For those in their mid-thirties, cast your mind back to how you imagined the future. Economic turmoil and global warming probably do not spring to mind but what about 3D TV? Did you see your future-self wearing 3D glasses reclining on a smart-chair, awaiting an evening printed meal served by your domestic droid as your 3D TV pumped out ads for trips into space? Maybe, but I am guessing the glasses were not part of that fantasy vision.
Robotic vacuum cleaners maybe scuttling across living room floors; simple foods can be produced by 3D printers and Virgin Galactic are taking bookings for sub-orbital flights but today's 3D TVs are not quite how they were illustrated in the Usborne 'World of the Future' series.
Many modern 3D TVs work on principles established in the 1950's. Each lens of a polarised pair of glasses block light in opposing wavelengths so each eye sees a slightly different left and right image which our brains fuse together to form a 3D scene. Although 3D TVs are now no more expensive than 2D TVs, the 3D revolution is not happening. Why? Some argue there is nothing to watch. Wrong - there is plenty to watch. BSkyB, BT Vision and Virgin Media all offer 3D shows and there is a growing collection of 3D Blu-rays and games available.
The fact is, people hate wearing 3D glasses. Thankfully, the lack of 3D TV sales and poor viewing figures for 3D programmes have caused R&D labs and manufacturers to speed up progress towards the ultimate goal - glasses free 3D TV.
Glasses free 3D tablets and phones are already available but, to the surprise of many, have not been very popular. Nintendo recently announced they will not be marketing 3D in future consoles after research indicated most Nintendo 3DS owners preferred to collect their Mario coins in 2D mode. Limited sales and usage of the LG Optimus 3D smartphone did little to inspire other phone manufacturers to launch 3D handsets. Even the Wikipad - an upcoming Android tablet capable of showing 3D images without glasses, will no longer be promoted as a 3D tablet, perhaps due to the fear of the 3D backlash damaging sales.
Toshiba launched a consumer 55 inch glasses free 3D TV earlier in the year but many complained of a lack of 3D depth and general fuzziness to the image. Sony and Samsung have also presented proof-of-concept models at various trade shows.
The problem with all of the above is the lenticular and parallax barrier technology used to create the glasses free 3D effect (also known as autostereoscopic) demands the viewer to keep his or her head very still. Move outside the tiny viewing zones and the 3D effect is lost and the imaginary egg you were balancing has dropped.
In my opinion, tablets and phones are not the ideal platforms for 3D viewing. Despite living in a world of connected TV, video-on-demand and computers, the ever larger but thinner box in the corner of people's living rooms still dominates. For 3D to have any chance of succeeding in the home, the glasses will need to be consigned to the 1950's where they belong, so people can watch 3D TV as normally as 2D TV. The good news is this reality is coming sooner than you think.
Stream TV Networks are promising to revolutionise the television world with Ultra-D; a system that requires no glasses, can be viewed from any angle and is able to convert 2D programmes. I saw a model in the Walkabout Pub in London's Covent Garden and it was undeniably impressive.
Stream hope to launch a domestic 42 inch glasses free 3D TV in China by the end of the year followed by other markets. Unlike the £7000 TV from Toshiba, Stream aims to make their sets affordable.
Speaking to a glasses free 3D news site, Stream TV Networks CEO Mathu Rajan said "Everybody else in 3D is doing some variation of left and right, trying to trick your brain into seeing 3D when it is not there. That is not the approach we have taken. We have created an algorithm that mimics the way our natural eyes work. We use motion to produce the 3D and that is a radical concept."
MIT's Media Lab have been impressing the media with a system that uses several layers of liquid crystal displays illuminated by a back light to provide a 3D image without the glasses. For a convincing effect, the panels need to refresh at a speed of 360 times per second (hertz). The current highest rate is 240 hertz but once 360 hertz refresh rates are achieved, it will mean glasses free 3D video can be watched using regular LCD technology.
Holographic television is also going to leap out of science fiction books into your living room. Proof of concepts already exist. Holografika's HoloVizio C80 cinema allows viewers to 'look around' objects by using lightfield technology. Unlike two image stereoscopic displays, there is no contradiction between eye focussing and convergence (often causing headaches) and the 3D view can be seen in the entire field of view given.
Japanese broadcaster NHK are concentrating on bringing forward the target date of launching Super Hi-Vision to 2016. However the format, which is sixteen times greater in resolution than HD, will be used to enable 'Integral 3D' - a 3D television format that the broadcaster expects to be in people's homes in about twenty years' time (video).
Keiichi Kubota, NHK's Exective Director-General for Engineering recently said "The current 3D with glasses is not real 3D. If we move our position, we cannot see behind the objects. Integral 3D is real 3D but it will take time. Super Hi-Vision is the final 2D format and after that will come 3D TV but that must be real authentic 3D not pseudo 3D."
The following video is of a Integral 3D prototype.
The BBC are also looking at the potential of holographic television and are involved with a number of projects with various partners including 3D Vivant, a project designing a 3D 'Holoscopic' single aperture camera which will provide real-time capture of 3D scenes. The images will ultimately be displayed on a dedicated 3D display using the principles of holographic geometry for high quality viewing without spectacles.
The potential for stunning and immersive entertainment is obvious but it is more likely that other industries will use glasses free 3D displays before broadcasters. Airlines and casinos are looking into how the technology can possibility make time travel faster and advertisers will take note from a recent study conducted by the University of Tilburg and Dimenco Displays that found glasses free 3D ads achieved 45% greater viewer attention and an 8.5% increase in sales of Red Bull drinks.
Beyond holographic TV then who knows? Virtual reality was part of my future vision of daily life by now but the last time I wore a VR HMD was at a GamesMaster Live show in the 1990's.
High resolution video directed straight into the back of viewer's retinas and augmented reality contact lenses could eventually mean there will be no such thing as television. Why buy a TV when one could be superimposed into your vision? This is seriously futuristic stuff but not fantasy. The Institute of Physics Publishing's Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering reported the development of a contact lens that, when worn, can display a single pixel to the wearer. This is far short of the 576 megapixels required to replicate the resolution of human vision but at the current pace of technology, the real future could be beyond what we ever imagined.
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