3-D Without the Glasses - Is It Really 3D?

Holographic projections may give consumers Star Wars-like ideas of being able to interact with 3-D images – without having to wear glasses – but are those projections “real” 3-D?

One company, Los Angeles-based Provision Interactive Technologies, a subsidiary of Provision Holding, Inc (PVHO), says 3-D without glasses is possible with its relatively new holographic projection technology, called Holovision, that projects a digital image up to 3 feet in front of the projection box’s screen.

Provision, which is privately-funded, was founded in 2001 and spent its first five years in R&D before it began selling prototypes of the projector to retailers to help combat “ad blindness” in stores, says Curt Thornton, chief executive of Provision. Kiosks are placed at points of purchase in stores, like the grocery market chain Fred Meyers, to promote products, making them literally “pop out” to shoppers. There are currently about 800 systems around the world, the largest markets being the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, with only about 10% of the units in the U.S.

Now, Mr. Thornton is hoping to to bring holographic projections to gamers. “We’ve tested this on all three major video game consoles – Xbox, Wii, and Playstation – and we’re talking to several game developers right now. We really see our entrance into the consumer market there.”

Mr. Thorton estimates that single unit sales of the Holovision projectors currently run from $5,000 for a 17-inch projection screen, up to $10,000 for a 40-inch screen, though a full transition into the home space and exploring manufacturing outside of the U.S. could lower prices to $2,500, he says.

Bigger players like Philips and Sharp have aimed to bring glasses-free 3-D to consumers in recent years through autostereoscopic screens, with mixed results due to consumers’ complaints of eye strain after viewing the screens for long periods of time. Intel also showcased a glasses-free 3D experience at this year’s CES with a special overlay on the HDTV.

Meanwhile, Provision is not alone in the holographic projector space. Innovision, a Taiwanese company, showed off a similar technology at CES 2010 with holographic images being projected from a smartphone, and boasts a greater viewing angle of up to 180 degrees.

Hewlett-Packard also just unveiled new technology related to Project Pluribus, projecting 3-D content on a multi-projector display, during a panel on 3-D during the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend.

But there are some limitations to projection technology in regards to a true 3-D viewing experience. Holovision runs on a Microsoft Windows XP platform and is powered by an Intel processor, so while it has full PC as well as TV cable, broadcast, and satellite capabilities, it’s not compatible with any clips from iTunes.

While the holographic images projected appear to “jump out” at viewers standing directly in front of the projector, the image disappears with side angle viewing. Mr. Thornton doesn’t see Holovision’s viewing angle, from 50 up to 75 degrees, as an issue. “When you truly measure the living room space, you see very few people standing off to the 100 to 120 degree viewing angle. Also, gamers tend to stand directly in front of the screen, so it wouldn’t be an issue with video games either,” he says.

Thomson Reuters analyst Jeremy Rosie says that the projection technologies may not be considered real 3-D. “It’s 3-D in that there’s depth of field, and there are things floating in front of you,” he said. “But you’re not walking around it or underneath it, and what’s being projected is essentially still two-dimensional.”

Mr. Thornton says Provision currently holds 40 patents for optical technologies that would eliminate the need for 3-D glasses, and the company plans to continue to innovate in that space.

By Lauren Goode

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    Provision Demo Video 2013

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