A new approach to 3D imaging

A better way to produce 3D images may be soon finding a home in the computer games market

Stereoscopic and autostereoscopic systems rely on the fact that slightly different views are seen by the right and left eye. In some way, they all produce left and right-eye images resulting in binocular disparity, one of the four key conditions for 3D visualisation.

The US-based company Floating Images, on the other hand, has developed a new way to produce 3D imaging systems by focusing on another aspect of 3D visualisation: depth disparity. To generate depth disparity, all that is needed is to produce a virtual image plane in different locations in space. At its simplest, this is like looking at two transparencies, one behind the other but separated by a short distance. The technique also incorporates binocular parallax-the ability to look around an object.

The simplest implementation of the so-called `real depth’ technology forms a foreground image on any display system such as CRT or LCD-based monitor. Between the observer and the foreground image is a partially silvered mirror which allows the foreground image to be seen by the viewer but with slightly reduced intensity (Figure 2). This partial mirror also reflects the background image, represented by the starburst. It is formed in the bottom half of the same display or on a second display altogether. Viewers cannot see this image directly because it is blocked by the reflecting mirror. What they see is a virtual image of the background that appears to be in the back of the foreground image.

With just two levels, background and foreground, 3D images can be created. This implementation has been packaged as the Real-Depth Adapter.

One of the first applications is in the computer games market. Software is available for the reformatting of source material to allow separation of the image into foreground, background and 3D volume components.

Besides working on products that add another dimension to a display screen, Floating Images are constructing free-space imaging systems where images appear to float in air. Figure 3 shows a simplified optical layout. The source is a standard CRT or LCD where the foreground and background image fields are formatted to appear in the top and bottom halves of the display.

The two images can be combined with the use of a partially silvered mirror. The combined images are passed through one or two Fresnel lenses. The lens or lens pair is designed to focus the background and foreground images at specific planes in space, some distance from the free-space imager. 3D images now appear to float within this volume in free space without the aid of any special eyewear.

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