The 3D TVs thrill has swept movie theaters last year is now headed for your living room. In the wake of a new Blu-ray standard for high-definition 3D TV, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung are all releasing home-theater setups that can display 3D TVs in full high-def glory. Using a combination of 3D capable Blu-ray players, TVs and, glasses, the systems are able to deliver separate, full-screen, 1080p pictures to each eye. The technique they use creates a picture as vivid as in a movie theater without requiring a major overhaul of TV technology. And within a few years, a new cable television standard could even bring live events like the Super Bowl right to your TV in high-def 3D.
We see depth when images from our left and right eyes merge into one; to re-create that in high-def, TVs must refresh the picture at least 120 times a second with alternating frames for the left and right eye, which tricks your brain into seeing only one image. Most new TVs are fast enough to do this, but to be 3D-capable, TVs must include a converter chip and software to break down the signal and separate the left and right images. An infrared or radio beam syncs shutter glasses with the screen to produce the final 3D effect.
Active-shutter glasses, like those included in Panasonic’s system, rapidly block one eye at a time so that each eye sees only the frame meant for it. The glasses contain two small, black-and-clear LCD lenses that darken or lighten when a radio or infrared pulse from the TV (or an add-on emitter) signals that the image is changing.
No one forgets their first 3D film experience.
German and Swiss researchers on a EUREKA project, however, have come up with technology that they think could soon affordably deliver the thrills and immediacy of 3D into our homes, as well as into some other unexpected places like operating rooms with a level of quality never reached before. “The seed of this project was just three friends chatting on the web” recalls Arnold Simon, Chief Technical Officer at the German company Infitec. At the time Simon was working as a consultant for Infitec and one of the other friends was Helmut Jorke, Chief Executive of Infitec, which had developed some of the best 3D technology for cinemas.
The friends chatted about the next challenge in 3D: how to develop a 3D LCD flat-screen monitor capable of displaying the full resolution of the new high-definition television formats. On that online chat, Jorke decided his company should create that screen. “The consumer market is the biggest and most interesting focus,” says Simon. Last year, in the UK alone, prior to the country’s switch over from analogue to digital, 10 million television sets were sold.
Infitec had made its name in the 3D world by developing more sophisticated technology based on the principle of the old red and green glasses. The company’s glasses use a narrow colour band wave to improve the quality of the image, using specific wavelengths of red, green and blue for the right eye and different wavelengths of the same colours for the left eye. The glasses filtering out very specific wavelengths give the spectator the illusion of a 3D image. Backed by EUREKA, Infitec partnered up with Optics Balzers, a Swiss company it knew that specialised in 3D filters, and the pair secured funding to start developing the 3D LCD screen — a mission they called Dualplex Display.
While Infitec researched the best signal and lighting to use in the monitor and software for it, Optics developed special filters for the lighting unit and the glasses. The project was not an easy one. Obtaining sample backlighting units from suppliers was not easy for two relatively small companies. Then the first demonstrator did not work and the partners decided they needed to create a brand new optic design for the monitor. They finally combined four light-emitting diode lamps (LEDs) — two green ones, one red and one blue one — to create the colour range they needed.
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