Skype Exploring 3D Technology

With 3D, Skype could put these people in the room with you. Their smiles would be extra-terrifying.

Skype is exploring the possibility of 3D video conversations, but that technology is possibly years away from hitting the consumer market.

“We’ve done work in the labs looking at the capability of 3D-screens and 3D-capture,” Mark Gillett, corporate vice president for Skype, told the BBC. “But the capture devices are not yet there.” A key sticking point: 3D conversations would require multiple cameras arranged in just the right way to capture and render the necessary visual data—a difficult proposition when most computers and tablets come with one or two cameras at most.

Way back in Ye Olden Days of 2009, James Cameron decided to release his science-fiction film “Avatar” in theaters specially equipped for 3D display. The film became a blockbuster, and kicked off a trend of 3D films that continues to the current day; despite Cameron cheerleading the format, however, 3D screens haven’t yet dominated the theater experience. Outside of the movie world, the success of “Avatar” also kicked off a fad in 3D-equipped smartphones, tablets, and televisions that never really managed to seize significant market-share.

Why that failure? Theories abound, and many of them focus on the current state of 3D technology. As anyone who’s ever wrestled with a glasses-free 3D tablet or smartphone can attest, the hardware and software are often buggier than a square acre of Brazilian jungle: even if you align your gaze perfectly with the device’s screen, and hold totally still so it can do its magic, the resulting effects are likely to make your eyes strain and burn after a few minutes of viewing.

Skype clearly wants to avoid that sort of issue, which is why its work in 3D is unlikely to appear for quite some time on the open market, if ever. “We know how to make it work,” Gillett said, “and we’re looking at the ecosystem of devices and their capability to support it in order to make a decision when we might think about bringing something like that to market.” That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement—and besides, there doesn’t seem like a frantic need on the part of individuals or businesses to have video calls rendered in 3D.


Image: Skype

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