They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. In 3D displays, it’s worth a million. The new generation of holographic displays creates an astounding effect of depth-of-view and enables the human eye to perceive vivid images unlike any ever seen in a display.
Leapfrogging advances in materials, photonics, optics, and electronics have precipitated a rising demand for 3D display technologies. Similarly, the increased development of 3D games, 3D mobile devices, and 3D movies has stimulated the demand for true 3D displays both in consumer and enterprise applications. The increased demand for enhanced imaging and the adoption of 3D technologies in smartphones, HMD devices, projector devices, and monitors are expected to catapult 3D displays across a new threshold of realism.
According to Market Analysts, the Global 3D displays market is expected to grow by double digits with market size of over $100 billion in the next 5 years. Key players in 3D displays include most of the top display makers in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China in addition to several startup companies with unique technologies.
Several display technologies including LED, OLED, and LCD serve this particular market. Most of the devices built today use LCD while OLED and LED are also being evaluated. Driving the 3D display market will be the jump in 3D video content and the continued escalation of Internet bandwidth. Also propelling things forward will be how quickly the entertainment and gaming industry will embrace 3D displays.
The new breed of 3D displays will be fully exploited by entertainment, advertising, telecom, and broadcast industries. The higher cost of 3D display technology and the availability of content continue to bottleneck the growth in this industry but it’s changing and changing fast. Advances in 3D display technology present enormous opportunities in many areas. Demand will be initially robust in consumer, gaming, and entertainment, with applications increasing in standalone devices, smartphones, and tablets.
A Feast for the Eyes
At the COEX K-Pop Plaza at Samsung Station in Seoul, South Korea, one can witness an amazing 3D display. Drawing huge nightly crowds, an eye-popping giant wave moves with breathtaking realism across a massive 3D LED screen. Even when you experience the effect via an amateur video, it’s hard to believe the image is not really water sloshing around a giant tank—regardless of where it’s viewed.
Similarly, in October 2020, a 3D Star Trek spacecraft came to life on a giant LED screen in Chengdu in the Chinese province of Sichuan. The spacecraft appeared to be sliding right out of the display with astounding realism. The technology demo instantly made headlines worldwide – drawing over 320 million views, including Star Trek fans that rushed in for the ultimate visual experience. The 3D LED display boasts an 8K resolution and a 1,000 square meter area. This combined with a 450 square meter ultra-high-definition screen on the side make up the “dual screens” for the display. The screens are linked by 90° seamless corner-module technology, a high-brightness wide-angle display panel, with high-contrast.
Latest Trends in 3D LED displays
Today’s 3D LED displays typically employ high-refresh, high- grayscale, high dynamic content, and smooth transitions between curved surfaces and corners with playback servers connected to a high-end graphics workstation and a multi-graphics capability. In playing the contents on the 3D screen, the main perspective chosen is designed to dovetail with the display model’s perspective relationship. The high resolution, high bright display with curated content ensures a realistic 3D effect.
Display Technologies That Enable The Trend
The technology behind these advanced 3D displays involves looking at videos with a depth perspective. These next-generation 3D systems are no longer “contained” in a box. They can seemingly project in front of and behind the physical display, so you will likely attempt to touch these images or step back. Until now, holographic displays needed powerful gaming laptops to run even the simplest holographic media. But new holographic software can run high-definition media content.
Looking Glass Factory in New York/Hong Kong, offers display products that have been used in enterprise settings and their latest offering allow phone and professional cameras to capture realistic holograms. Their HoloPlay Studio automatically converts the depth from Portrait mode photos into dozens of perspectives to create a realistic hologram. The Portrait mode photos on newer mobile devices typically have some depth information, which is normally used to generate a bokeh effect. Looking Glass Portrait software uses this depth of information to generate three-dimensional holograms. The display works by generating 45 to 100 views of a three-dimensional scene and projecting those perspectives simultaneously into the real world. Unlike earlier 3D displays, multiple users can gather around a Looking Glass Portrait to see multiple perspectives of a three-dimensional scene without 3D glasses. When looking at the image, your eyes are exposed to millions of rays of light. These reproduce captured content from the real world or play back 3D synthetic content in the most realistic way. Unlike previous 3D technologies, which can sometimes cause nausea and discomfort, this technology produces a comfortable viewing experience albeit it’s a recent development and products have just started shipping.
