Disclaimer: Before going into much about 3D displays, I feel it important to let my readers known that I am legally blind in one eye. As a result, I am not physically capable of properly viewing any 3D technology due to a lack of depth perception. I have tried to keep my personal bias out of this article but felt that readers should know this information.
There has been a lot of talk about 3D televisions and Blu-ray being the next big thing in consumer electronics. Monitors that display 3D video are nothing new to the world of personal computers but is this technology necessarily a good thing for consumers? This article takes a look at the state of 3D display technology and why it is most likely just a luxury technology for a select few users.
3D Displays vs. 3D Graphics
3D graphics are nothing new to the world of personal computers. Games and virtual reality programs have been producing these graphics for over twenty years. It is important to note that 3D graphics represent a three dimensional world in a rendered two dimension display. Viewers of the graphics will get the feeling of depth between objects but the actual perception is not there. It is no different than viewing a standard television program or film that has been shot in two dimensions. The difference is that the user can alter the position of the camera and the computer will alter the view.
3D displays on the other hand are designed to try and simulate the actual perception of depth by using stereoscopic vision. This is done by trying to present two different views to each of the viewers eyes so that the brain will then interpret an actual 3D image as if they were looking at a it in real life. The displays themselves are still two dimensional but the brain is interpreting it as being three.
Types Of 3D Displays
The most common form of 3D display is based on shutter technology. This is basically a form of alternating images by the display that are synchronized with some LCD glasses to alternate the two images between the perspective eyes. This technology is far from new and has been used with computers for many years through specialized hardware. The difference is that with fast LCD monitors and shutters, it is possible to produce these images in higher resolutions with greater refresh rates.
The latest form of displays don't require glasses. Instead they use a special filter called a parallax barrier that is built into the LCD film. When enabled, this causes light from the LCD to travel differently at various angles. This causes the image to shift slightly between each eye and thus generating the sense of depth without the need to have glasses shifting each eye between two alternating images.
The last technology has been in development for some time and likely will not make it into consumer products for some time. Volumetric displays use a series of lasers or rotating LEDs to present an image in light that actually fills up a three dimensional space. There are major limitations to this technology including the need to greater space for the display, lack of color and their high costs. Much work needs to be done on these before they will even make it into much real world use.
Who Benefits From 3D Displays
The biggest uses for 3D technology are the entertainment and sciences. 3D has already become a popular form of addition to movies released in theaters. Of course, many of the movie studies see this as a way to drive people to the theater experience rather than the home. In addition, they can charge a bit more potentially increasing their revenues. Computer games have also been produced with 3D graphics for many years. This gives the games a chance to become much more immersive than they have in the past.
The other major use is in the sciences. Medical imaging in particular will likely benefit from 3D displays. Medical scanners already produce 3D images of the human body for diagnosis. 3D displays allow the technicians reading the scans to get a more complete view of the scans. Another area that can benefit is in engineering. 3D renderings of building and objects can be done to provide engineers a more complete view of a design.
Problems With 3D Displays
Even with all of the various 3D technologies, there is a segment of the population that lacks the proper bifocal vision required to see the images properly. For some this means they will still just see a two dimensional image while it can induce headaches or disorientation in others. In fact, some manufacturers of the 3D displays are putting warnings on their products to suggest against extended use due to these effects.
The next problem is the fact that you will need to have specific hardware in order to use it. In the case of the glasses technology, you have to have a display and a compatible pair of shutter glasses in order to use it. This isn't too much a problem on a single user environment like a computer but is more problematic with a standard TV where multiple users would each need a pair of compatible glasses. The other problem is that glasses for use with one monitor may be inverted from another presenting the wrong image to the wrong eye.
Finally, there is the fact that in most cases when interacting with a computer that a user will not need any form of 3D display. Will this technology really be useful when reading an article on the web or working in a spreadsheet. There may be a few cases but the majority of interactions that people have will computers just don't require the technology.
While 3D technology may be a big selling point for the home theater environment, the technology still has a very niche segment of the computer world. Beyond gaming and science applications, there is little need for images to be presenting in 3D. The extra cost of the compatible hardware over traditional displays will also have many consumers shun the technology. Only once it reaches the cost of traditional displays and more features can be found to use it will consumers really see a benefit.