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Thursday, 21 March 2013 11:10

Glasses-free 3D here, for real


The next time you watch Star Wars the characters might just be able to pop right out of your screen, as Princess Leia did back in the 1977 sci-fi classic.

A team of US researchers are claiming to have achieved a new display technology that projects a three-dimensional image that can be viewed without special glasses, and is specially designed for manufacture in smartphones, tablets and watches.

Their small prototype display, announced in today's issue of Nature journal, is flat and backlit and uses a technology known as diffractive optics, to display 3D images that can be viewed from multiple angles, apparently even if the device is tilted.

Glasses-free 3D technology in itself is not unique, as companies such as MasterImage 3D and Stream TV have demonstrated the technology on tablets and flat-screen TVs at consumer electronics shows, but this new development from HP's researchers have found a way to make images viewable from angles up to 45 degrees from centre in any direction - up, down, side-to-side or diagonally.

The technology is sort-of similar to that used in Nintendo’s 3DS devices, but images can actually pop out of the screen with this prototype.

"Unlike a lot of technology out there that only does so-called horizontal parallax, which means that you only see 3D when you move your head left and right, we actually are talking about a technology that gives 3D for full parallax," said David Fattal, who led the research team at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, California.

"For example, if you were to display a 3D image of planet Earth with the North Pole facing out from the screen, by turning your head around the display, you would actually be able to have a view of any country on the globe, you would be able to see all the way around," he said.

A big hurdle is to have the device manufactured "reliably, robustly and in quantity" however, which may take years, according to commentary also published by Nature, from University of Cambridge computer specialist Neil Dodgson.

Although we might be many years away from having the technology be commercially available, the fact that it's possible is a very exciting development indeed.

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