MIT researchers are developing a way to watch 3-D movies without those annoying glasses

Those cheap plastic lenses could become a thing of the past if this idea takes off.

3-D glasses.
3-D glasses. –Wikimedia/Public Domain

Ever find yourself underwhelmed by the 3-D glasses at your local movie theater? Help may be on the way.

A team of researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) believe they have a solution that could one day allow theaters to screen 3-D movies sans spectacles.

In a paper published with scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the researchers describe their new “Cinema 3-D” concept, which would use a series of lenses and mirrors to allow audiences to see the same three-dimensional image from any seat in a theater.

While glasses-free 3-D will soon be widely available for televisions (though pretty expensive), the existing technology relies on extremely high-resolution screens and other complex technology that isn’t viable for a large theater.

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“Existing approaches to glasses-free 3-D require screens whose resolution requirements are so enormous that they are completely impractical,” MIT associate professor Wojciech Matusik told MIT News. “This is the first technical approach that allows for glasses-free 3-D on a large scale.”

According to the paper, Cinema 3-D’s breakthrough idea is that, once seated, the range of movement of movie patrons’ heads is limited by the size of their seat. As the diagram below shows, current 3-D setups display images over a wide range of angles, resulting in diminished picture quality — especially if you’re stuck sitting in the front row or off to the side. Cinema 3-D displays images to a narrow range of angles and replicates the same images to all seats in the theater, meaning every seat sees the same picture quality.

A current automultiscopic display (left) and the proposed Cinema 3-D (right).
A current automultiscopic display (left) and the proposed Cinema 3-D (right). —MIT

As of now, the CSAIL team’s proposed design isn’t ready for theaters — according to MIT News, the tiny prototype uses 50 sets of lenses and mirrors to project onto a screen the size of a sheet of paper.

“It remains to be seen whether the approach is financially feasible enough to scale up to a full-blown theater,” Matusik told MIT News. “But we are optimistic that this is an important next step in developing glasses-free 3-D for large spaces like movie theaters and auditoriums.”

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So while the future looks bright for improvements in 3-D projection technology, it may be a while before you can ditch the glasses for good.

You can watch a short animated video showing how the technology works below.

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