As striking as it is, the illusion of depth now routinely offered by 3-D movies is a paltry facsimile of a true three-dimensional visual experience. In the real world, as you move around an object, your perspective on it changes. But in a movie theater showing a 3-D movie, everyone in the audience has the same, fixed perspective — and has to wear cumbersome glasses, to boot.
Despite impressive recent advances, holographic television, which would present images that vary with varying perspectives, probably remains some distance in the future. But in a new paper featured as a research highlight at this summer’s Siggraph computer-graphics conference, the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture group offers a new approach to multiple-perspective, glasses-free 3-D that could prove much more practical in the short term.
Instead of the complex hardware required to produce holograms, the Media Lab system uses several layers of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), the technology currently found in most flat-panel TVs. To produce a convincing 3-D illusion, the displays would need to refresh at a rate of about 360 times a second, or 360 hertz. Such displays may not be far off: LCD TVs that boast 240-hertz refresh rates have already appeared on the market, just a few years after 120-hertz TVs made their debut.