With the release of a new set of 3-D video screens next week, Philips Electronics is bringing a sci-fi cinema standby a little closer to everyday use. Philips’ WOWvx displays–which allow viewers to perceive high-quality 3-D images without the need for special glasses–are now beginning to appear in shopping malls, movie-theater lobbies, and theme parks worldwide.
The technology uses image-processing software, plus display hardware that includes sheets of tiny lenses atop LCD screens. The lenses project slightly different images to viewers’ left and right eyes, which the brain translates into a perception of depth. For now, the screens are expensive and not yet marketed for home use. But Philips, which first released the technology in 2006, is working on technical improvements that will make the screens better suited for the home.
“We think this is a huge leap,” says Wolf-Nils Malchow, production manager for the Munich-based Kuk Filmprodukion, an early producer of content for the displays and of promotional films for clients such as Deutsche Telekom. “It is a bit like a few years ago, when [high-definition video] kicked in. Everyone is excited about it.”
A planned deployment of about 50 screens in U.S. theater lobbies has begun at the Bridge Theater in Los Angeles. South African shopping malls have ordered about 350 of the screens. Other rollouts include malls and coffee shops in Russia, European casinos, and theme parks, the company says. And at next week’s Infocomm trade fair in Las Vegas, new 52-inch and 22-inch options will be added to the existing 42-inch model.
This isn’t the first time that 3-D has made a splash. The early 1950s and early 1980s each saw their own fads. The 3D movies from the 1950s were filmed with two cameras, with the separate images then projected simultaneously. The familiar red-and-blue-lensed glasses were used to trick the eyes into interpreting color differences as distance. Modern 3-D movies employ more-sophisticated approaches, such as projecting the separate images in polarized light and using glasses with polarized lenses that filter out one image on each side.
But a combination of advances in computer image processing and industrial optics has allowed companies like Philips to develop their glasses-free technique.
As with earlier techniques, the illusion requires specially-created content to start with. In this case, a digital movie file effectively has two frames for each ordinary movie frame. The first is an ordinary color image, identical to what would be seen on a two-dimensional screen. A second frame, rather than showing a second offset view, encodes information about how viewers should perceive depth in the first frame. It appears as a grayscale version of the first, with white indicating foreground objects, black denoting deep background, and shades of gray indicating points in between.