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12/2/2010
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Apple Patents Glasses-Free 3D Projection

System would let multiple people view 3D content simultaneously even as they move around a room.

Apple has been granted a patent on a system it is developing to project a 3D image that can be viewed without glasses.

Multiple people can view the 3D content simultaneously and maintain the image even as they move around a room. A constant watch would be kept on the viewer's position and movement by the proposed device, which would work by changing its projection angle. That way, the eyes continue to receive the correct images.

The patent application, filed in 2006, maintains there is an "urgent need is for an unobtrusive 3D viewing device that combines feedback for optimizing the viewing experience in combination with provisions for 3D user input, thus enabling viewing and manipulation of virtual 3D objects in 3D space without the need for special viewing goggles or headgear."

The primary goal of the patent is to deliver "inexpensive auto-stereoscopic 3D displays that allow the observer complete and unencumbered freedom of movement." Apple further stated in its application that neither active nor passive 3D glasses have received widespread acceptance "because observers generally do not like to wear equipment over their eyes. In addition, such approaches are impractical, and essentially unworkable, for projecting a 3D image to one or more casual passersby, to a group of collaborators, or to an entire audience such as when individuated projections are desired."

The Apple system would work by projecting each pixel onto a reflective, textured surface and then bouncing it to the viewer's right and left eyes separately, to produce the stereoscopic or 3D effect, according to CNET. Because it would sense the locations of each viewer's eyes, multiple people could watch from different angles.

Other companies have attempted to create glasses-free 3DTV, but generally on smaller screens and handheld devices. Toshiba in October announced plans to release two 12-inch and 20-inch 3D televisions that would be able to produce images simulating depth but without goggles. Nintendo's glasses-free 3DS is expected to launch in March 2011.

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