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Technology Showcase: 3D Displays

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

New innovations bring depth to a wide range of presentations.


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Why install 3D displays in corporate environments? Because you can. In fact, you may not be aware that you already have installed 3D-ready displays in boardrooms, training centers, lobbies, and as part of your digital signage throughout the campus. That's because starting in early 2007, many manufacturers started giving their LCD, plasma, and DLP displays refresh rates of 120Hz or greater (more about that below). The real question is: What are you going to use them for?

Many entertainment industry observers predict that this is going to be the year that 3D becomes a mainstream media option with more than 14 feature films popping out of the big screen at their audiences. There was also a 3D commercial during this month's Super Bowl, and at Macworld Expo, Spatial View revealed a 3D screen for the Apple iPhone. To Hollywood's delight, whole groups of digital 3D cinema screens are being set up in anticipation of James Cameron's sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, which is due out at the end of the year.

This isn't your granddaddy's 3D any more, although the illusion is still created by delivering different information to each eye that the brain then synthesizes into a perception of depth. Often referred to somewhat redundantly as “stereoscopic 3D,” modern multidimensional visualization processes are a far cry from the red/blue or red/green anaglyph approach first shown by producer Harry K. Fairall on Sept. 27, 1922, to a public audience at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles. Today's 3D has matured into full-color glory, separated into two visual streams (referred to as “eyes”) by either dual polarized lenses or alternating shutters in specially made glasses. Hence the terms “stereoscopic” or “stereopsis” have become common to describe modern 3D, although some think “bioptic” would be a more apt descriptor.

For some time now, scientific and engineering centers have been stepping into 3D for dimensional CAD visualization, realistic simulation training, and mapping strategies for geothermal and petrochemical exploration, to say nothing of intriguing implementations for medical training and communication.

The corporate communications realm — outside of its slide-rule enclaves — has, up to now, been less interested in adding what is referred to as the “Z-axis” to its display options. However, recent innovations have created several approaches to 3D displays that can be applicable to any signage, training, presentation, or teleconferencing installation. That's thanks in large part to the evolution to the aforementioned 120Hz refresh rate on newer displays. That means instead of seeing 60 interlaced fields or progressive frames per second, the amount of information hitting the screen has been doubled. Initially, this was to provide smoother images — especially desirable for sports presentations — but 120Hz is also a convenient intersection between film's 24fps cadence (multiply by five) and video's 30fps (multiply by four), so it is also claimed to have an advantage for fast-paced action sequences in movies. Even for expert viewers, though, the step up to 120Hz or even the more recent 480Hz is sometimes hard for the human eye to appreciate.

Enter the push toward 3D.

Now at 120Hz, these sets can present each eye with the same amount of 60fps information that single-stream 2D displays conventionally gave both eyes at once. That is why they are considered 3D-ready, and if that sounds like the misbegotten “HD-ready” marketing-hype phrase from the dawn of high-definition displays, your ears are as good as your eyes. Until now, to actually facilitate 3D presentations, all of the 3D-ready sets sold in the United States needed to be connected to an external PC or set-top box to process the incoming material. With this outside help, an LCD or plasma panel can put out frames with alternating polarization that can be viewed through passive (i.e. cheap) polarized glasses. DLP-based displays can beam out an infrared signal to active (i.e. more expensive) glasses with LCD lenses that open and shut alternatively to separate the stereoscopic image. An advantage, of course, is that if you turn off the outboard processing, the 120Hz display becomes a fine 2D presentation device with an enhanced refresh rate.



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