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But while the company may plan to start with gaming, Mundie envisions 3-D eventually becoming a key part of many computer interfaces and online content. In one example, he demonstrated shopping using a 3-D natural interface; his hand gestures spun a 3-D image of a product, displaying it from a variety of angles, and opened it up to look at the parts inside.

He acknowledged, however, that there are challenges that need to be solved before 3-D can become ubiquitous. “We need a lot more computer than we currently have,” Mundie said, noting that processing high-definition, 3-D video in real time would strain the capabilities of most home computers today. He also admitted that companies still need to refine how users would interact with computers through gesture and voice–for example, distinguishing between when a gamer is issuing commands to the computer and when the same user is conversing with another player.

Microsoft is wise to focus on games initially, says Norbert Hildebrand, business development manager for Insight Media, a marketing research firm that covers emerging display technologies. With 3-D technologies, providing enough content is a huge issue today, he explains. Games are already created in 3-D and then rendered to work on a 2-D screen, which makes it easy to convert them for 3-D displays and other types of interfaces.

For other types of 3-D interaction, such as shopping or advertising, Hildebrand says content creators will need to be persuaded to invest the necessary money and resources. As far as Mundie’s vision of 3-D shopping, Hildebrand says, “at this point, it’s marketing talk only.” He points out that today’s 3-D displays don’t display text well, so marketers would have to come up with a hybrid approach to display both product images and information.

For now, Hildebrand believes that the average person views 3-D technology as something used on special occasions, not as a day-to-day technology. Some people have interpreted sales figures for 3-D-enabled televisions as a sign that consumers are adopting the technology, he adds, but these can be misleading, since most high-end televisions today have 3-D capabilities. It’s much harder to determine whether people are actually using 3-D and how often, he says.

3-D is on the way, Hildebrand says, but before Mundie’s vision of day-to-day 3-D becomes viable, “a lot of things have to come together.” This includes more 3-D content, better bandwidth for delivering it to users, faster processors to render it, and particularly, he believes, the next generation of display technology–one that doesn’t require special glasses.

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Credit: Microsoft/Technology Review

Tagged: Computing, Microsoft, displays, video games, e-commerce, 3D

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