There are other approaches to presenting three-dimensional images instantly. Some displays are fitted with precision lenticular lenses that present different images for each eye. Unlike 3D films made for the cinema or stereoscopic televisions operating with glasses, such 3D displays require proprietary content combining as many as eight discrete images. Viewers may stand freely in front of the display and move sideways to enjoy the 3D scene from slightly different angles. These displays show broad scenes with interesting pop-out and depth effects. They can embrace a global depth span in and out of the display equal to its width, and occasionally show much broader scenes when content is well suited. The displays can be viewed in good conditions by an audience of up to 50 people spread over an area of 90°, providing viewing distances are respected. A narrow transition zone where the 3D effect seems blurred occurs every 50 cm, but a slight step aside returns the viewer to the sweet spot.
Another technique uses a unique eye-sensing technology that constantly senses the position of your eyes and delivers a bright, clear 3D image to each one. A proprietary high-speed sensor follows your eye’s movement down to the millisecond, sensing pupil position through space on all three axes: vertical, horizontal, and even depth. A micro-optical lens is positioned precisely over the LCD. This lens divides the image into the left and right eyes, allowing for stereoscopic viewing with just the naked eye. The content extends deep within the display from any viewing angle. Moving around – up or down, side to side – creates the sensation that you’re interacting with the content in front of you. An algorithm processes real-time content for each eye without lag, allowing the 3D world to appear as smooth as in real life, even if you move around.
One company uses a miniaturized Light Field Projector Module (LFPM). This approach employs surface acoustic wave (SAW) optical modulators mounted on a printed circuit board and illuminated with precise fiber-optic arrays. Here, LFPMs are stacked to make an electroholographic light field projector that presents a 3D image without glasses when it is integrated into a TV, computer, or other display. The modular LFPMs raise the bar in compact, tile-able holographic video with the promise of depth and field of view. LFPM can be used in systems with the area of a postage stamp or tiled into mobile, desktop, or wall-sized holographic image projectors. That miniaturization is ideal for companies eager to reduce the size and weight of 3D displays.
Volumetric Video Displays
Volumetric displays present 3D information in real 3D space. These can realistically display 3D models, topographical data, volumetric video, 3D video game content, and medical data – in three dimensions. They literally project 3D data into 3D volumes of space. The displays employ several techniques, such as LED arrays, novel projection mapping, moving (swept or spun) LEDs or projection media, or laser-generated plasma. Many people can see volumetric displays, simultaneously.
Volumetric displays project points of an image to specific loci in a physical volume of space. There, they appear either on an actual surface or in aerial images forming distinct depth planes. With the former, a light-reflecting medium either occupies the volume permanently or sweeps it out periodically. With the latter, aerial images are created in free space, which are perceived as cross-sections of a scene stacked one behind the other (multiplanar display).
There are already a dozen volumetric capture studios operating around the world that work by pointing dozens, even hundreds of cameras at a group on vast stages. Volumetric content captured in studios like 4DViews, Microsoft Reality Capture, Mantis Vision, Intel Studios and Metastage can now be displayed as three-dimensional moving images—setting the stage for the next phase of the moving images.
The new breed of holographic systems works with a wide variety of peripherals in Desktop mode, allowing for sophisticated interaction with holograms. This includes VR controllers, various sensors for environmental inputs, tactile feedback systems, as well as hand-sensing devices.
The new generation of 3D displays offers a vast repertoire of applications designed to enhance the performance of anyone working or playing in 3D. The sky’s literally the limit when it comes to what users will be able to do with this exciting new dimension.
Artists/Photographers – 3D displays bring models and renderings to life. Artists can create virtual galleries and portfolios that can be shared worldwide. Models and paintings can be textured on 3D displays creating vivid, lifelike presentations.
Engineers/Designers/Architects – Engineers and designers in virtually every field, as well as interior designers and architects, will appreciate the realism and detailed spatial relationships 3D displays provide. Architects can get a “helicopter view” of a building or site to show the overall layout and how elements work together.
Military – The global drone market is already in the billions of dollars and is expected to grow through the next decade. Military leaders will need 3D technologies as they move drone and robotic technologies onto the front lines. Next-generation 3D monitors allow operators to see topographies and military unit deployments in greater detail–on land, underwater, or in the air. Navy commanders are already investing in unmanned underwater and surface vessels that can sweep for mines, patrol open oceans, and perform other critical functions.
Simulation and Training – Effective 3D display technology provides a realistic simulation experience and practice training for many types of field operations. Heavy machinery operators can train using 3D simulators before they step onto the job site, significantly reducing injury or damage to equipment. Pilots can employ 3D views to train and simulate flying in various weather conditions.
