@MWC: the 3D mobile challenge

17 Feb 2011

Delegates at this year’s Mobile World Congress are getting first look at the new LG Optimus 3D phone – the first mobile to supports 3D without the need for special glasses.

How does it look? Not bad – until you see the 3D mobile video demo at the Movidius stand.

The Optimus 3D smartphone runs on the Android platform and packs a lot of technological wizardry – a dual-core, dual-channel and dual-memory architecture that includes a 1GHz OMAP4 dual-core processor and “four times more video decoders than competing designs”, as well as dual-lens camera for 3D capture.

The smartphone also converts 2D content to 3D via a hot-key on the side.

Also noteworthy is the fact that LG’s 3D strategy smartly includes collaboration with YouTube and games developers to create 3D-optimized content.

But the experience can be, in a word, wonky.

The screen does provide enough depth to make it seem as if you’re looking inside a box. But the 3D effect seems to go wobbly to the eyes depending on how fast objects are moving and where your eyes are focusing on the screen.

In that sense, it’s like watching a 3D film that makes you dizzy, but without the inconvenience of wearing 3D glasses. Also – like with movies – the native 3D content looks better than the converted 2D content.

And the experience pales in comparison to 3D mobile technology from 3D chipset company Movidius, which is demoing its technology on its stand.

Movidius COO Paul Costigan explained to me in a pre-show interview the science of looking at things in three dimensions and how to apply that to a mobile phone screen (which you can read in the current issue of Wireless Asia. The short version: it’s complex and subjective and requires a tradeoff of “wow” factor vs eye fatigue).

The engineering that Movidius has sunk into its technology has paid off – to a point. The depth cues are more refined, and the motion much smoother with much less of the “dizzy” effect where parts of the screen go wobbly.

On the other hand, it does depend on what you’re looking at. Wide-angle shots of epic landscapes look fantastic. Medium shots with lots of people in them look less impressive because the people themselves are noticeably 2D with added space behind them – if you ever had a Viewmaster as a kid, you’ll know what I mean.

Even a demo clip from the film Avatar (which was shot in native 3D) had something of a Viewmaster look to it at times.

Overall, though, it’s a promising start to 3D phone screens, though once LG’s Optimus 3D phone hits street level in Q2, it will be interesting to see the first consumer surveys indicating how many users keep it switched to 2D mode, and how long it took for them to decide to leave the 3D off.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I took pictures and video of both the Optimus 3D and the Movidius demo rig, but you can’t see the 3D effect, so I didn’t see the point of posting them.


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