Several years ago, the concept of a market for gaming optics was a hard one to imagine. As playing console and PC games have become more mainstream, so have the trials and tribulations of gamers who put in hard hours playing their favorite games. Although hands and shoulders may cramp, the eyes suffer in silence after lengthy play sessions. Oakley has been one of the leaders in eyewear and sunglasses for a long time, only recently taking its expertise into multimedia performance eyewear. Gunnar has been in the field for a few years, focusing more exclusively on the plight of gamers squinting from eyestrain after their 50th consecutive hour of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.
Both companies aim to make an argument that cheap theater-type plastic and film lenses are too great a compromise in quality for the true 3-D enthusiast, and that spending as much as $100 or more on a pair of high-quality, carefully focused polarized coated lenses is the way to go. In their cheapest form, polarized lenses are like the red-green film lenses in cardboard frames, but the newer types of polarized 3-D lenses require two images to be projected by two different projectors, which show two different light polarizations. Each eyepiece of a polarized passive lenses is designed to accept the light from one projector but not the other, thus creating a stereo 3-D image with much less carnival-colored visual interference than you’d see with tinted lenses. And it looks a lot less cheesy wearing those “normal” glasses that aren’t red and green. What distinguishes the Oakleys from the Gunnars is a matter of taste and preference. Do you go with the experience of Oakley or the gaming specialization of Gunnar in 3-D gaming eyewear?
Gunnar came to CES 2011 with a tricked-out bus on the pavilion in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center with its spectrum of eyewear. Gunnar has been offering a wide array of filtering lenses for gamers and graphic designers that are designed to enhance the clarity of gaming displays for years, but new this year was its 3-D polarized lenses. The three types of 3-D glasses Gunnar had to show were the Anime, Phenom and Midnight 3-D lenses, offering three distinctive styles that distinguish each set of glasses from one another.
I tried the Midnight lenses while playing on an iPad, which was much clearer with a highly filtered, cleaned up image. The Midnight lenses are ones I could immediately see an advantage in using while playing Angry Birds on a mobile device or watching 3-D movies; although, I’d liked to have compared the Midnight lenses side-by-side with the Oakley lenses while giving a 3-D game a shot. The Midnight eyewear I tried was feathery and lightweight, comfortable and didn’t appear to distort the view through their lenses significantly.
The Gunnar Anime and Phenom are $99, while the Midnight 3-D lenses are priced at $149. At this price point, which is comparable to the Oakleys, the benefits for gamers are more apparent even if this line of eyewear is optimized for 3-D content. Gamers living in the present happily with their 2-D game systems can enjoy the filtering capabilities of the Midnight (and to a lesser extent with the Anime and Phenom glasses, which lack only some of the more refined coatings and filters of its more expensive sibling), while the future-oriented gamers will be ready for 3-D media consumption with any of the Gunnar 3-D lenses.
Oakley had a trailer of its own a few spots down from Gunnar, also showing off new 3-D lenses. The GASCAN 3-D lenses are the first for Oakley, based on the long-standing GASCAN design. Oakley came armed with exhaustive bullet points in a presentation designed to convince almost any 3-D content consumer that it was the best game in town. After hearing them out and seeing the demo, I’ve got to say they made a pretty convincing argument.
Oakley holds more than 600 unique patents in the design of eyewear, presumably which have been put to good use in the design of its GASCAN 3-D glasses. In the demo of the accuracy of the lenses, which the company describes as optically correct, the Oakley representative placed the GASCAN lenses before an American National Standards Institute projector and a test pattern to demonstrate that they barely distort the pattern. That’s putting the product to the test — and compared to other lenses demoed, these seemed to pass with flying colors. The Oakley lenses were also described as being set in exactly the right curvature to minimize distortion and maximize comfort.
Informed tests and explanations about the capabilities of the lens are well and good, but I had to see it to believe it. The GASCANs, when I tried them on for a trick snowboarding video playing on a PlayStation 3, were a visual tour de force. From what I saw, there was very little color distortion, no loss of sharpness, while both subtle and intense 3-D was part of the clip. The real test is when you wear 3-D glasses through a whole movie or a gaming session, but the GASCAN glasses rested so comfortably over my ears and the bridge of my nose, I can’t imagine they’d fall short of the mark.
The 3-D GASCANs run for $120, and the Limited Edition TRON-branded 3-D glasses with otherwise similar capabilities cost $150. It’s a steep price tag for a new product bearing a premium brand name, especially for a pair of glasses that cannot be used outdoors since they won’t effectively filter UV radiation. Most gamers will want to hold out until 3-D gaming becomes a mainstay, perhaps starting with 3-D gaming on the PlayStation 3. Until then, it may be hard to justify bringing a pair of GASCANs to RealD 3-D movies at theaters to see a few good 3-D movies or wait until passive 3-D TVs become more inexpensive and widely available.