Millions of moviegoers have donned stereoscopic glasses to experience Hollywood films in 3-D. As the concept catches on in broadcast television, sports fans increasingly are putting on the filtering spectacles to watch their favorite stars compete in tournaments.
In the future, military robot operators may search for roadside bombs in 3-D.
Demand for 3-D television is growing, and technology efforts are under way to provide viewers with better resolution on high-definition displays. But scientists also are researching ways to get rid of the glasses to let viewers see three-dimensional images with the naked eye. Ultimately, the goal is to produce holographic images that can be projected onto coffee tables--a concept popularized in science fiction films including "Star Wars" and "Minority Report."
Humans perceive the world in three dimensions because of the two-inch distance between their eyes. Each eye sees a slightly different field of view and the brain combines the two perspectives. Depth perception results from the binocular vision system that calculates the distances between objects.
To capture the 3-D world on film, cinematic photographers place two cameras side-by-side like eyes and shoot footage through both lenses simultaneously. When the two image sets are superimposed over each other, they show varying perspectives of the same objects. Stereoscopic glasses filter one set of images into each eye so that the blended picture registers in three dimensions in the brain.
James Cameron's 2009 film "Avatar" set a new film industry standard with its fully immersive qualities. His achievements are fueling an aggressive push into 3-D programming by the broadcast television industry, says Chris Lennon, chief technology organization group lead for Harris Corp., which produces communications equipment for commercial and governmental sectors. The company in April unveiled a suite of signal processing and encoding technologies that will allow the TV industry to broadcast programs in 3-D.
Initial 3-D offerings involve a single HD stream that is split in half--one half for each eye. The quality of the picture is the same, but it only has half the resolution, Lennon says. Full HDTV streams for each eye, similar to those seen on the silver screen, are several years away as technologists wrangle with bandwidth challenges.
Compressing the signals is one solution, but there are ways to attain 3-D video more efficiently than...