When Will We Have Glasses-Free 3D?

University of Illinois researchers have been working on virtual reality technology that doesn't require accessories.

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) tested various technologies before deciding that LCD panels from Planar Systems should form the basis for CAVE2 — the latest version of the university's cave automatic virtual environment project.

At one point, researchers considered the option of cutting-edge projection "tiles," which, because of the small form factor, could be the actual building blocks for creating a CAVE in whatever shape or size the EVL chose.

"But we saw the same issues we had with projectors back in the 1990s," says EVL Director Jason Leigh. "There was a slight fall-off in brightness as you got to the edges and some color differences between tiles."

Even more cutting edge was how EVL first imagined CAVE2 would create the 3D experience. "The original design of CAVE2 allowed you to see 3D without glasses," Leigh says.

So-called autostereoscopic 3D, which Nintendo uses for its 3DS handheld game system, comes in a couple of varieties, most commonly through lenticular lenses or a parallax barrier. In a nutshell, a flat-panel screen is treated so that it transmits different images to the viewer's left and right eyes to create the 3D illusion.

The EVL has worked with autostereoscopic 3D LCD prototypes since 2004, but based on the technology, decided they couldn't create a cost-effective commercial product.

"We showed it to a few people and then decided to revisit it in the future as the technology matures — perhaps when we build CAVE3," Leigh says.

Which unfortunately means the masses will have to wait a little longer for a truly immersive, 3D experience without glasses.

Read more about virtual reality technology at the University of Illinois.

<p class="p1">Callie Lipkin</p>
Jan 30 2013

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