ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3D is Dead, Viva la Nintendo 2DS!

I wish the video after the jump was just an abysmally late April Fools’ joke. Sadly, it’s not. Nintendo will be releasing a Nintendo 2DS on October 12th, 2013 for $129.99. The catch for the discount (as compared to previous models of the 3DS)? You don’t get 3D (obviously), and you have to live with an ugly ‘2D’ design as opposed to the original ‘3D’ clamshell style. These kinds of oddball redesigns are usually saved for a console’s final days–something different to make old news new again and hook one last round of customers into the hardware so that they’ll invest in the software library available for it. But the Nintendo 3DS is still early in its life cycle and really only now picking up the steam of its predecessor. Why would Nintendo do this now?

The answer is fairly simple. It’s the same reason why ESPN is cutting its 3D broadcasting by year-end, why Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and the rest of the gang are moving on to pushing for 4K instead of 3D TV sets, and why companies don’t seem interested in developing experimental glasses-free 3D solutions anymore.

Plainly put: 3D didn’t work for this generation. 3D is dead.

Now before I go any farther, let me make one thing quite clear: I’m a fan of 3D. When done right, I like 3D. Sometimes I even like 3D when done wrong (e.g. anaglyph glasses with NVIDIA 3D Vision Discover). But that’s just me–literally. All of my home 3D experiences have been solo. Why? Because I learned early on that when you bring a second person into the mix, you suddenly have this ongoing conflict of viewing angles, intensity, and even mode (e.g. active shutter vs polarized). What suits one person may well not suit another, severely limiting how many people can consume a bit of 3D media simultaneously. I suppose that’s for the best though, considering that a pair of 3D glasses can run anywhere from $20-100, depending on brand and technology. In any case, owning one pair of special glasses for all your friends and family can and will quickly add up to ridiculous mounds of cash for an unnecessary effect that won’t necessarily make the experience more pleasant for everyone anyway (such as those who get headaches from 3D content).

In its current state, 3D is impractical. It barely works. It isn’t affordable. When all this was getting started a few years ago, many had the foresight to call 3D just another fad that would soon fade into obscurity. Or maybe it wasn’t foresight at all, but hindsight. The very first experiments with 3D started in the 1890s, and progressed all the way until the 1950s when at last the technology had progressed enough to be usable in a theater setting. B movie producers saw anaglyph 3D as a boon to draw in viewers on novelty alone. A couple true hits boasted 3D showings as well, but in general the technology came as a fad and left as the same. It wasn’t until the release of James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 that 3D made a serious return, and while the technology came back much improved, this time around it didn’t even manage to snag an entire decade of popularity.

Is 3D gone for good this time? Not on your life. It was never really ‘gone’ between the ’50s and now in the first place. No, 3D’s not going to disappear entirely. The niche that cares about it will continue experimenting with 3D, improving it, and one day–be it in five years or fifty years–3D will come back again for another run. Whether or not that will be the day that 3D comes to stay is impossible to tell. One thing’s for certain, though: it had better be cheap and work for everyone without inducing headaches. Until then, it would appear that 2D is plenty good enough for consumers–good enough that a company producing a 3D console can redesign it and use 2D as a selling feature. What a world.