Tech Review: PlayStation 3D Display

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As a gaming enthusiast, the prospect of any technology that can be employed to enhance a gaming experience tends to get my geek side excited.  Even though some folks in the game enthusiast community find 3D to be a gimmick or unnecessary, it is still an experience that truly should only be judged on a personal level.  More and more games are coming out as 3D enabled and the ability to play and review without a 3D panel feels almost like a portion of a developer’s intended experience is being left out.  For Christmas, Santa delivered Sony’s latest PlayStation accessory, the 24″ PlayStation 3D Display.  Now that I have a 3D display I wanted to go back through my collection of games and give an impression of my own experience with 3D.

To begin with, let me discuss the display itself.  The viewing space measures 24 inches diagonally and sits just over 15″ high on the included base.  Speakers are built into the sides of the screen in a shape that reminds me of the PSP Go.  The display is vibrant and sharp but the panel is also super glossy so I had to adjust my viewing angle a bit to keep reflective glare from becoming too distracting.  The display has 3 inputs consisting of 2 HDMI and 1 set of component connections, and 1 3.5mm headphone output jack.  Buttons for turning the display on, adjusting the volume, and navigating the onscreen menu are on the back along the right side.  Unfortunately, the buttons are in direct line with the HDMI cable so in trying to either turn the display on, adjust the volume or navigate in the menu system I found myself bumping the cable.  A newly revamped Sony Blu-ray remote works with the display and PS3, but it is not included in the box.

Aside from the button placement, I’m really impressed with the overall design of the display.  I normally game on a 42″ Westinghouse, and while the Sony display is smaller, I find myself spending more time using the display even for non-3D gaming.  The glasses that ship with the display are active shutter with a listed 30 hour viewing performance before needing to be charged.  The glasses come in a nifty little felt bag to keep the lens from being scratched when not in use and come with a very short micro-A USB cable to charge when needed.  The official product page lists the glasses as being universal with other active shutter 3D display panels that use IR emitters.  Since I don’t have any other 3D TVs lying around I’ll take Sony at their word.  The glasses fit comfortably on my head, even over my glasses.  The posts don’t have a lot of spring to them so trying to fit them on someone with a larger face or head could be a deal breaker for some folks, but since they are light and comfortable on my head I’m not going to complain.  I do wonder how the posts would feel behind my ears if I had a pair of full sized headphones on, but I don’t currently use any headphones so I can only speculate.

First on my list of games to try in 3D was Super Stardust HD.  From the moment that Sony released firmware 3.30 which enabled games to be played with 3D displays I had heard lots of praise for Super Stardust HD as being the perfect game for 3D.  I have to agree.  The game displays at so many depths when 3D is enabled and does so without a hitch in frame rate.  Sparks flew out and asteroids careened toward the planet in the middle of my view with astonishingly cool effect.  Vibrant colors flood the display at all times and the use of bombs is truly something worth experiencing in 3D.  Super Stardust HD may be one of the older titles available from PSN, but it is still one of the best experiences to date, even more so in 3D.

MLB 11 The Show is a game that at first glance I didn’t expect would be a title worth playing in 3D.  That is until I stood in the batter’s box and watched as a curve ball flew at me and at the last second dropped down.  Seeing a true depth of field while batting makes for a much truer baseball experience.  I admit that I’m not a die hard sports player, but a co-worker and I do enjoy playing matches against each other from time to time.  While the matches are close I tend to end up on the losing side of the event.  I have a feeling that the next time we play I may have a distinct advantage with 3D enabled.

Batman: Arkham City is a game that I had started to play and then other titles came up requiring my attention for review and thus dropped out of my current gaming rotation.  Once I had the 3D display hooked up, though, I wanted to see just how Arkham City would look in 3D.  Initially I found the 3D to not be as good as I had hoped.  Batman stalks his prey from the shadows and performs silent take downs, quickly returning to another dimly lit perch.  That is perfectly fine in 2D.  Unfortunately, I found Arkham City a bit hard to play with 3D turned on because once the active shutters on the glasses engage everything on the screen gets that much darker.  After playing with the brightness a bit I found a sweet spot that allowed me to see even in the darker areas of the game without any trouble.  My biggest complaint can be leveled at the camera in game.  During some of the busier brawls that Batman encounters I found myself  losing the 3D effect because of how quickly Batman can jump from one side of the screen to the next and back within seconds. Combat can be a bit hard to watch in these situations.  Turning off 3D entirely I noticed the same camera flipping occurring, but without 3D I didn’t notice any eye strain. Overall though, I would have to say that I’ve put over 20 hours of gaming into Arkham City with 3D enabled and have really enjoyed the extra subtle touches the tech adds.

While I have already finished the story of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I realized that I had some smaller non-story related quests and Animus memories to finish up so I fired up ACR with 3D enabled.  As with Arkham City, I found that the default game brightness was a bit too dark for my viewing comfort during dark sections of the game. However, 3D overall really adds an extra pop to the experience.  Wandering through the crowded streets of Constantinople, merchants, guards and everything in between has a really great depth of field that helps to bring the world to life even more so.  Jumping across roof tops took a moment to readjust as the buildings were actually popping out, and seeing everything in a truer three dimensional space was something my mind had to take a few minutes to get used to.

