When can we ditch the 3D glasses?

There are many critics of the usefulness of current 3D technologies in pro AV applications. Steve Montgomery explores whether glasses-free options can help 3D find its place.

Whilst the display of three-dimensional (3D) images and video has been around for well over a century, it has only created significant interest in the past few years. The most common method of displaying 3D uses stereoscopy: a technique in which two related images are created and shown independently to each of a viewer’s eyes.

Problems associated with image colour rendition through the use of differently coloured glasses and synchronisation of two separate images rendered it largely ineffective during previous periods of interest in the 1930s and 70s. 3D films were generally relegated to B-movies in an attempt to stimulate interest and expand audiences.

Now that digital projectors and flat panel displays are capable of interleaving or simultaneously displaying and synchronising two separate images, renewed interest in the concept has led to a clutch of 3D film releases in cinemas and TV broadcast to the home.

However the take-up rate has been less than expected; the rate of film releases has slowed and several broadcasters have scaled back or totally abandoned plans to transmit 3D on specialised channels.

Reasons for this differ; from the lack of a ’shared experience’ amongst viewers each wearing their own glasses which limit interpersonal communication, to the unnatural appearance of content caused by the need to focus on a static image plane. In real life, our eyes scan a scene and refocus at different depths video requires us to focus on a plane and be fooled into perceiving a three-dimensional image.

The second of these problems will be overcome in time as image capture techniques improve and 3D conversion and processing advances. Feelings of shared experience amongst an audience will be recovered by switching to methods of 3D presentation that do not need glasses.

The autostereoscopic technique generates two separate images on a single screen by means of a lenticular lens on the screen surface, which directs each image to the correct eye. In the mass-audience worlds of film and TV this technology is some way off but will eventually arrive and generate greater interest and take-up of 3D.

There are applications beyond cinema and TV where 3D is already of significant benefit. Here, it will emerge through demand or opportunity to become the predominant method of presentation, leading to general acceptance and the ‘norm’; much like touch screens are now the preferred method of interactivity on many devices.

Steve Montgomery explores some current applications that use autostereoscopic products as well as exploring some expected technology advances in InAVate Active.

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