Screw Avatar, 3D Gaming is What Will Get You to Buy a New TV

I've been skeptical of the big push for 3D in TVs and movies. But I just played the first 45 minutes or so of Metro 2033 on a top-of-the-line 3D-enabled gaming rig and, well, wow.

Playing games in 3D right now requires a lot of work on your part, or at least a lot of money. An Nvidia rep told me that you could get a decent 3d-capable tower for $800-$1,000, but it was telling that the setup they had me playing on at the press preview for the game had a to-be-announced Nvidia GPU inside a 3.5-foot-tall tower with a plexiglass side to show off the water cooling inside. Sure, it'll work with a slower computer, but if you want a great experience, expect to pay top dollar.

That's because 3D gaming will basically require a doubled framerate to get video as smooth as we're used to with 2D games, as it's processing a frame for each eye instead of one for both.

But that's fine. Unless you're a hardcore PC gamer or a serious early adopter, I wouldn't suggest running out and dropping $4,000 on a tower. What was exciting about this was that it felt like a glimpse into the near future.

PCs, after all, aren't where the majority of players get their gaming done. They play consoles. The PS3 is getting 3D capabilities this summer through a couple of firmware upgrades; the same is coming to the Xbox 360 sometime soon. In any case, even when the PS3 and Xbox 360 get 3D support you'll need a new 3D HDTV that supports HDMI 1.4 to run em, so it won't suddenly make 3D gaming mainstream.

And since 3D requires a doubled framerate, you shouldn't expect to be able to play the current crop of console games in 3D even when the PS3 gets that ability, because most of them are already pushing the console hard to hit its framerate as-is. Doubling that will not work out very well.

Post-Apocalyptic Moscow in Three Dimensions

The graphics of Metro 2033 are very good, to be sure, but they're nothing better than any other major release from the past year. What made the experience great was the 3D. It was amazing how much was added to the feel of the game.

Screw Avatar, 3D Gaming is What Will Get You to Buy a New TV

Leaving an underground tunnel into a post-apocalyptic Moscow at night, my vision was filled with floating specs of snow and dust in some lights. But closer to me were some cracks in my gas mask, which represented damage to my character. In the middle distance were some other characters and piles of rubble. Off in the distance was a huge tower.

Each level of depth stood out completely and made the screen feel like a window. Aiming was easier, as I could immediately tell just how far off an enemy was, even when I hadn't seen it before and was unsure of its scale.

Back underground in the subway tunnels that make up 70% of the game, everything was much closer. But I could pass a cracked-open doorway and peer inside at the people sitting there, and it felt like I was really looking into someone's private room.

When You'll Be Able to Get In on the Fun

In short, 3D makes games feel more real than ever before. And this is just the beginning. With Natal, Microsoft will be able to do head tracking, which when combined with 3D really looks like the future of gaming to me. A next-gen Microsoft console with Natal and 3D built-in, complete with the guts to make 3D run smoothly, will completely change the way we play games.

And while 3D tech will take a bit of time to become affordable, if you really want to experience it now, you can. Games today are created in 3D already, so it's just a matter of processing to turn those 3D spaces into something you can see with glasses. Unreal just announced its Unreal Engine will be able to go 3D with the flip of a switch, and it powers loads of popular games. A gaming rig with a good enough graphics card hooked up to a 120Hz monitor can run many games in 3D right now, but Nvidia's 3DTV Play, just announced today, will let you hook up a gaming PC to a 3D HDTV in your living room. So if you've got the motivation and the money, you've got the ability to enjoy 3D gaming on the couch right now.

Really, this isn't going to hit the mainstream until consoles are pushing it. And that probably won't be for a couple of years, at least for console AAA titles, which is a bummer.

But if you're an early adopter looking to buy a first-gen 3D HDTV and Blu-ray player, you'd be crazy to not at least think about grabbing a gaming PC that can handle 3D games. Because trust me, you'll use that a lot more often than you'll watch Avatar.