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3-D TV at UA: Without the annoying glasses

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3-D TV at UA: Without the annoying glasses

  • Dr. Pierre Blanche demonstrates the laser technology that produces 3-D images for television at one of the optic labs at the University of Arizona.
    Allison Mullally/ArizonaNewsService.comDr. Pierre Blanche demonstrates the laser technology that produces 3-D images for television at one of the optic labs at the University of Arizona.

Moviegoers sure love their 3-D flicks.

Interest took off in the 1950s. Now, following recent successful films such as "Avatar," Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and Dreamwork's "How To Train Your Dragon," people are again flocking to the big screen to watch movies come to life.

So it's no wonder 3-D television sets are making their way into the mainstream. They cost buyers anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000, depending on the size and brand.

"Those are nice products," said Pierre Blanche, a University of Arizona optical sciences assistant research professor. "That shows the customers are interested in 3-D displays and there is a lot of potential. I certainly will get one at some point.

"But from a scientific point of view, the technology used in the current 3-D TV is basic and has been demonstrated even before the cinematograph."

There remains one consistent problem with 3-D viewing -- those annoying paper or plastic glasses that are a must in order to watch objects appear to fly off the screen and into your lap.

But, thanks to UA, that may change.

Blanche and other UA scientists are working on  technology that will not only make it possible to watch 3-D flicks without the glasses, but also will have more serious practical applications when it comes to medical and military imaging applications.

"We think we can have a commercial product within two years for some specific applications, medical and military imaging," he said. "But 3-D TV (without glasses) for the consumer market won't be reached before 10 years."

Blanche said he couldn't discuss how much the research project costs but said the project is being funded by government agencies and industrial partners.

Cory Christenson, a graduate assistant working on the project, said the research they're doing is "fantastic."

"It's relatively mature," he said. "It's not like we're in the preliminary stages where you don't even know if it's possible that it's going to work or not. We're at the stage now where we know it works but there's still a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of room for improvement.

"At the moment we have a 4-inch by 4-inch kind of display, like a semi-transparent orange-looking film. It takes about three minutes to write one image on this 4-inch display. When it's done, you can look at the image and it looks 3-D, it has depth, it pops out of the surface a little bit, as you turn your head, the object turns with your head, just like if you look around a real object and there's no glasses whatsoever.

"We can make it (the hologram) look black or red, or something in between. We are working on full color."

That's good news for some consumers eager to buy 3-D TVs sans glasses.

Tucsonan Erik Gifford, 27, said while he thinks the idea of 3-D television without glasses "sounds cool" because he probably wouldn't buy one that does require glasses because they're "annoying."

Tucsonan Valerie Meador, 36, agreed, saying she thinks current 3-D movies and televisions that require glasses are "kiddie things" that kids will enjoy.

"Adults will probably remember using those glasses as kids," she said.

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