Holographic 3D: The Next Generation

Edge article about a potential successor to the current stereoscopic 3D (with or without glasses), fixing its annoying problem that depth focus does not match angular focus.

SeeReal’s new system would track eye movements with a camera and then modulate a display to emit the correct wave lengths to an observer’s eyes so that holographic images appear with matching angular and depth information, as a real object would. The improvement over traditional holography is the eye tracking system which allows the projector to cut out all image information that the observer would not currently see anyway.

Holography has been around for 60 or 65 years, but has always been based on high-resolution emulsion films,” says Stolle. “It requires a very high-resolution medium – on film it’s easy, but on a display, to create a decent angle, I would need pixels of less than one micron in size! Which means I’d end up with more than 250,000 times HD resolution if I wanted to follow the classic approach to holography – which is why nobody has bothered! I’d have to compute every single one of those pixels at 60 frames a second. Nobody had a solution to do this practically. But if you look at the information this [imaginary super display] is creating, a lot of it is stuff you won’t see. The only stuff you’ll see is that which goes into your eyes – and that was our starting point. We only create the information an individual will see – which we can do because we know where the eyes are. So we can use a normal LCD to create a hologram, as long as we limit the information.”

They’ve got a single-viewer prototype rigged up, based on medical imaging equipment, which is still rather flickery and limited in permissible head movements, but already very convincing in its image quality.

Nonetheless, the presentation of 3D is genuinely startling – sufficient for us to reassess our stance on 3D entirely. We’re able to toy with a 3D model of a spaceship, using a trackball to rotate it and move it closer and farther away – we can push it far into the distance beyond the screen, and drag it out of the display until it sits inches from our face. At all points it feels like a natural, physical object that we could reach out and hold – albeit a luminescent red one. Later, we’re shown a tank full of water, its length tapering away from us, which see-saws forward and back. The illusion of a physical object is extremely convincing.

We also watch some colour animations that extend into the screen and note that we can focus on elements within the image as we please. With holography, the entire object is presented as it is in reality, and the viewer chooses which bit to focus on – look at the foreground and the background blurs as it would when you look at a real vista, and vice versa. This necessitates some changes in the language used by cinematographers, who are accustomed to drawing the viewer’s eye with a shallow depth of field – ie, by blurring out all but one element of an image.

An interesting point: if this technology were implemented for movies, directors would have to relearn their craft – it’s like filming a theater play.

Felix Forrest, a steadicam operator and director of photography, is one convert. “I am a big fan of cinematography and I have an absolute fear of and hatred for stereoscopic 3D because I think it destroys a lot of the artform,” he says. “That’s the position I started from. Then I sat down at the first [SeeReal] demonstration and thought: ‘I’ve got to change the way I shoot things’. I think we’ll end up going back to some of the more traditional techniques like you would see with film noir, where you use light and shadow to draw your attention to things. It’s a bit like lighting for theatre.”

So too will cinematographers grapple with a changing sense of scale: when viewers are aware of being in a perspective relationship with a scene, it can be difficult to escape the impression of viewing a tiny diorama. And, although SeeReal’s representatives say this is far less of an issue with holographic 3D than it is with stereoscopic 3D, quick cuts are also difficult to make, as the eye will be fatigued by rapid changes in focus. “It changes the pace at which you can tell a story,” explains Forrest. “Action films become quite difficult – you can’t do a lot of handheld camera work, so you lose a lot of the frenetic pace.”

Looks like they’ve been working on this for five or six years at least, and the company was created some time in 2002. There’s an old Endgadget post talking about SeeReal showing off some sort of $12,000 3d monitor some time in 2004, and another prototype in 2007. Information isn’t exactly pouring out from Google about this technology, or company. The bulk of what I’m able to find comes directly from that Edge article linked above. However, their website has a link to a BBC news segment here, which pretty much repeats what the Edge article stated, but with fancier graphics.

