HP Labs Develop Glasses-Free 3D TV

Mike Wheatley

3D TVs are pretty cool, but not everyone is comfortable sitting with those great big chunky glasses on whilst trying to enjoy a movie in their living room. It’s fair to say that those annoying glasses are one of the main reasons why few people have embraced 3D TV so far, but there is hope on the horizon that we may soon be able to do away with this necessity and still enjoy the most realistic viewing experience in our homes.

HP Labs
HP Labs develop glasses-free 3D TV

According to a paper published in the scientific journal Nature, researchers at Hewlett Packard in California are working on a brand new 3D display technology that not only does away with the need for special glasses, but allows viewers to enjoy the effects from a variety of angles. The advance could lead to the development of 3D displays not only on TVs, but also with mobile devices.

Creating that 3D effect without glasses is incredibly difficult, because in order to work it’s necessary for a display to present two slightly different images for each eye, recreating an effect known as the parallax. In the real world, our eyes don’t see exactly the same image – they’re spaced several centimeters apart and so the images they perceive are slightly different, requiring our brains to ‘stitch’ them together into a single image.

In order to recreate this effect without the need for glasses, engineers need to redirect the light from each pixel on the display so that each eye sees slightly different light patterns. It’s the same principle that’s used with holograms, only holography is expensive and isn’t practical with full-motion images. Engineers have come up with several new techniques in recent years, such as autostereoscopic multiview 3D which involves projecting multiple images onto a screen, though this too has its limitations as the resolution is reduced and the effect can only be seen when viewed at the correct angle.

However, the team at HP Labs has been working to get around these limitations, designing an array of new optical elements known as diffraction gratings that allows them to control the direction of light that emerges from each pixel in a display. This technology was combined with optical devices called waveguides, which are used to ‘steer’ the light into the diffraction grating of each pixel, while liquid crystals are used to control the color of the light that’s emitted.

It all sounds pretty technical – because it is – but the result is that HP Labs’ researchers were able to create a fully 3D high-resolution display that can be viewed from 14 different angles, according to Nature. This is only the beginning too, as the researchers claim that they should be able to expand the viewing zones to an impressive 64 in total, which they say will be enough to trick our eyes into seeing a totally seamless 3D image, even if we’re up and walking around the room. What’s more, HP Labs says that the technology is commercially viable too, as the diffraction gratings can be manufactured cheaply and could possibly even offer higher resolutions than currently available.

Source: Nature