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HP Prototypes Transparent Glasses-Free 3D Display

By Wesley Fenlon

Embedded in a thin piece of glass, this 3D display has the neon glint of future tech. But is it practical?

Are 3D displays passé at this point? 3D TV sales have been a big bust for the likes of Sony and Samsung. Nintendo's 3DS seems to be succeeded in spite of its 3D display, not because of it. The 3D displays that still get us excited on a pure tech level are transparent--perhaps because they evoke the holographs of sci-fi--and HP just so happens to have worked up such a display in their R&D department. Technology Review reports that HP's new display can be installed in a millimeter thick piece of glass and project images and video. And, thankfully, it's glasses-free.

HP's small 3D display works similarly to other glasses-free panels. The pixels are angled in such a way that each of our eyes sees a different image, creating the stereoscopic effect. HP claims they've done better than other glasses-free tech, though, with a wide field of view--"up to 180 degrees in principle"--from a meter away. Compared to Nintendo's 3DS, which has a very narrow 3D field, that's a huge improvement.

Image via Nature/Fattal et. al.

HP wants multiple viewers to be able to see the 3D effect on a future phone or tablet, and that field of view should be wide enough to facilitate that. Glasses-free 3D tech has been problematic for 3D televisions, simply because there are so many possible places a viewer could sit or stand while watching such a large screen.

The screen itself doesn't look too impressive, but it does have that neon look of The Future. HP's prototype units can handle resolutions of 88 pixels per inch and 127 pixels per inch; the latter's not terrible for a mobile display. Given a few more years in the R&D lab, they may be able to make the screen's big enough for hand-held devices. It's just hard to tell how practical it will be. In the brief video from the original Nature report below, it's hard to really see much of anything on the screen. We'll have to see a movie or web browser on the display before we're sold on the technology.