back to article Apple patents glasses-free, multi-viewer 3D

Apple has been granted a patent for a projection system that can enable multiple viewers to simultaneously view 3D images without the need for those dorky 3D glasses. The patent, succinctly entitled "Three-dimensional display system," is fiendishly complex, but its goal is simple: to provide "highly effective, practical, …


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  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    No good for the hone market

    All right if you've got an audience of people trying to win school posture badges but not for people who actually like lie on the sofa or rest their head on the person next to them - or generally relax while watching contentless visual effects.

    1. Bilgepipe

      Reading Comprehension?

      Did you actually read the article? The system tracks people as they move.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Ok look at the picture then

        left sub image right sub image

        singular not plural so it tracks A person using unspecified technology - through the back of my sofa? No capability for tilting heads.

        left leg right leg=pants. with the important bits hanging out

      2. Goat Jam

        Technical Comprehension?

        The system tracks people as they move and assumes that their eyes are in a left-right arrangement as opposed to up-down when one is lying on a couch.

  2. Octopoid

    Apple patents.

    What can I say? I don't want to sound negative, but "this almost certainly won't work properly".

    Tracking multiple faces, and angling projecters to bounce light off micro-sized-hemisphere coated screens into differing eyes? (Thats a hell of a trick shot, especially when you have to make several million of them 60 times a second) Fiendishly complex but uncomplicated?

    I guess this is one of the ones Apple are patenting just in case it becomes even slightly possible in the next x years, like the patent they put in for a motorised refractive lens per pixel on a HD display.

    To be honest though, I can't imagine this ever really working outside a lab - it just all sounds too sketchy.

    1. Michael C

      Not so fast

      They did not claim to have built such a system, let alone tested and proved it. A patent ca simply be for a theoretical process. This CAN work, its within the bounds of technology, it may just require a supercomputer and a few dozen sensors for now until chipsets and sensor technology catch up. The original PS3 was more than a rack full of CPUs and boiled down to a simple console in a few years.

      As far as pixel altering speed, this is not ridiculously complex. DLP systems have been doing that at 1080p for almost 10 years (as a retail product, not just in labs). They've recently been doing it at 120 and 240hz. It should not be unreasonable to use a similar tech to target sub pixels on a screen a larger distance away in similar variation of speed. Yes, much greater accuracy, and probably 400+hz is required, but it should be possible.

      1. Octopoid

        Well no,

        I wasn't under the impression they had built or tested it. I know patents can be applied for without any proof of concept, but I don't think they should be able to.

        I don't envisage the main problem with this as being the processing power required, as thats just a few million basic math operations - still a heft load especially if those calculations need to be done per pair of eyes, as the article insinuates. And yes, it can work - the basic physics is sound.

        I think the main problem will be the angling of the pixels themselves. It's not as simple as moving the entire pixel field slighty, each pixel needs to be moved by a differing amount, and possibly even sent to several different sub fields, again per pixel. In a non-lab environment, the projecter will need to be aware of it's location in relation to the screen in incredible detail, in order to callibrate itself accurately enough to pull off the exact angles required. It would ony take the screen moving or flexing by sum-millimeter amounts to cause a complete loss of the 3D effect in that area.

        I would also question whether the beam of light each pixel comprises would be anywhere near precise enough to even survive the journey without dissipating to the point of terrible cross talk, or loss of the effect all together. The angles required to bounce a beam of light precisely to 2 targets mere centimeters apart over 10 feet are minute, and this is twice as problematic as current "glasses free" 3DTVs, as the light has to make 2 journeys. The beam of light would have to cover a tiny fraction of the surface of the pixel to be reflect accurately enough, most likely easily less than 1%. This would have to be more similar to an array of a million lasers than a current projector.

        Maybe, in time, this could be made to work outside of a lab, as with pretty much anything. I would be suprsied if a much simpler and more effective method hadn't been discovered by then.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This is so retarded i cannot believe they granted this ....

    Why the fuck cant they just turn around and say Unless you can make the technology you cannot patent it.

    Or at least say when granting a patent you have 2 years to manafacture it and if not manafacturing you lose the patent.

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      Make it

      At one time in the UK you used to have to deposit a model of your device with the Patent Office Library.

      Eventually they made a new building to house them - The Science Museum at South Kensington.

      In those days a Patent gave you a limited monopoly as a reward for publishing the details of your invention.

      I can't help feeling we've lost our way somewhat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "In those days a Patent gave you a limited monopoly as a reward for publishing the details of your invention."

        What do you think this is doing? What are the above if not the details of the invention? (And trust me, there's a lot more than is in the Reg article.)

        Also, it'd be kind of hard to put 'a model of your device' somewhere if your patent is on *part* of a device. Or if you're not a large company, and your patent involves something that requires significant investment to implement, but is a solid idea.

        The patent is not about judging practicality, or marketability; it's about judging novelty.

        1. skellious


          The point being made was that it used to be the case that 1) models were deposited - leaving a lovely historic record (I love the science museum!) and 2) patents used to be about SHARING technology in return for some ccontrol over how it was used, compared to now where they are used to block others from bothering to research that field.

          1. Alan Firminger

            You cannot patent a wild idea

            Each nation has its own standard of proof of possibility.

            in the UK this is that an embodiment of the invention must be described sufficiently for one skilled in the art to make it. This satisfies the primary purpose of the patent which is to advance technology for all to enjoy.

            I don't know what the rule is in the US. Tell us someone.

        2. ray hartman


          That's right thought-crime bytch, you can't patent an idea good-or-bad. Ideas/concepts/algorythms ... belong to the COMMONS ... every last one of them.

