You can't get away from it. 2010 has been billed as being the year of 3D. This certainly seems to continue to be the case at the CES show in Las Vegas this week with lots of blog posts about 3DTV already popping up. Obviously there have been many more 3D films in the cinema recently, in particular the major blockbuster Avatar, and consumers are eager to get this technology into their living room.
But what exactly are we talking about when we say 3D? It’s not to be confused with computer generated models such as in the original Toy Story animation. These are often referred to as 3D models or CGI, but when you view them on a screen you still see a flat image, because it’s a flat screen. Both of your eyes are seeing the same image and therefore there is no difference in depth. What we are talking about now is officially known as Stereoscopic 3D.
Stereoscopics, or Stereo 3D, has been around for many many years, starting with people creating stereo 3D photographs taken with two cameras a few inches apart and then placing the photos in a special viewer box like binoculars which forces each eye to look at it’s respective photo. The brain does the rest. Things have moved on from there though and we now have about 4 main viewing styles. A quick synopsis...
Anaglyph glasses (red and blue)
This is what many people still think of when they think of 3D video. Not really very impressive and a bit cheap. Channel 4 in the UK got people excited when they announced a 3D week on their channel recently, only for people to then discover it was just going to be with those annoying red/blue images again. This technology has been around for a while and was very popular in the 50s and 60s. Cheap glasses but you lose a lot of the colour information of the image. This is only used on current monitors as it is the only method most of them can handle.
Polarised glasses (passive viewing)
This is what you get when you go to the cinema these days. Two projectors project an image each onto the screen but the light from each is polarised in a different way. The glasses are lightweight and inexpensive. Each lens blocks out one of the polarised lightwaves and therefore each eye gets the correct image. One slight drawback with this method is that the image is in essence 'interlaced' which means that each eye only gets half the number of lines in the image. HD will not be ‘full’ HD therefore. The quality difference, however, is negligible.
Shutter glasses (active viewing)
This method has no quality loss at all. Each eye’s full res image is played alternately at very quick succession. The glasses, however, are bulkier and more expensive as they need to synchronise with the projector/monitor so that it blocks off each eye at the same rate as the images are being displayed. This method can be used with current monitors that have a high enough refresh rate of 120hz (only a small number of expensive computer monitors). A synch unit is also required to make them work.
No glasses (autostereoscopic / lenticular)
This is the latest breakthrough technology and there are already a few models available which use tiny lenses on the monitor itself to split the image before it hits your eyes. It’s very complicated to make and in terms of viewing it’s great not having to wear glasses but you do have to be in a sweet spot to view it correctly and not move too much. This is definitely the future though and as the technology improves and the price comes down I think we’ll see these models become mainstream within 5 years.
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