We are drawn into a brand-new world with 3-D movies and experience things that we otherwise couldn’t with a regular movie.

Unfortunately, with 3-D movies you also have to wear those unsightly glasses. Now we may be able to throw the glasses away and experience 3-D viewing with a new movie screen developed by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

This prototype has been called “Cinema 3-D” and it uses a special variety of mirrors and lenses so that viewers can enjoy the 3-D experience in every theater seat. According to Wojciech Matusik, a co-author on the paper related to the project and an MIT professor, this is the first approach that would allow 3-D viewing without eyewear on a large scale.

The system isn’t ready for the market yet but researchers believe that future versions of this system could push technology forward so that theaters would be able to provide their customers with a glasses-free 3-D viewing experience.

How the Movie Screen Works

While 3-D without glasses exists already, it cannot be scaled to the size of a movie theater. TV sets use slits located on the front part of the screen called a parallax barrier, which creates a simulated depth sense by allowing each eye to view different pixels. This, however, cannot be used in movie theaters since viewers must be at a consistent distance from the parallax barriers to get the 3-D views. The MIT Media Lab has also created other methods that involve new projectors covering all of the audience angular ranges but comes with a lower image resolution.

With Cinema 3-D movie theatergoers don’t move their heads any more than their seat’s width. Considering this factor, a small angle range can be displayed and replicated for all theater seats through a number of parallax barriers in one single display. The Cinema 3-D replicates these barriers through lenses and cameras within a system of special optics. This approach also allows moviegoers to see high resolution images consistently.

This new approach is impractical right now since it needs 50 sets of lenses and mirrors for the Cinema 3-D to work on a prototype that is just bigger than a paper pattern. Matusik mentions that a larger version will hopefully be constructed in the future along with built-in further refinements for image resolution. Only time will tell whether this is a financially feasible approach that could be scaled up to a large viewing area in auditoriums in theaters.

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With this new tech every visitor in a movie theater could enjoy full 3-D experience – no matter where he would sit. (Image courtesy of MIT CSAIL and Weiszmann Institute)

According to Gordon Wetzstein, an electrical engineering assistant professor at Stanford University who did not take part in the research, the Cinema 3-D authors used the fact that people sit in a fixed position more or less during the whole movie to their advantage. With a 3-D home TV, people can move around in different positions while watching the movie and this needs to be taken into account.

The full study was published in ACM Transactions on Graphics journal.