June 8, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Forget the glasses--3D monitors ready now
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But put on a pair of polarizing glasses, which block the right-eye image from hitting your left eye and vice versa, or stand in the sweet spot in front of a glasses-less 3D monitor, and your brain "sees" a 3D image. The right and left images stitch together in the brain in the same way right and left eye input would if the object happened to actually be there.
Alternatively, a monitor can consume all of the pixels for one image, and toggle between left and right images rapidly.
"If the switching speed is fast enough, our brains form a 3D image," said C.H. Chen, a graduate student at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan who is working with AU Optronics on a 3D monitor for cell phones.
Additionally, virtually all 3D monitors can function as 2D monitors by having the computer resort to serving up unified images. On most, it takes the click of a mouse.
Technically, 3D is becoming feasible because of the high number of pixels in high-definition television. Researchers in corporate and university labs, meanwhile, have worked on ways to make the 3D effect possible without glasses and expand the size of the sweet spot.
The screens from Philips and Sanyo, for instance, contain an elaborate array of lenses in front of the pixel array. The lenses project the right and left images accurately toward the right and left eyes and thus eliminate the need for glasses that would block images for the other eye.
With Philips' 42-inch monitor, which came out last November and sells for $11,995, the effect works best when viewers sit about 4 meters away. With a 20-inch version of the monitor coming out in the third quarter, 3D effects start to kick in at about 20 centimeters.
To expand the sweet spot, the Philips monitor projects out eight different right/left pairs of images, so even if you sit toward the edge of the screen, or move around, you still get the effect. The company has also increased the depth of the optimal viewing area, so that not all viewers have to stand in the same vertical plane.
"With 3D, the effect gets bigger as the screen gets larger," Swillens said. The technology also works on both LCDs and plasma TVs. Achieving the full effect, however, also requires complex image processing, which can be tweaked for optimal 3D effects or a larger sweet spot.
In some early versions of 3D monitors currently on the market and produced by other vendors like SeeReal Technologies, the sweet spot is somewhat constrained: Viewers have to stand straight in front of the monitor about 2 feet away.
TV programs and games do not have to be rewritten to take advantage of the WOW technology, said Swillens. The monitor itself will 3D-ize some content itself. Still, it helps. Viewers seem to like a combination of out-of-screen and behind-screen effects. By working with content producers, 3D effects can be orchestrated.
"Some people get a headache. Some people like it for a long time," said Martin Hiddink, a scientist at Philips Research Labs.
Naturally, Philips is developing tools to port content to 3D. One of the early users could become sports broadcasters, the company said. A base of 3D TVs at home could also encourage more 3D movies.
ColorLink's Korah, though, says that the glasses-less don't fit well with the market. Games will likely be the main form of 3D content for a while, and viewers won't want to use 3D all the time.
"The cost of autostereoscopic is much more," he said.
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