Tablets, Smartphones Getting 3-D Cameras

HTC launched the EVO 3-D at CTIA Wireless in the latest example of 3-D pushing onto screens big and small. Here's why.
Smartphone makers and tablet makers have started sneaking 3-D cameras and 3-D camcorders onto their devices. At least a half dozen of them are about to hit the market from the likes of LG, HTC, and others. Why is 3-D being pushed from the big screen down to the smallest screens we use?

I have several theories.

The first is that the television makers are asking them to. The TV industry wants to sell 3-D TVs, and so far consumer interest in them has been a bit weak. Putting devices that can capture 3-D images and video into the hands of consumers means they'll start creating 3-D content. Viewing that 3-D content on a mobile phone, while neat, is a limited experience and can really only be done by one person at a time. It would be better to share 3-D images with others on a large TV screen. With users creating 3-D content, they'll want those 3-D TV sets in order to really show off their 3-D pictures and videos.

The other possible source of this new push for 3-D-equipped phones is Google. Google recently launched a new 3-D content channel on YouTube. Anyone can go to the 3-D channel and watch 3-D video there. So far, all the 3-D-equipped devices that have been announced run Google's Android operating system. Those Android devices, such as the HTC EVO 3D and the LG G-Slate, can not only capture 3-D content but also can share it on the 3-D YouTube channel.

More people shooting 3-D video and uploading it to the 3-D YouTube channel creates an advertising opportunity for Google.

Perhaps a bigger question to ask, though, is any of this 3-D content good enough to want to watch on YouTube or a 3-D TV? Believe it or not, the 3-D devices I saw this week at the CTIA Wireless show produced amazing 3-D images and videos.

The EVO 3D from HTC, for example, has two 5-megapixel cameras that work together to capture 3-D images and video. The stereoscopic images can then be viewed when the device is held at just the right distance from your eyes and tipped at just the right angle (no glasses required). It may be somewhat headache-producing, but the images and video look fantastic. I was surprised by how pronounced the effect is, and how sharp and clear the 3-D images and video can be. The depth the 3-D effect adds to images and video is really quite cool.

Just this week, Muvee released new tools for Android tablets that will allow them to edit HD 3-D video directly on the device (on the raw, compressed files). With 3-D capture and 3-D editing possible, it opens a whole new dimension (pun intended) for people to exercise their creativity. Having outlets such as the 3-D YouTube channel and 3-D television sets through which to share that content means that 3-D is primed to be the next big thing in mobile devices.

I think the whole concept is a bit too gimmicky right now, though. It's not a must-have feature at all. However, people decried the first camera phones as idiotic. This time around, we shouldn't make the same mistake and write-off 3-D content creation from mobile devices while it is still in its earliest days.