Kodak's Stereoscopic Imaging Display System

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by Kyle Ackerman

Recently, Eastman Kodak Company started publicly showing prototypes of its Stereoscopic Imaging Display system. It sounds complicated, but it is simply a device to display three-dimensional images without needing to rely on another set of filters (like polarized lenses) between your eyes and the screen. The current prototype looks a bit like the sensory apparatus on the set of a 1950's era space opera, but is surprisingly comfortable to use. You may have to plant your face in huge visor for the time being, but Kodak hopes that after additional research and several iterations of the technology, the Stereoscopic Imaging Display will become a device that can comfortably sit in the living room, and that multiple people will be able to use it to view three-dimensional images from a comfortable distance – like a couch.

Kodak has already sold these devices to the military and to folks with an interest in health imaging, where three dimensional visualization is critical, but getting to the living room involves a longer and more circuitous journey. 3D films have been around for some time, and while you can watch these at home, having to don a pair of ridiculous-looking and sometimes uncomfortable glasses is a significant disincentive to home 3D-viewing. Likewise, for broadcast television and cable programming, content providers would have to change the way they create programs to take advantage of a 3D viewing platform. Gaming, however, is already close to the finish line.

For any game that is modeled in 3D, the data is already present – it's just a question of whether the graphics processor draws the entire vista from one viewpoint or the two (one for each eye) necessary to give something a true 3D appearance. Some GPUs and drivers already support stereoscopic images, and mainstream demand from gamers could drive sales of stereoscopic displays, particularly for high-end game set-ups. This was the first time Kodak was showing off its technologies in a gaming setting, but it looked great and was extremely comfortable (compared to a visor/glasses-type filter). A football game looked incredible, nicely illustrating the feeling of depth, and even prolonged-play on a racing game was comfortable. In fact, the 3D view was so comfortable that spinning out in the race car was enough to cause motion sickness in most people who drove.

Even as a gaming display, Kodak's technology is a long way from being a household staple. For the time being, the company is trying to make developers and manufacturers aware that the equipment exists. By keeping the capabilities of a stereoscopic display in mind, hardware manufacturers could design consoles or similar devices to support these devices in future iterations. Likewise, developers can keep these displays in mind when supporting different display modes in future games. A more immediate application is in coin-op machines, where a periscope-like display is already practical, particularly for racing-type games.

At a very high level, current versions of the display use two LCD displays – one for each eye. Using "Ball Lens Technology" recently described at the 2003 Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference, the apparatus provides each eye a magnified view of the respective display. The version being shown had a viewable window of 45° by 36° with a resolution of 1280 x 1024. The large viewable range means that you can move your head and still get a comfortable, 3D view. For the moment, that movement is constrained, but (as was mentioned earlier) improving the size of the window and the focusing distance might make it possible for groups of people all to watch the same 3D image together. Kodak has demonstrated that the underlying technology works, and is working on improvements and applications. Kodak is also looking for partners.

Even if future versions of the Stereoscopic Imaging System do find their way into homes, you won't likely see the Kodak logo on the final product. Kodak is talking with manufacturers, looking for folks that will build and sell future versions of the technology. While such displays probably won't ever be cheap, if they can be sold at similar prices as current high-end, flat-screen televisions, such displays will be must-haves for gamers and home-entertainment enthusiasts.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 13, 2004 8:27 PM.

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