Based on the Edge article (written by some anonymous Edge staffer) it sounds like we have a long, long, so very long way to go before we can ever expect to see something like this in theaters, because of how the technology works. Given that the refresh rate of the screen image(s) must be 60hz times the numbers of viewers/players, I just don’t see this working outside the living room until they figure something else out.

It also sounds like Hollywood may be forced to slow down the rapid edits in action films, because of how fatigued eyes will become constantly trying to keep up with changing scenery. The article seems to go out of its way to belabor the fact that current 3D technology comes with things like warning labels, and that current tech gives some people a headache – pretty much the whole first page of the article is dedicated to doing just this, but with statements like:

And, although SeeReal’s representatives say this is far less of an issue with holographic 3D than it is with stereoscopic 3D, quick cuts are also difficult to make, as the eye will be fatigued by rapid changes in focus. “It changes the pace at which you can tell a story,” explains Forrest. “Action films become quite difficult – you can’t do a lot of handheld camera work, so you lose a lot of the frenetic pace.”
I really don’t see how this would work for video games at all, let alone the latest Bourne, Mission Impossible, or Bond type flicks. I look forward to any technology that will help with presentation, but not at the expense of story telling or game play. Here’s to hoping it makes things better.

Aw, it’s still the same stuff as in those old articles? I remember reading (and even linking to) these articles before but I wasn’t aware that it’s actually the same company. That does sound like they didn’t make a hell of a lot of progress in 5+ years. But I want my holographic TV!

I can’t tell if it is exactly the same or not because the prior articles are so sparse on information. But, from what I’m seeing the basic idea of the device detecting the eye movements of the player to specifically track where on the screen he or she is looking, and as a result only making it so that portion of the screen works the magic, seems to be the core concept behind their technology.

Their website doesn’t seem very informative, but this is probably because they don’t yet have any hardware and specs up for perusal – given that everything is still in development.

If Star Wars is any indication, there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done on the de-interlacing tech.

You’re correct in thinking this is next generation stuff. I’ve worked with it for over six months now and had the demo unit until a few weeks ago here in London. Its now back in Dresden.

The other poster is part correct about the origins of the tech in that SeeReal specialised in what was widely regarded as the best Autostereoscopic displays some 6-8 years ago (Intel conducted a survey then and declared their non-glasses stereo solution the best). BUT, after continued testing they realised the only way to go was Holographic displays. The H3D display has only been around for around two years (started after SeeReal abandoned Stereoscopic displays) It works, its stunning and should be in the shops no later than 2013.

Holo is totally different in that you focus an converge on the same point - in this case, its a scene point created through interference patterns modulated by the LCD using ‘phase’ and not ‘amplitude’ (so timing of light, not brightness of light), thus the image (normally referred to for obvious reasons as recreations) is actually in front of the screen not at the screen! You get unlimited depth and no issues with eye strain - its the way we see in the real world.

Classic holography would probably require around 250k times the resolution of HD displays and a cray supercomputer to process a frame! As another poster above sets out, this uses eye scanning software to track the user’s eyes. When tracked, it only need to create a sub hologram of around 2% of the whole image and send this to each eye. each eye gets separate full 3D hologram (created through a series of sub holograms). The SeeReal website does have some papers for download which explains the technology. The delay in getting anything up on the site was more related to establishing adequate protection around the nearly 600 patents needed for the technology.

As an aside, with current refresh rates for LCD and current eye scanning solutions, it means that the early in home systems will be around five user systems. Each person being tracked will be sent two unique scene points based on what they are looking at (one to each eye). This means one viewer can look a goal keeper one end of a pitch - they will be in focus and all else blurred (just like real like) whilst another can view the ref in focus with the rest of the scene being naturally blurred. The extension of this, is that each of the five users can watch a separate programme or play a different game on the same set, concurrently! The screen appears black as the image is created in front of the screen and can only be viewed by the viewer being tracked.

Hope this helps.