Cool 3D Theater Display

Another interesting concept from this year’s SIGGRAPH (one of the funnest tech conferences, no question): “Cinema 3D: Large Scale Automultiscopic Display”. Netalee Efrat of the Weizmann Institute and colleagues at Saarland and MIT examine the problem of how to have a theatrical display that delivers 3D imagery to every seat. (I gather that is what the term “automultiscopic” means.)

The problem is, of course, that 3D cinema must deliver the right imagery to each eye. This is done with goggles or other means ot show precisely the right thing to one set of eyes. Without goggles, it can work for one person sitting in the right place, everybody else gets a poor view or worse.

Efrat and colleagues extended the technique of “parallax restriction”, in which the screen shows different views from different angles. Taking advantage of the design of theaters (with fixed seating), and taking the idea to the extreme, they cleverly project from the screen to each seat the right stuff.

Essentially, the screen is actually a large number of stripes, with each stripe projected differently when view from different angles. To do this, they create a different set of “barriers” viewed by each row in the theater, taking advantage of the upswept seating. The combination of column and row encoding gives each seating position a high quality 3D image.

Fig 1. – The standard approach to the design of automultiscopic 3D displays attempts to cover the angular range of all viewer positions. However, there are usually unavoidable trade-offs between the angular range and resolution of such displays. Therefore, an application of automultiscopic technology to real-sized 3D cinema, where viewing range is usually very wide, would typically involve poor spatial/angular resolution (left), or a restricted range of screen distances. In contrast, we suggest a 3D display architecture that only presents a narrow range of angular images across the small set of viewing positions of a single seat, and replicates the same narrow angle content to all seats in the cinema, at all screen distances (right).

As Mark Wilson commented, this is “an almost silly-stupid solution”, but “[t]he breakthrough is that researchers use so many of these parallax image strips, so carefully, that they can make the geometrical illusion scale to a theater full of people who are looking from various angles.”[2]

I agree: this is really, really clever.  The paper explains the optical science involved, which quickly exceeds my own limited grasp.

I will note, though that this trick depends on the people staying in their seats, and essentially acting the role of “viewer”. No getting up and dancing, no “walking into the story”. And the story can’t really come vary far out into the room, you are looking into a 3D tank.

This is a really useful display mode, no mistake about it.

But we are still going to want goggles (or, in future, retinal projection) to create 360 degree, immersive experiences, ones that you can actually “step into”.

Anyway, bottom line: this is seriously great work.


  1. Netalee Efrat, Piotr Didyk, Mike Foshey, Wojciech Matusik, and Anat Levin, Cinema 3D: large scale automultiscopic display. ACM Trans. Graph., 35 (4):1-12, 2016.
  2. Wilson, Mark, 16 Wild Research Experiments That Could Change Design, in FastCoDesign. 2016. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3062128/16-wild-research-experiments-that-could-change-design

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