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3D, Virtual Reality, And Immersive Technology At The U Of OIT

Neil On Where Immersive Technology Is Heading

Tom's Hardware: What are your thoughts on how 3D has progressed, and where immersive technologies are ultimately headed?

Neil Schneider: I got into this business because I have a sincere love for 3D. I have two 3D cameras, a 3D notebook computer, my TVs and displays are 3D, I have two 3D gaming rigs, my smartphone is in 3D...everything I do is in 3D. I've stopped playing my games in 2D altogether.

As a gamer and a customer first, I'm deeply saddened by how this industry handled itself, and we are all losing. The 3D technology makers were so focused on pushing their IP and owning the whole market that the customers' needs and interests became a non-issue. The cinema guys had instant gratification, so they pushed 2D/3D conversions that destroyed the credibility of real 3D movies. AAA game developers invested little to no quality control with their 3D releases, and many used 2D+Depth technologies that are gaming's answer to 2D/3D conversion. A lot of the stuff that is labeled as "3D-Ready" has little to do with the experiences that got me excited about this technology. Until you've played Battlefield 3 with the DDD drivers or Batman: Arkham City with 3D Vision, then "3D-Ready" has no meaning. Skyrim is also awesome in 3D; you really should try it.

The worst part is what the display manufacturers did to PC gamers. Only now has HDMI released a connector standard that can support stereoscopic 3D at gaming resolutions of 1080p or better. What was popularized at the launch of 3DTV gaming was limited to 720p. Imagine, a 1280x720 resolution limit on a full-blown PC gaming rig! It's crazy, right? This was extremely damaging.

While 3D HDTVs are still available and evolving, several manufacturers discontinued their PC 3D displays. Samsung had great 3D monitors, now discontinued. Some of Nvidia's stuff is still there, but it hasn't been refreshed in two years. If the PC had standardized 3D availability like HDTVs did, everyone would be in a better place. Especially consumers.

The stereoscopic 3D industry would be much further along if it was in tune with gamers. Not games! Gamers. Anyone who blames the 3D glasses is way off base. The Oculus Rift is far more cumbersome than light 3D glasses, but that hasn't been a stumbling block. Poor content quality and the wrong content focus is the real reason that 3D stalled, and a lot of money was wasted.

So where is immersive technology headed? Well, we are definitely in a better space than when I started this roller coaster ride. We have 3D HDTVs, and if the PC display market can re-release products with an easy-to-adopt standard, it's a good place to be. Even before the Oculus Rift has been released for consumers, there is more VR content now than there ever was for 3D. Remember, stereoscopic 3D is part of VR. With game developers adding native VR support, it's not such a big deal for them to add stereoscopic 3D support for standardized 3D devices. If we can take advantage of that, then we will see a sustainable resurgence for 3D.

Now we live in a time where Oculus VR rules the roost, and similar to 3D's early days, this is something that was sparked by gamers. Sony has already announced plans for a competing HMD, Nvidia has been showing some new ideas, Google and Epson are showcasing AR, Sixense is releasing new VR wireless controllers, and there will be lots of other peripherals and ideas coming down the pipe. If our industry tries to divide and conquer, then we will all be divided and conquered. It happens fast. On the other hand, if we have a joint interest in building a diverse industry and a large consumer base, then immersive tech will be a long-term force to be reckoned with, and that would be a real accomplishment for everyone.

There is no chance in the world that people are going to take Oculus' early success sitting down, nor should they. This has to be a diverse industry so there is justification for content makers to commit to actual VR support, consumers need to have choices and see regular product innovation, and diversity is needed for long term industry viability. We are starting to see this.

Tom's Hardware: Tell us about the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).  How did you get there, and what are your responsibilities?

Neil Schneider: During the iGO3D research initiative, I jointly headed up the effort with Dr. Andrew Hogue from UOIT's Game Development and Entrepreneurship Program. After seeing what the students could do and all that is happening in the immersive technology field, the Faculty of Business and IT (FBIT) decided to take the bull by the horns and establish a presence in this industry. I was very proud to accept the position of manager of immersive technology services in FBIT. My responsibilities are divided between fostering use of our new virtual reality labs and facilities, as well as helping set the direction for our department as it pertains to immersive technology.

UOIT is a unique institution, and they do really well when it comes to specialized technology. For example, our campus features the one-of-a-kind Automotive Center of Excellence (ACE) which is a world renowned wind tunnel and laboratory for vehicle research and development. I recently saw work from the IT department co-supervised by Dr. Julie Thorpe that is going to turn the concept of password security on its ear. Our game development program's Dr. Lennart Nacke is one of the chairs for the innovative Gamification 2013 Conference taking place in Stratford this October. UOIT has only been around for ten years, so this is a fast moving, fast growing institution that has a solid pulse on the technology markets.

Tom's Hardware: Thanks so much for your time, Neil, it's been enlightening to hear your perspective on immersive technologies and to learn about your involvement in the industry.

Now that we know a little more about Neil and his role at the UOIT, we'll focus on the Game Development And Entrepreneurship Program, where students have access to some leading-edge hardware.