Samsung consumer TV key to touchable 3D

AUTHOR: Inavate

A Samsung 3D TV is the key to allowing users to view, manipulate and feel 3D images via a low-cost, portable display. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego created the heads-up virtual reality device (HUVR) by coupling the consumer panel with a half-silvered mirror. The solution projects any graphic image onto the user’s hands and/or the space surrounding them.

The user’s head position is tracked to generate the correct perspective view and they can then manoeuvre a touch-feedback (haptic) device to interact with the generated image. Researchers claim it feels like they are literally ‘touching’ the image’s angles and contours as if it was a tangible three-dimensional object.

HUVR is suitable for tasks that require hand-eye co-ordination and is tipped for use in training and education in structural and mechanical engineering, archaeology and medicine. The device could be used, for example, to visualise and manipulate a 3-D image of a person’s brain taken from an MRI, or an artefact too fragile or precious to be physically handled.

“By using HUVR’s touch-feedback device – which is similar to a commercial game control — a physician could actually feel a defect in the brain, rather than merely see it,” explained research scientist Tom DeFanti. “This can be done over the networks, sharing the look and feel of the object with other researchers and students.”

DeFanti, who is affiliated with the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), created the device with Calit2’s Virtual Reality design engineer, Greg Dawe.

The system isn’t particularly new and hails from work done by Bell Labs’ Ken Knowlton more than 30 years ago. More recent systems include PARIS, a solution created 12 years ago by DeFanti, Dawe and their colleagues and students at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory, University of Illinois, Chicago.

PARIS, or Personal Augmented Reality Interactive System, used a projection technology similar to HUVR, but was low-resolution, too big to move, and expensive. It required the Silicon Graphics computers of the time to render the images and cost more than $100,000 (€80,000). PARIS is still in operation today, but is now astoundingly driven by a game PC.

The recent availability of 55” active stereo panel TVs was the key to making HUVR, which is essentially a more lightweight, portable, and – at about $7,000 (without head tracking) – a much cheaper version of the PARIS-based technology. Constructed from a Samsung 3DTV panel available at most retail electronics stores, HUVR also offers better brightness, contrast, and visual acuity than PARIS.

Although passive stereo 3D HDTVs have been available for about a year – allowing DeFanti and Dawe to build a new VR device called NexCave – active stereo is needed for HUVR. Active stereo generates separate left- and right-eye images that can bounce off mirrors and are separated into left- and right-eye views by the user’s active eyewear, which blink in synchrony with the 3D HDTV’s 120Hz images. The polarisation used in passive stereo will not stay polarised when reflected off a mirror, hence the need for active stereo in HUVR and its precedents.