I’ve written here more than once that current efforts at “3DTV” are really stereoscopic displays that trick the brain into seeing depth in an image displayed on a flat surface. It’s a little unnatural, and depending on a lot of factors, it can be easy or painful to view. But it still is only providing two images: one for each eye. This means that you can’t “look around” an object by moving your head, and this lack of “motion parallax” adds to the lack of reality in a stereoscopic image. In order to get an image that truly looks three dimensional, you need many, many images that are presented in sequence as you move your head.
Now, you might think that it would be difficult to have dozens of cameras in a circle to capture the images, but it turns out that it may be easier than that. Check out this video:
Sony has created this prototype RayModeler display that can display 360 images — one degree increments — in a cylindrical display. This results in an image that you can walk around and view from any angle. And because each eye receives a slightly different image, the object appears to have a natural depth. The cool part is that they can capture live images. With just eight cameras arranged 45 degrees apart around the subject, the missing 352 images can be interpolated.
Clearly, this could have limitations for complex scenes, because parts of the some objects may be obscured by other objects at certain angles, and there may not be enough data to interpolate the images correctly. But for a single subject, such as the other person in a telecommunications conversation, it could provide remarkable reality.
Now, this is just a lab prototype, and no doubt is prohibitively expensive to make even without thinking about the source of the image data. But it’s an interesting concept, and maybe technology will catch up with it and it could become inexpensive enough to become our next HDTV.