3-D monitor should have deep impact

ActualDepth: The breakthrough technology is expected to have many uses and to wow home users.

April 04, 2002|By Stanley A. Miller II | Stanley A. Miller II,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

A new 3-D computer monitor is coming this spring, and the images have so much true, lifelike depth that objects look as if you could reach inside the display and pull them out.

The liquid crystal display doesn't need any specific software to create a 3-D desktop. Users don't have to wear special glasses. And the monitor works with different operating systems and computer hardware, including Windows, Apple and Linux equipment.

And although many uses are planned for the ActualDepth 3-D screen -- such as medical, industrial and military applications -- its developers also think people at home would like to see their virtual work and play space in three dimensions.

"Your brain likes to see in depth," said Rj Siegel, president of Digitalogic in Glendale, Wis., a U.S. distributor of the ActualDepth screens. "When something moves in depth, you respond more dramatically. And there are many functions where it is good to see in 3-D."

Siegel said the 3-D environment is created by pushing light through two flat-panel LCD screens using a process that doesn't distort the images. The dual displays are built one on top of the other, with some space between; the monitors vary in depth depending on the type. For example, the ActualDepth displays designed for information kiosks have a 40 mm separation, while screens for small hand-helds have only 5 mm of space.

"This has been four years of my life, to unlock the code of 3-D video," said Siegel, who is also the chief technologist for Deep Video Imaging, the New Zealand company that developed the system. "Sometimes there are creative ideas, but the technology isn't around to make them happen."

Siegel said 3-D screens could be used to unclutter the cockpits in military tanks, which can have more than a half-dozen monitors.

The technology could also be the "holy grail for medical imaging," said Siegel, stressing the displays could give perfect perspectives for studying tumors.

The screens could also be used in public kiosks, arcade-style video systems, casino slot machines and digital wristwatches.

"It is real 3-D, not the illusion of 3-D," Siegel said while giving a demonstration of the monitor.

Several demonstration programs on an ActualDepth display produced images so whole and fluid that they appeared real.

And ActualDepth 3-D isn't limited to programs or videos designed to take advantage of the LCD's abilities. Users can layer their open programs on the screen, but instead of windows being hidden by each other, they become transparent. A user can see though an open Web browser window to an e-mail program window underneath it.

On a Windows PC, the operating system recognizes the 3-D screen as a dual display system, except the displays are layered instead of side by side. The end result is similar in that the desktop is much larger. The possibilities could change the concept of multitasking.

Siegel, who worked on Apple's original Macintosh development team, is used to being part of projects that make an impact.

"It was like we were going to change the world, and we did," Siegel said of his days with Apple. "Windows is a great rip-off of the Mac OS. My life has been spent looking for technology that would really make a difference like that."

Siegel likens the release of the ActualDepth monitor to the dawn of color television in the 1950s.

"The added dimension of color is very important, and depth is even more relevant," he said.

The only major technological requirement for an ActualDepth monitor is dual video outputs, which means most users would have to add a second graphics card to their computers. The consumer models of the ActualDepth screens, which will cost about twice as much as current flat-panel monitors, should be available next month, Siegel said.

Information: www.actualdepth .com or 860-224-8900.

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