CES 2010 was all about 3D technology being brought home, from movies to games, and I shudder at the thought.  It's been slightly frustrating hearing everyone talk about 3D gaming since CES went down because one of the most practical and accessible technologies has been completely left in the dust: head tracking.

Imagine playing a video game where the edges of your TV screen were just a window frame, where you could move your head around and the perspective of the game changed realistically and accurately, giving you new ways to view the action or assess a combat situation without having to pop up from your cover and risk getting shot.

A few years ago this video demonstration made the rounds and blew me away. It seems everyone has forgotten about it since then:

 

 

 

All he used was a Wii remote and a sensor bar to get a fully-functional head tracking setup working. Granted, he had to wear some slightly goofy glasses in order to get it working, but there it was. A few months later, at GDC, Sony had taken the next step and set up a similar demonstration using nothing but a PlayStation Eye peripheral:

Stephen Totilo, as you can see there in the video, wasn't wearing any glasses for the demonstration. He simply let the machine calibrate and off he went.  A short while later, Microsoft comes out with Project Natal which can easily perform not only head tracking, but entire body tracking.

The arguments levied against 3D gaming are, to me, perfectly legitimate. You'll need a new TV capable of displaying 3D. And then you'll need to wear glasses. And anyone that doesn't have glasses will be over in the corner seeing doubles. And even the people that are wearing glasses will be seeing a slightly blurry version of whatever it is they're trying to enjoy.

Head tracking, on the other hand, appears to have none of those hurdles to overcome.  The TV you currently use to play games can support head tracking. You don't need a pair of glasses, nor does anyone else in the room. If someone is watching you play a head-tracked video game, they won't see doubles as you move your head around, it would simply look like you're rotating the right analog stick. The image quality of the game wouldn't suffer, either, everything would stay crisp and clean just as it already is. And head tracking could be implemented in a subtle way, allowing you to use it if-and-when you choose to do so.

All you need to have is a camera set up near your TV, and the Wii has proven that having a wired accessory placed near the TV is not as large of a barrier as it might seem.

Head tracking, not 3D, should be the future of games.  This is something that can provide an enormous amount of immersion, it can provide some really cool gameplay innovations, and yet it can remain entirely optional.  And that is exactly how any new perspective-shifting technology should be described.