New 3D TV Goes Glasses-Free
A new glasses-free 3D screen is able to show the same scene at slightly different angles.
CREDIT: Camera Culture Group, MIT Media Lab
LOS ANGELES — Love 3D movies? Then perhaps you'd like to see the same effects on your home TV, without having to wear those plastic glasses.
Many people may have only watched their first 3D movie sometime in the last few years, yet researchers here at SIGGRAPH, an interactive technologies conference hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery, are already looking ahead. One group of studies the conference emphasized were those that help bring glasses-free 3D TVs into people's homes.
At a research session yesterday (Aug. 8), one group described prototypes of screens they built that show simple, moving 3D images without requiring special glasses. The 3D effect works from different angles, so people are able to see a realistically angled scene when they're standing to the side of one of the screens. The screens' creators, computer scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also taught a class at SIGGRAPH Aug. 5 to help others develop their technique.
Meanwhile, on a showroom floor dedicated to emerging technologies, European researchers demonstrated a camera made to film shows and movies for the TV screens of the future. The camera is part of a continent-wide effort to record, transmit and display glasses-free 3D TV.
A 3D screen cannibalized from today's LCD TVs
Several research groups are working on glasses-free 3D TVs, but most of the technologies under development would require sending large volumes of data using TV networks, Matthew Hirsch, a doctoral student at MIT, explained to InnovationNewsDaily. In its current state, the network wouldn't be able to handle so much data.
Hirsch and his colleagues' new screens reduce the amount of data that the network needs to carry by taking some shortcuts and by performing some of their own data calculations. "What we want to do is put computation into the hardware," Hirsch said.
The MIT researchers are betting that combination of eye tricks and in-screen math will bring glasses-free TV to homes sooner. "We believe this is the future of the field," said Gordon Wetzstein, who led the research.
To show that their idea works with technologies that are available today, the researchers cannibalized LCD panels from store-bought TVs for one of their prototypes. During their presentation, Douglas Lanman, an engineer on the team, showed a series of slides that depicted him disassembling the TVs and cleaning the LCD plates, drawing laughter from the audience. [11 Technologies in Danger of Going Extinct]
The prototype is made of three layers of LCD panels. Each panel shows a fuzzy, distorted version of the overall scene. The fuzzy images flicker at a rate that's too high to detect with the naked eye. During their presentation, the researchers showed videos of the flashing, slowed to a rate that people are able to see.
While the screen is at work, the eye averages the three layers and the flashing to create the 3D image. If people view the screen from the side, the screen selects the correct light rays to show viewers, so that people see the objects in the scene from the side. As an example, Hirsch showed an image of tossed die on the new screen. Conference attendees could see different faces of the die by tilting their heads side to side.
The current prototype works when people view it at 10-degree angles to either side, or within a few degrees above and below. When people look at the screen outside of the ideal cone, the images appear blurred and sometimes separated out into three layers. If faster LCD panels are available in the future, the glasses-free screen could be made to work in a larger cone, Hirsch said.
Nevertheless, because the prototype uses existing technologies, Hirsch believes it won't be too long until a similar screen makes its debut in stores, although he couldn't say exactly when that might happen. "I think it's very near term," he said.
A camera for the future
Meanwhile, just a few steps away from where the MIT screen was on display, another group was showing another aspect of bringing 3D TV into people's homes. Fraunhofer, an applied research institute based in Germany, demonstrated a camera it developed that captures video for glasses-free 3D TVs.
The camera's data are adjustable to different displays. All glasses-free 3D TVs beam several versions of the same image at the viewer, with each version showing the scene at a slightly different angle, explained Jürgen Rurainsky, head of intellectual property and marketing for Fraunhofer. If such TVs become more popular in the future, different manufacturers may choose to make screens that show between five and eight of these angled views.
"We don't know what kind of display the viewer will have," Rurainsky said. So the Fraunhofer camera captures data that different displays are able to render into as many views as needed.
Fraunhofer's research is part of a European Union-funded, continent-wide project called Multimedia Scalable 3D for Europe, or MUSCADE.
Whether or not you're a fan of 3D movies, that future seems to be on its way, with researchers all over the world at work to bring that experience home.