Wide-angle autostereoscopic displays provide the opportunity for practical glasses-free 3D viewing, but the incompatibility of current 3D-media has hindered the further development and implementation of the technology. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications have been working to provide a solution to this issue, producing a technology capable of converting conventional 3D Blu-rays for use with the new display technology.

Glasses-free viewing is nothing new, of course, with companies such as Nintendo and Toshiba releasing products featuring glasses-free 3D displays. However, these systems utilize lenticular displays or parallax barriers, which project two sets of images at the same time, one for each eye. This presents the issue of there being just one “sweet spot” or perfect viewing angle. While some systems such as the eye-tracking webcam seen on LG's DX2000 display lessen the impact of the issue, these current technologies are simply not suited to devices that are intended for use by more than one viewer.

Accordingly, television manufacturers have been working on this issue, endeavoring to produce displays that can facilitate 3D playback with wide, living-room friendly viewing angles. Prototypes of these TV screens, known as autostereoscopic displays, already exist and are likely to be commercially available in the not-too-distant future. However, there is one key issue that, until now, has kept glasses-free 3D just out of reach: the content.

Autostereoscopic screens need five to ten views of the same scene in order to create the wide-angle viewing experience. Current 3D Blu-rays only provide the two perspectives required for conventional 3D displays.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich-Herts Institute (HHI) in Berlin, have been working on a solution to this issue. The team has developed a technology that takes the conventional 3D Blu-ray image and converts it for use with the new autostereoscopic display technology. “We take the existing two images and generate a depth map," HHI research fellow Christian Riechert explains. "That is to say, a map that assigns a specific distance from the camera to each object.” Then, a number of intermediate views are created through the use of depth image-based rendering techniques.

This idea in itself, is not a new one. However, the real breakthrough is in the autonomous nature of the technology. Prior to this development, systems that apply a similar conversion either needed much greater periods of time to produce the depth map, or required manual adaptation. Conversely, the system developed by HHI has the ability to make the conversion in real-time, making it practical for integration into televisions and Blu-ray players.

The team is currently working with industry partners, with the intention of integrating the hardware into televisions and will demo the technology at the IFA trade show in Berlin later this month. It is expected that the technology will not be commercially available for at least a year.