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Stereoscopic Displays and Applications

By Neil Dodgson



This January, San Jose hosted the most important annual meeting for stereoscopic 3-D. Researchers, developers, and content providers from around the world met to hear the latest stereoscopic research, see the best stereoscopic video, and view demonstrations of stereoscopic displays, algorithms, and games. This was the 20th annual Stereoscopic Displays & Applications conference, held as part of the SPIE/IS&T Electronic Imaging symposium.

The technical research papers, over three days, attracted up to 170 people to consider the latest advances in display design, content production, and image processing techniques. Over 250 people packed the conference room to view two hours of the latest stereoscopic video, including an excerpt from Disney’s recent release “Bolt3D.” The symposium demonstration session was again dominated by stereoscopic displays and their applications, with both auto-stereoscopic and glasses-based systems in abundance. We are grateful to IMAX for being the conference’s main sponsor, Meant to be Seen’s (MTBS) media sponsorship, and everyone for their support and for publicizing the conference.

I have been attending SD&A since 1996, and I can tell you that the field has matured considerably. In 1996, almost every display was a prototype and every application was experimental, using glasses-based technology. There have been two key changes in the last five years.

One is the commercialization of auto-stereoscopic displays. These were very much experimental in the 1990s, but today there are eight companies producing commercial versions, with some exceeding a 60” diagonal. We had a number on display at the symposium demonstration session.

I was particularly impressed by my first viewing of Philips’ big screen auto-stereoscopic display. This has 46 views, providing a stunning 3D effect without the need for any glasses. I saw Philips’ earliest, small screen, 7-view prototype over ten years ago, and it is fantastic to see the research ideas turned into such a good commercial product. Of course, these auto-stereoscopic displays still need to prove themselves in the marketplace, but they show considerable promise, especially for storefront and in-store advertising. I hope to see more exciting products next year.

The second key change has been the rise of stereoscopic cinema. This has piggybacked on digital cinema. It is relatively straightforward to manufacture a digital movie projector that can also project stereoscopically. At a stroke, this removes a range of problems that were faced in the 1950s and 60s: most notably the alignment of the two views for the two eyes. The major movie houses have committed to producing their animated movies stereoscopically, and we can expect a release every couple of months. Live action is more problematic and more expensive, but we will see a trickle of stereoscopic live-action movies over the next few years.

I am excited by the prospect of stereoscopic movies coming into the main stream. The most interesting talks at the conference, for me, were those on how the movie studios are re-learning how to do stereoscopic movies well. The evidence we saw demonstrates that they have learnt fast, and I look forward to much more stereoscopic entertainment in cinema’s future.

The challenges for the future are whether stereoscopic displays will be used outside the current niche applications and whether 3-D TV in the home will be a reality any time soon. There are already 3-D-enabled TVs on sale, and these are being used to play a wide range of games.

At the conference, MTBS President, Neil Schneider, chaired a panel of the top players in this field including iZ3D, NVIDIA, DDD and Lightspeed Design. These companies represent graphics card manufacturers, display and projector builders, and stereoscopic 3D software developers that make 3-D gaming possible. They discussed the future of 3-D gaming and it was clear that they are working hard to get everything to work smoothly together.

The big question remains: will we see broadcast 3-D TV any time soon? The current thinking is that once enough consumers have 3-D TVs in the home for playing 3-D games, there will be sufficient pressure to release the 3-D movies for viewing at home. We heard, from the BBC, that providing broadcast 3-D TV is more problematic, because the production costs for television have much tighter margins than those for movies. Nevertheless, many delegates were in little doubt that 3-D TV would come, indeed it has already been trialled in Japan, though we all had different views of how long it would take to become commonplace.

My experience is that things stay just on the edge of making the big time for years and then finally tip over the brink when everything comes together. Stereoscopic cinema was considered dead for many years, and is now alive and kicking. Broadcast 3-D TV could be many years off, but it could tip over the edge in the next year. This is one thing that makes the field so exciting to work in.

As part of the main symposium reception, we had stereoscopic games running on the large screens. Some delegates (and a couple of committee members) entertained us by demonstrating their gaming skills (or lack thereof). It was exciting to see stereoscopic displays so prominent at the wider symposium. Indeed, stereoscopic research is leaking into other conferences at the symposium, with sessions on stereoscopic image coding in one conference and stereoscopic perception in another. There is much synergy between the various strands of Electronic Imaging, and we want to build on this in future years.

Next year’s conference will be in San Jose, California, 17–20 January, 2010, and I would be delighted to see you there. For more information about past and future conferences and photographs of all events, visit the Stereoscopic Displays & Applications website: http://www.stereoscopic.org

—Neil Dodgson, University of Cambridge, Conference Committee (2000–09), Co-Chair (2010)

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