3-D displays transcend consumer novelty

Dec. 1, 2008
WORLDWIDE—A presentation at the Society for Information Display’s (SID; Campbell, CA) Mobile Displays 2008 conference by analyst Steve Sechrist at Insight Media (Norwalk, CT) asked the question “What is holding back 3-D?” Sechrist cited customer research that shows while > 50% of respondents were interested in a three-dimensional (3-D) entertainment experience, 29% didn’t want 3-D at all, and the rest were indifferent.

WORLDWIDE—A presentation at the Society for Information Display’s (SID; Campbell, CA) Mobile Displays 2008 conference by analyst Steve Sechrist at Insight Media (Norwalk, CT) asked the question “What is holding back 3-D?” Sechrist cited customer research that shows while > 50% of respondents were interested in a three-dimensional (3-D) entertainment experience, 29% didn’t want 3-D at all, and the rest were indifferent. In fact, NTT DOCOMO (Tokyo, Japan) launched a 3-D cell phone in 2004–2005 at a $50 premium over standard phones and it flopped. Nonetheless, 2.8 million of these phones were sold; in fact, market research company Displaybank (San Jose, CA) forecasts that 3-D display technology will grow at a 95% average annual growth rate from $140 million in 2008 to $15.8 billion by 2015.

The 3-D hardware evolution

The first 3-D movie in 1922 entitled “Power of Love” required viewers to wear 3-D glasses with one red and one blue or green lens. Using the anaglyph process, two views of a scene were shot and printed separately on red and blue or green film and layered together. When the layered film was viewed with the special glasses, the brain was tricked by the colored overlap making some objects appear closer and others further away. But the real era for 3-D movies was certainly the 1950s with “House of Wax” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” when red/green glasses gave way to polarized glasses that tricked the eyes into perceiving depth by viewing two orthogonally polarized scenes simultaneously.

Moving forward to the 21st century, major movie studios promise a 3-D viewing experience that eliminates eye fatigue. In August 2008, entertainment technology companies 3ality Digital (Burbank, CA) and Quantel (Newbury, Berkshire, England) announced a partnership to bring stereoscopic 3-D broadcast technology to every television in America. 3ality Digital is credited with producing the “U2 3-D” movie, a critically acclaimed 3-D experience shot using nine camera setups constructed of two cameras each that acted as a pair of eyes to create a 3-D effect during post-production development. And because the film was shot in high-definition video, each frame used nearly 20 megabytes of data with the overall 85 minute film consuming almost a petabyte (1015 bytes); unfortunately, the movie still requires 3-D glasses for viewing.

For audiences to embrace 3-D, many people think that technology should eliminate the need for special viewing glasses. But 3-D specialist Andrew Woods from Curtin University of Technology (Perth, Australia), says, “Audiences are already embracing the technology with cinema attendance to the 3-D versions of movies usually 2–3 times higher than the same 2-D movie. Glasses-based 3-D displays are here now, are affordable, and of high-quality and I think the application tends to be more of a driving factor in what type of display technology is used.”

Today, methods to display stereoscopic images rely on some technique to present each of an individual’s eyes with a slightly different image—either separated by color, polarization, time (sequentially), or spatially. Woods says a new “super” anaglyph technique has recently been developed that uses narrower spectral bands to overcome the problems of the old anaglyph. This is called “Infitec” and is used by Dolby in its 3-D cinema systems. In the time-sequential (also called frame- or field-sequential) method, liquid-crystal shutter 3-D glasses switch on and off in sequence with left and right perspective images shown sequentially on the display. This technique requires a rapid refresh rate for the display to prevent flicker and is the technique employed in several “3-D Ready” HDTVs from Samsung and Mitsubishi.

Spatial separation is the basis of many autostereoscopic (no-glasses) displays. Lenticular, parallax barrier, and parallax illumination techniques use an optical element either in front of or behind the display that creates spatially separated viewing zones emanating from the display. If an observer’s eyes are located in two different zones, a stereoscopic image can be observed without the need for 3-D glasses. Woods says, “For advertising, yes, I think autostereoscopic is necessary. You want to catch the eye of a passing individual. For scientific visualization and cinema, people generally don’t have a problem with wearing the glasses to see an enhanced 3-D view.” Philips and a number of specialty manufacturers have displays which employ this technique.

For science and industry

Besides entertainment and gaming, the industrial and scientific markets may be the biggest benefactor of the unique capabilities of 3-D displays. Already, research at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) on interactive visualization techniques provides 3-D analysis of kinematics in animals and humans, and work at Glasgow University (Glasgow, Scotland) applies 3-D modeling to forensic facial reconstruction from skulls.

The Virtual Window 19 from Dimension Technologies (Rochester, NY) is a 2-D/3-D switchable 19 inch diagonal display with 1280 x 1024 (SXGA) resolution. It works using a patented parallax illumination technique in which a special illumination pattern and optics behind an LCD screen make alternate columns of pixels visible to the left and right eyes. The technology assists engineers and scientists in architectural modeling, for computer-aided-design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), and in molecular modeling.

Other companies working on unique 3-D displays include Zecotek Photonics (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 4-D Vision in Germany, and Zebra Imaging in cooperation with the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ). SeeReal Technologies (Dresden, Germany) demonstrated a prototype of its real-time video holographic display (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/305707) at SID’s Display Week 2007 conference.

Other “no-glasses” 3-D displays of note include both Holografika’s (Budapest, Hungary) Holo Vizio line of motion parallax displays and Lightspace Technologies’ (Twinsburg, OH) volumetric Depth Cube displays in which hidden features behind objects can be seen as you walk around the screen; Philips’ (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) 56 inch 3-D television that, according to Gizmodo.com, costs around $25,000 and is primarily targeted for commercial advertising applications; and on an even larger scale, Fakespace’s up to 8 ft. x 24 ft. Immersive Work Wall.

Several companies are even going beyond flat-screen viewing and instead proposing volumetric displays, such as the Perspecta display from Actuality, a holographic display from Phoebe, and the Dimensional Media Associates’ high-definition volumetric display of the HoloGlobe that debuted at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.


A recent phenomenon in the world of 3-D displays is the move beyond pure viewing to one of a truly immersive nature. One of the most exciting 3-D visualization tools is the data CAVE from the University of Calgary (Calgary, AB, Canada). This system creates a 3-D life-sized image of discrete organs or even a complete human body, and can be used for disease and function analysis (see www.bioopticsworld.com/articles/335843)

And according to recently published information, “Christie and EON Reality teamed up to create Discovery World’s Human Interactive Virtual Education (HIVE) immersive 3-D environment that allows visitors a ‘near-real’ experience of life around them by placing them in the middle of virtual, three-dimensional worlds. Visitors will find themselves hovering above the water in a small town in Portugal, or flying through the solar system.”

3-D technology is not only appearing in scientific laboratories across the globe, but is also headed to a theater near you. Five Hollywood studios have, according to Insight Media analyst and editor John DiLoreta, agreed to help pay for a $1 billion dollar wave of rollouts of digital and 3-D technology on about 20,000 movie screens in North America—technology that costs about $70,000 per screen.

Upcoming 3-D conferences

Several venues for understanding the latest in 3-D technology advances are scheduled for early 2009. The “Stereoscopic Displays and Applications” conference (www.stereoscopic.org) runs January 19–21, 2009 at the San Jose, CA Convention Center. And the one-day, economical update called “3-D Technology Update for Display Professionals” (www.3Dfortheprofessional.com) will be held January 16, 2009 in Costa Mesa, CA.

—Gail Overton

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