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3D TV: Avatar on the Xbox 360

And so, finally, I come to Avatar on the Xbox 360 - something I was really looking forward to, as I have a sneaky feeling that gaming might prove to be the dark horse in the whole 3D race.

Not that Avatar kicks into 3D gear straight out of the box, mind you. I forgot to mention earlier that the Samsung 3D Blu-ray player actually asks you twice if you want to watch the 3D version of Monsters Vs Aliens before the disc boots, almost as if it doesn’t believe you might really want to! And so it is that Avatar ships - more understandably - in its 2D incarnation. The 3D option is tucked away within the Display section of the game’s Options menu - and there’s actually much more to it than I’d expected.

For starters, as well as simply enabling the 3D mode, you can choose what 3D format you want the game to use, depending on what your TV supports. I went for the side-by-side option with the Samsung TV, but there’s also a ‘Line interlaced’ version for line-by-line polarized 3D LCD TVs, support for the rare RealD and Sensio checkerboard side-by-side formats, and even a so-called full-checkerboard output mode for use with 3D-Ready DLP TVs in the US.

The game also shows a startling understanding of some of the issues associated with 3D by asking you what screen size you’re using, and how far away from it you’re sitting, making subtle adjustments to its 3D imaging depending on what you say.

Perhaps the single most intriguing thing about Avatar’s set-up menus, though, is the '3D Intensity' bar. This allows you to adjust the extent of the 3D effect - which effectively works out to mean the depth of the image - in surprisingly small and effective increments either above or below the default level 1 starting point.

This turns out to be not only an incredibly useful feature, but also a very informative one. For shifting between the lowest and highest 3D extremes allows you to experience the startling differences in perspective and depth that different implementations of 3D can deliver, at least in the world of video games. And in doing so it also provides us with clear evidence of how careful 3D content makers need to be with both their shooting and post production work if they want to get really watchable results.

During my tests on the pre-production Samsung screen, any setting of the 3D Intensity above around 0.5 leads to pictures that are pretty much unwatchable. The ghosting problem is extreme - and it’s not just restricted to objects in the very distant background, either. Even if two characters are talking with only a ‘virtual’ couple of feet difference in their depth within the image, one figure can look sharp and crisp while the other is eye-strainingly out of focus.

Even turning the 3D effect down to around 0.3 doesn’t completely remove the ghosting/focus issues. But it does reduce it enough to make the game not only watchable but actually enjoyable - crucially more enjoyable, in fact, than playing what is actually a deeply average game in 2D.

Having the genuine extra dimension of depth in the game’s graphics (rather than just a false 3D effect created by perspective graphics) draws you into the jungle world more, makes aiming at enemies a more realistic and accurate test of your abilities, and makes trees, flowers and other ‘ambient’ things actually feel more like part of the gameplay than just scene-setting graphics.

In superior game developer hands, with maybe improved TV tech and understanding of what works in 3D and what doesn’t, it’s easy to imagine that 3D could be used to deliver some sensational gaming moments in the future. The idea of Gears of War 3 in well-managed 3D, for instance, is positively mouthwatering. Are you listening, Epic Games?!

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