Breakthrough Promises Near Real-time 3-D Video

Researchers have moved a step closer to projecting 3D video images in near real-time-images that wouldn't require special eyewear to view. A key breakthrough was the development of a novel polymeric material capable of rapidly displaying many images, as part of a system developed by the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center based at the University of Arizona (UA). Impact/benefits: This advance promises to revolutionize video projection-a more important improvement than the advancement from standard TV projection to high definition. The system is the first with enough computing power and a display medium that can project a near real-time video image in holographic stereo. The UA system has proven the feasibility of transmitting a human-size, full-color 3D image across the world for videoconferencing that would mimic in-person meetings. The CIAN Center Director estimates that five more years of research will be needed before this technology can be commercialized.

CIAN researchers had previously demonstrated a similar polymeric display that could refresh an image once every four minutes. A team led by UA's Pierre-Alexandre Blanche and Nasser Peyghambarian, CIAN's director, developed the new system along with researchers from Nitto Denko Technical Corp. of Oceanside, California. The research team reported the breakthrough in the cover story of the Nov. 4, 2010, issue of Nature. The new display can refresh images every two seconds. While not yet ideal for video, this rate is more than one hundred times faster than the previously demonstrated rate. Further improvements could bring applications not only in videoconferencing but also in telemedicine, advertising, updatable 3D maps, and entertainment -- where the concept of 3D holographic telepresence attracted considerable public interest when it was depicted in the original Star Wars film in 1977. CIAN's is the only research group in the world that is successfully pursuing 3D holographic display.

A rapidly pulsed laser is used to write the holographic pixels on a photorefractive polymer display, one that can rapidly refresh holographic images and is scalable for production, and that is coupled to a unique system for recording and transmitting 3D images of individuals and objects via the Ethernet. Additionally, using a single-laser system for writing the images, the researchers can display visuals in color. While the current refresh rate for multi-color display is even slower than for monochromatic images, the development is a step toward true 3D, multicolor holographic video systems. Multicolored holographic 3D images are produced by using angular multiplexing, and the full parallax display employs spatial multiplexing. Such 3D holograms can be seen with the unassisted eye and are very similar to how humans see the actual environment surrounding them.

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