Prototype display allows for glasses-free 3D from any seat in a theater

Christine Daniloff/MIT

Original news release was issued by the MIT’s CSAIL and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, written by Adam Conner-Simons.

“Please put on your 3D glasses” A phrase, buried deep inside our minds. This statement accompanies every 3D screening and essentially prompts us to wear the glasses in order to not spend the next few hours in a blurry visual mess. Imagine that all you ever needed to grab was a popcorn bucket and a large soda, no spectacles that don’t sit on the nose properly.

A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science dub it “Cinema 3D“, a prototype which uses a special array of lenses and mirrors to enable viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater, thus requiring no additional eyewear.

“Existing approaches to glasses-free 3D require screens whose resolution requirements are so enormous that they are completely impractical,” says MIT professor Wojciech Matusik, one of the co-authors on a related paper whose first author is Weizmann PhD Netalee Efrat. “This is the first technical approach that allows for glasses-free 3D on a large scale.”

The technology at the moment, revolving around glasses-free 3D, doesn’t scale to movie theaters yet. Traditional methods for TV sets use a series of splits in front of the screen, dubbed “parallax barrier” that allows each eye to see a different set of pixels, creating a simulated sense of depth. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t practical for theaters, as parallax barriers have to be at a consistent distance from the viewer.

Another major issue is projecting at lower resolution. Even though the physical projectors currently being developed cover the entire angular range of the audience, the quality of the screening is compromised.

The key insight with Cinema 3D is that people in movie theaters move their heads only over a very small range of angles, due to the limits of their seat. Thus, it is possible to encode multiple parallax barriers in one display, tailored to each viewers position. That range of views is then replicated across the theater by a series of mirrors and lenses within Cinema 3D’s special optics system.

Cinema 3D comes short of practicality at the moment. The team’s prototype requires 50 sets of mirrors and lenses, and yet is is just barely larger than a notepaper. Matusik stays optimistic however, he hopes the team can build a larger version of the display and refine the optics further to improve the image resolution.


Michal Madaras

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