Prototype display enables viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater

Prototype display enables viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater
A new prototype display could show 3-D movies to any seat in a theater, with no eyewear required. Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT

3-D movies immerse us in new worlds and allow us to see places and things in ways that we otherwise couldn't. But behind every 3-D experience is something that is uniformly despised: those goofy glasses.

Fortunately, there may be hope. In a new paper, a team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have demonstrated a display that lets audiences watch 3-D films in a movie theater without extra eyewear.

Dubbed "Cinema 3-D," the prototype uses a special array of lenses and mirrors to enable viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater.

"Existing approaches to glasses-free 3-D require screens whose resolution requirements are so enormous that they are completely impractical," says MIT professor Wojciech Matusik, one of the co-authors on a related paper whose first author is Weizmann PhD Netalee Efrat. "This is the first technical approach that allows for glasses-free 3-D on a large scale."

While the researchers caution that the system isn't currently market-ready, they are optimistic that future versions could push the technology to a place where theaters would be able to offer glasses-free alternatives for 3-D movies.

Among the paper's co-authors are MIT research technician Mike Foshey; former CSAIL postdoc Piotr Didyk; and two Weizmann researchers that include Efrat and professor Anat Levin. Efrat will present the paper at this week's SIGGRAPH computer-graphics conference in Anaheim, California.

How it works

Glasses-free 3-D already exists, but not in a way that scales to . Traditional methods for TV sets use a series of slits in front of the screen (a "parallax barrier") that allows each eye to see a different set of pixels, creating a simulated sense of depth.

But because parallax barriers have to be at a consistent distance from the viewer, this approach isn't practical for larger spaces like theaters that have viewers at different angles and distances.

Other methods, including one from the MIT Media Lab, involve developing completely new physical projectors that cover the entire angular range of the audience. However, this often comes at a cost of lower image-resolution.

The key insight with Cinema 3-D is that people in movie theaters move their heads only over a very small range of angles, limited by the width of their seat. Thus, it is enough to display images to a narrow range of angles and replicate that to all seats in the theater.

What Cinema 3-D does, then, is encode multiple parallax barriers in one display, such that each viewer sees a parallax barrier tailored to their position. That range of views is then replicated across the theater by a series of mirrors and lenses within Cinema 3-D's special optics system.

"With a 3-D TV, you have to account for people moving around to watch from different angles, which means that you have to divide up a limited number of pixels to be projected so that the viewer sees the image from wherever they are," says Gordon Wetzstein, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. "The authors [of Cinema 3-D] cleverly exploited the fact that theaters have a unique set-up in which every person sits in a more or less fixed position the whole time."

The team demonstrated that their approach allows viewers from different parts of an auditorium to see images of consistently high resolution.

Cinema 3-D isn't particularly practical at the moment: The team's prototype requires 50 sets of mirrors and lenses, and yet is just barely larger than a pad of paper. But, in theory, the technology could work in any context in which 3-D visuals would be shown to multiple people at the same time, such as billboards or storefront advertisements. Matusik says that the team hopes to build a larger version of the display and to further refine the optics to continue to improve the image resolution.

"It remains to be seen whether the approach is financially feasible enough to scale up to a full-blown theater," says Matusik. "But we are optimistic that this is an important next step in developing glasses-free 3-D for large spaces like movie theaters and auditoriums."

Explore further

Next generation 3-D theater: Optical science makes glasses a thing of the past

More information: Netalee Efrat et al. Cinema 3D, ACM Transactions on Graphics (2016). DOI: 10.1145/2897824.2925921

This story is republished courtesy of MIT News (, a popular site that covers news about MIT research, innovation and teaching.

Citation: Prototype display enables viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater (2016, July 25) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 25, 2016
The 'average' sized cinema screen is ~75ft/23m wide x 45ft/22m high.

That's ~3375 sq ft of material, or ...~506 sq meters of material.

That..... is going to be heinously expensive. never mind the lack of perfection in all circumstances, and that I suspect it will be resolution & contrast limited. 3d as it stands is limited, due to the glasses.

You can find a video of Perter Jackson, where he talks about doing the hobbit and speaking on the thought that laser or 'gated light valve' projectors should be in the theaters by the time he gets the Hobbit trilogy onto theater screens.

He speaks on it as the contrast per eye is the issue at hand for 3d. color shift, saturation contrast range, detail,etc are notable issues due to the glasses and the technological limitations.

Gated light valve or laser projection would take care of this (notably improving 3D projection as well) and make the glasses considerably more viable when it comes to convincing 3d imagery.

Jul 25, 2016
Sorry, "notably improving non 3d projection as well", is what it should say.

The technology is largely perfected but is being held back as the projection technology that currently dominates is largely held by Sony, and since they own it all already, why not milk it for what is already there...and then decide to screw the theater world some more at their own convenience..when the theater owners are ready to eat the approx $100k-150k per (8K) projector. will have to come in at 8k resolution to satisfy next round of technology.

Capturing, manipulating, storing, and playing back 8KUHD high frame rate images is no small task. the minimum compressed rates would likely be ~50Gbit per second.

Double that for 3D to approx 100Gbps. Increase the contrast ratio/etc (bit depth) to get to the convincing imagery, and you can see how it can creep up to 120-150Gbps.

Even with intelligent lossless (must be lossless) data compression schemes, it remains a daunting task.

Jul 25, 2016
As a rough napkin level calculation...a 120 minute 3D film at 8kUHD high definition video theater quality, would come in at approximately 150 terabytes.

Jul 26, 2016
A scratch closer to Antoinette Carvajals Observatory Skate and CILS (Classroom Immersive Learning Screens).

Jul 26, 2016
As a rough napkin level calculation...a 120 minute 3D film at 8kUHD high definition video theater quality, would come in at approximately 150 terabytes.

Storage technology capacity, a real bane for 100 meg Photoshop files in 1994, is no longer even an issue for 90% of computer users. Even as late 1996 I was working for P&G to find ways around the daunting task of manipulating 360x240 by 300kps mpeg files in real time. In another 20 years no emerging consumer will even understand what storage/broadcast limitations might mean.

When the type of 'real' 3D video with 8k broadcast addressed here arrives, both storage and throughput speed will only be an issue for the early human researchers programming simulated realities, the likes of which our 'unique' universe is probably a more advanced variation.

Jul 26, 2016
Working on telephone switching equipment in the early '90s, we dreamed that about now we'd have the "1.2 megabit living room". Had the idea basically right, but couldn't dream near big enough on bandwidth.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more