During the E3 press conference this year, one of the big features that Sony touted was that the PlayStation 3D Display would allow two players to play split-screen games by viewing a full screen image while the 3D glasses would only display whichever screen the player chose to watch.  If anything this was the coolest concept unveiled during the display’s announcement.  Currently there are only a few titles that take advantage of the SimulView technology, but after giving each of those games a go I can only say I hope that more developers utilize this in future titles.

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First up, using the SimulView method of split-screen, my kids and I took turns racing through several courses of MotorStorm: Apocalypse.  The latest entry in the face paced arcade racer was fun to play earlier this year when it came out, but racing split-screen always felt like a second thought as the display was not a true split screen.  Doing two player split-screen with MotorStorm: Apocalypse and SimulView is truly a blast.  The game looks amazing in 3D in single player mode as well.  While the fast paced nature of the races didn’t allow me to stop and just enjoy the scenery, there are enough super jumps where the course opens and I could just look in awe at the destruction that the races all revolve around.

Killzone 3 is the second title I have that supports SimulView.  While Killzone 3 may not have captured the same level of story for me that Killzone 2 had, the game visually brings a lot more variety in colors and locations.  The first thing I noticed with 3D enabled for the title is the simple fact that the menu system goes beyond just having title plates stand out from the background as so many games that support 3D tend to use.  Objects on the screen (even if they are unnecessary for the menu experience) pop out with a nice flair.  Loading the game up as a single player experience in 3D was a nice treat.  The world truly looks fascinating in 3D.  Of course one of the main reasons for testing out Killzone 3 was to see just how well SimulView worked for split-screen playing.  I have played through a portion of the campaign before with my son but we both found that the shifted split-screen was a bit of a challenge to play with.  However, using the SimulView, those concerns all vanish.  Being able to play a full screen co-op shooter is almost a perfect experience.  Since everything is displayed in full, all of the minor things I look for are much easier to make out on screen, especially if a Helghan head is looking over cover, the head is much easier to spot full screen.  No stutter or performance hit appeared during our co-op session.

I was hoping to continue the fine experience of full screen local co-op shooting with Resistance 3. Unfortunately, at this time Resistance 3 only displays 3D for single player and does not support the SimulView full screen feature.  That being said, Resistance 3 in single player 3D is still a fantastic experience.  It is amazing how subtle the 3D effect is at times, yet enhances the overall mood.  As with the previous games I’ve mentioned, Resistance 3 also at times suffers from the darker active shutter glasses being engaged.  Fortunately with Resistance 3 bumping up the brightness to be able to see better in the darker sections didn’t wash out the brighter sections for me.

The final two titles I wanted to touch upon while using the PlayStation 3D Display are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  Obviously both games have a venerable history, and much care went into the HD revision of the Team Ico classics.  Having never played Ico originally on the PS2 I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Turning 3D on for Ico, I was amazed at how richly the depth of field was enhanced.  I’m not sure if it is due to the somewhat minimalistic geometry used in creating the castle, or if it is due to the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of extraneous details in the textures or surroundings, but the world truly looks amazing in 3D.  That is until Ico and Yorda have to venture inside one of the darker aspects of the castle.  As I’ve repeated several times over, darker sections of games (at least for me) are just plain hard to play with 3D enabled.  Sadly, with Ico I couldn’t find a pleasant middle ground by turning up the brightness in game without over saturating the already bright sections of the levels.

Shadow of the Colossus also was difficult to play through during some of the darker sections of the game, but boy howdy does the game look amazing in 3D.  As Wander rides across the open plains on Agro, the world pops to life.  The huge scope of the colossi is doubly impressive with 3D turned on.  Sadly, with several of the colossi being in darker surroundings I found that I had to turn 3D off just to be able to complete the task of defeating a colossus.

The more I point out the 3D effect being too hard to see in games with dark sections, the more I realize that I could possibly alleviate some of that by adjusting settings in the display panel menu itself.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the buttons weren’t located on the back of the display.  The menu itself doesn’t have a huge list of options, but there are enough preset display settings as well as a custom setting that I suppose playing with them would help adjust for the darker moments.  I’m a lazy gamer though and having to fiddle with settings in game as well as on the display for each title takes the fun out of what I want to do most, and that is sit and enjoy a good game.

Overall, the PlayStation 3D Display is a great panel.  The size is perfect for desktop gaming and is a relatively inexpensive entry into the world of 3D gaming and movie watching.  The display includes one pair of 3D glasses, an HDMI cable and a copy of MotorStorm: Apocalypse.  Currently Sony has a deal with multiple retailers for discounts on additional glasses as well as the new Blu-ray remote.  While 3D gaming may be viewed as a “luxury”, Sony has put together a package that is worth getting and at a price that brings “luxury” to many budget conscious gamers.

Pros:
+ Gorgeous display
+ Small footprint
+ 1 pair of 3D glasses included

Cons:
- No remote included
- Buttons on the back conflict with HDMI cables
- Glossy panel can reflect lights or other objects behind the viewer
- When 3D is enabled the viewing space gets noticeably darker

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.