a distorted or nonexistent 3D image! If you have more people than the TV has zones, someone may be out of luck! Even if you’re lucky enough to be in the “sweet spot” zone (directly in front of the TV), slight movements of your head can cause the 3D image to fall apart! So, to get the most out of your autostereoscopic 3D TV, all you need to do is make sure you never invite more people than you have viewing zones and only invite guests who can remain nearly motionless for the full 171 minutes of Avatar!
I kid! 3D TV may be the best thing to happen to TV since that whole color thing, but it is an early technology, and, as such, there will be growing pains! Without early adopters, no technology would make it off the ground floor; however, even if you always have to have the latest and greatest tech out there, it won’t hurt you to do some homework and make sure that the hidden costs, early bugs and as-yet-undiscovered quirks don’t end up costing you more than you’re willing to spend for the early adopter bragging rights!
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Technology is a part of life and a common part of our human conditioning. Many among us suffer from technophobia to a certain degree but one should never be intimated by progress or methods to make life more enjoyable and tasks easier. Think for a few minutes about all of the technologies you are now comfortable with as opposed to life before these innovations. Examples are the television you watch, the radio you listen to, the computer you depend upon, the phone and cell phone that keep you in contact with others, and the list goes on and on. All use a form technology. So why should satellite television services be any different? It isn’t. Excellence in home television services is provided with a few pieces of specialized equipment added to the home entertainment system. Learning how to operate the system and the tools it provides may be challenging at first but never impossible.
The technology tool least understood with satellite television is the Dish Interactive Electronic Program Guide (EPG). This is the vital component of computer software that aids you in complete enjoyment and knowledge of your television watching experiences. Its simple design makes it user friendly and makes selecting programming convenient and easier than flipping through a printed TV guide. Most remotes have a button marked ‘Guide’ and when pressed, the EPG appears on the screen in the form of an interactive listing of available programming – listed by time and program title. Scroll through the available listings – reading about each program or movie. When you find a suitable show, highlight the channel and press the ‘Select’ button. You will be routed directly to the channel and show. Most satellite receiver remotes list programming for up to ten days in advance.
Another little understood but major piece of equipment is the remote control. It may be frequently misplaced but will certainly be the most treasured item in the home. It is a dispute settler as well – whoever controls the remote determines what will be watched. The remote provides access to all the software in the same manner as described above and can be programmed to control all equipment in the home entertainment system – the television, the VCR/DVD player, and the Digital Video Recorder.
Another tool is the Digital Video Recorder. It is built into many receivers and is used instead of the VCR to record programming. The DVR is much simpler to use than the VCR and eliminates the need purchasing and storing those worrisome VCR boxes. All programming is recorded and stored on the internal hard disk, and one can record from 30 up to 200 hours of favorite shows, sports shows, music, or whatever you desire. The DVR is easy to use with the EPG and prompts may be preset for recording in your absence for retrieval and enjoyment at later times.
Never let technology intimidate – just use it for benefit, enjoyment, and convenience.