Gaming – Today’s gamers want the most realistic and lifelike experience when playing. Video games are already a $100b+ market. It’s no surprise that 3D technology will be at the forefront of gaming, driving gameplay to new plateaus of realism and immersion.
Cell Phones – With the movie and gaming industries already working on 3D content for cinemas and home, the next logical step is the mobile market. The first products have already begun hitting the market in Asia. While many users might not watch 3D movies on their phones, 3D will be great for on-the-go gaming, and for providing visual cues to spruce up a graphical user interface.
Google Maps – 3D display technology brings a whole new dimension to Google Maps. In vehicles, 3D displays create a more intuitive interaction between driver and vehicle to enhance driving safety, especially for 3D navigation. There are already 3D models of 75 city centers across the world, with structures accurately reproduced with physical location, volume, elevation, and façade color information.
Surveying – Here, 3D displays can be effectively used to show “as-built” surveys of complex facilities, such as processing plants; deformation monitoring of land or structures; surveying hard-to-reach or hazardous areas; construction planning and progress tracking and modeling. With 3D displays, boundaries and other data can be clearly shown, including hydrographic data.
Medical – Armed with realistic 3D displays, doctors can perform surgeries and can see more detail while they operate. Vivid 3D images can help doctors find hidden tumors and better diagnose cancers. These displays will make the leap from traditional two-dimensional cancer screenings (like mammography) to 3D tomosynthesis, 3D ultrasound, and computerized tomography (CT). With 3D tomosynthesis, doctors can pinpoint the size and location of cancer tumors in dense tissue; they can detect abnormalities earlier and better see small tumors because the images are clearer and have greater contrast.
Drug Research – The applications for drug design and biotechnology using 3D displays can be exponential. One new 3D display has a resolution of 100 million volume pixels or “voxels.” Instead of flat square pixels, voxels also have depth. The complete volumetric nature of the display means no special goggles are required to visualize the image. Such powerful 3D displays are ideal for studying protein structure to alter the way drugs and compounds are discovered. Genomic information is transformed into so-called “structural templates” that are used to discover new drugs.
Depth Sensing – 3D depth sensing lets users explore topographies using simple, intuitive gestures and create authentic 3D images on a screen. Users control the experience by tilting, rotating, or making a fist with their hand—a fascinating alternative to touch screens or cumbersome peripheral devices such as joysticks. The new gesture-control technology captures depth information surrounding a user’s movements with unparalleled accuracy and resolution.
3D CAD Modeling – Vivid 3D displays allow designers and modelers to create virtual reality objects with the same properties as an actual physical object—material, weight, size, optical properties, physical properties, etc. This virtual “model” lets designers see how the object will behave in the real world, even before it’s built. Designers can create assemblies of parts to see how they fit together. Or they can test how parts will react to forces applied to them, drop objects to see if they will break, and observe the motion and interaction of moving parts within an assembly. They can also examine how fluids will flow through an assembly and evaluate how assemblies can be manufactured using simulations. Finally, they can render near-perfect images to see how products will look in real life.
Advertising/Marketing Applications – 3D displays will dramatically change digital signage, visual merchandizing in stores and advertising globally. Studies have shown that 3D digital displays are 90% better for brand recognition and presentation and can increase revenue by over 25%. They are far better at grabbing and holding a potential customer’s attention than regular 2D displays. The new breed of 3D displays can be placed in malls, cruise ships, resorts, sports bars, ballparks, car dealerships, phone companies, retail shops, and multiple other venues.
The rising demand for 3D displays will usher in a bold and mind-blowing new era of realism in every facet of our lives. It will make what was once fantasy a reality, challenging the imagination of both workers and dreamers.
About the Author
Sri Peruvemba is CEO of Marketer International Inc., in California. Peruvemba was previously Chief Marketing Officer for E Ink Holdings, where he played a major role in transforming the startup to a $1B+ global company. With over 30 years of experience in the technology industry, Peruvemba has been an influential advocate in the advancement of electronic hardware technologies. He is an acknowledged expert on sensors, electronic displays, haptics, touch screens, electronic materials and related technologies; and consults, writes, and presents on those subjects globally. Peruvemba has also held senior level positions at Sharp Corp, Cambrios, Novasentis, TFS Inc., Planar Systems, and Suntronic Technology. Based in Silicon Valley, Peruvemba advises high tech firms in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as well as serves on the boards of Omniply, Noctiluca, Summit Wireless, and Visionect. He has BS and MBA degrees and a post-graduate diploma in management. Peruvemba is also a right arm off-spinner for a cricket team he co-founded in Silicon Valley.