I remember the first time I put on a pair of 3D glasses. I was about six and my brother and his friends were playing Dungeons and Dragons. I’m not sure what twist of good fortune got my brother to submit to my company—he’s eight years older than I am, which back then put us in entirely different strata. Regardless, he did me the honor of allowing me to watch their quest, and the colored, multi-sided dice were particularly captivating. As I played with some of the ones they weren’t using, I came across a pair of flimsy glasses on his floor; they had one blue and one red lens. I’d never seen glasses like these, so I put them on and suddenly, the dice looked otherworldly. I must have seemed sufficiently mind-blown, because one of my brother’s friends asked for the glasses and played D&D with them on, constantly remarking on how they made everything “cool as shit, man.” From then on, I’ve had a soft spot for 3D glasses, even if the ones I wore Friday night to watch Godzilla looked like a black-rimmed hipster version of the model I first used when I was six. So it’s both with nostalgic sadness and excitement that I contemplate a future in which we don’t need glasses to watch 3D movies anymore.
MIT has been working on glasses-free 3D for a while now. Bolstered by the popularity of the Nintendo 3DS, but well aware of its drawbacks, such as limited battery life and compromised screen resolution, researchers in the university’s Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group have been trying to figure out a new and improved way to view 3D images. Holographic video is one technique, but isn’t particularly practical or affordable, so the researchers wanted to figure out an alternative that would essentially deliver the same experience, and the result is their new projector.
This device allows for “multiperspective” 3D, as opposed to conventional stereoscopic 3D. The difference is that the latter is static, while multiperspective changes as the viewer moves around them, much as holograms and actual objects do. The team’s projector uses a pair of small liquid crystal displays between the lens and the light source. Shape and color patterns pass through the first modulator, which converts it into light that then passes through the second modulator only at certain angles. The viewer sees a combination of the patterns through both, which allows for the multiperspective experience—shifting images from shifting angles. The team also built a special screen for these projections for wide-angle viewing. The screen itself has multiple lenses, much like rudimentary 3D children’s books.
For those not interested in the 3D experience, the projector also improves 2D video resolution. The standard for video will soon be “Quad HD TV”—resolution four times greater than our current set ups. Such advancements will likely pave the way for the integration of new glasses-free 3D systems both at home and in theaters. Basically, the images we watch are going to continue blowing our minds, glasses or not. Still, I might have to keep a pair of the flimsy red/blue glasses on hand just in case I need a reminder of the good old days.