          You can only patent a concrete object with novel performance aspects. -- a physical machine. Tuff tit about the thought-crimes I know how it must aggravate you to lack power over anothers pure thoughts.

    2. asdf Silver badge

      follow the dollar

      But think of the children/lawyers. How could they afford their Porsche if they can't put a tax on the rest of society for doing basically anything? Don't worry about the fact that the laws are largely written by lawyers for lawyers and everyone else a distant second.

    3. Michael C


      because in order to actually feel safe in investing the money to R&D an idea, including what might be many years and many millions of dollars, we have to ensure someone ELSE doesn't take the same idea, make it work faster using more money invested, and cut us off at the patent line.

      You patent IDEAS, not products.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Nice idea but...

    Let me get this straight... they're intending to send a different image to every single eye looking at the screen? 4 people would therefore require 8 different images - I can see a processing bottleneck appearing.

    Now, to get a beam of light to be so focussed that you can target a single eyeball with $x pixels, I can only imagine that they're planning to use laser beams, however I can't imagine the sharks keeping still enough to maintain the beam angle!

    This will require a VERY rigid mount/screen... unless maybe they incorporate markers in the screen so the projector system can track the screen as well as the viewers?

    Sounds like interesting tech though. Unfortunately, the most accurate name for it would be 'retina display', but some muppets have already used that phrase elsewhere!

    1. Michael C

      not quite

      Its the SAME image, just to different sub-pixels based on where you stand in order to ensure the correct eye is receiving the correct image at the right time.

      It's not on-the-fly sending 8-10 different renders, its sending the same render to multiple subpizel locations. The decoder for the video does no extra work, just a lense (though, there would I assume be 1 lense set for each pixel, enabling subpixel targeting).

      1. Octopoid


        That would only work if the projector was the exact same size as the screen, mounted entirely dead on (meaning no-one could sit in between), and magic.

        If the projector isn't set up in this way, then you can't just move the entire pixel subfield, each pixel would need to be individually targeted. Draw the raytyrace if you don't believe me - current pixel subfield technology does not help in the slightest.

        I've also realised since, the effect this would provide would be utterly horrible unless you sat at the exact "right" distance away from the screen - the projector cannot adjust the convergance for the viewers, as the convergance required is dictated by the projector to screen distance.

        You might be able to bounce a point off a curved surface onto an accurate target, but attempting to bounce a beam is going to result in the worlds most expensive glitter ball.

  5. sebacoustic
    Jobs Horns


    Can anyone ion the know explain how long one ca hold a patent on something that's a mere idea, without even a hint of a demonstrable technology or product? If someone were to invent something propperly that filles some of the "boxes" in the diadram with actual real technology that works, would Apple have anything on them?

  6. Clint Sharp

    Very clever..

    But it's still a solitary experience.. I can't see how the system could work with more than one observer

  7. Anonymous Coward

    so let me see

    Am I right in saying that a patent on this idea now will stop anyone thinking about implementing it or a similar solution, and Apple don't even have to have any idea of how to implement this using current technology?

    Doesn't this stifle technological progress?

  8. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Now this looks like a real patent

    This is indeed different from all 3D displays I have seen and used.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does this mean...

    That they think they can do this or are they being cheeky and just describing what would need to be done. If it is the latter then I'd like to patent Teleportation through the use of a device that will allow me to do this.

  10. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    Man, that looks seriously expensive and breakable, but could get me interested in 3D if it actually works

  11. Vic

    So how does this work with multiple people watching?

    You'd need to track each person around the room and project a separate pair of images for each one. That scales well...


  12. Ian Yates
    Thumb Up


    "highly effective, practical, efficient, uncomplicated, and inexpensive autostereoscopic 3D displays"

    So I'm okay as long as I make it expensive or really complicated?

  13. James Thomas


    I'm highly sceptical. While it sounds ok in theory the critical part seems to be determining exactly where the observers eyes are. I'm assuming a reasonably high level of precision is required here for a believable 3D image to work and any imprecision could break the whole effect or, even worse, make the user quite sick.

    Frankly I don't think it's possible, expecially if you allow the observers to move about.

  14. oolon

    Eyes to the right

    If its tracking from behind then how does it know the distance between the users eyes? Different people have different eye separations - naturally and when turning to the left or right relative to the screen. I think there would be some real-life problems with this technology which I assume has not been actually tried yet.

    Maybe better to use a front tracking Kinect, Move type thingy to see where the users eyes are relative to the screen. That idea is hereby disclosed on the reg ;-)

  15. mike white 1

    Multiple Viewers?

    "Although many companies are involved in autostereoscopic research and development, Apple's patent confidently picks apart the limitations of three categories of those efforts:"

    I fI was one of those companies I'ld be pointing out that Apples solution only allows for one viewer to see the 3D image. A second observer on the other side of the room would not see the image correctly.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I should have patented my idea then.... :)

    Thought about this a while back when 3d came back in and was thinking what would be a way to do this without glasses, but didnt think it would be possible due to requiring the precise location of the eyes, and the extreme refresh rate needed (would increase for each viewer added). This would be only for large screens, smaller, I thought about and that would be a standard LCD/PLASMA display with a secondary screen, directly attached infront, and aligened (could be LCD again??) which would then deflect the light coming from the screen to the person, but again requiring higher refresh rate for the number of viewers. It would then have all the required hardware in 1 box, much neater for smaller screens.

  17. Mage Silver badge

    Stereo is not 3D

    No matter HOW you do it, Stereo viewing doesn't work for nearly 20% and gives eye strain to everyone.

    Maybe all LCD TVs will have active shutter "3D", because it costs nearly nothing to add. Cost is in the glasses. But other forms of so called 3D other than lenticular handheld are unlikely to ever be very popular.

    Still nice to see Apple try to innovate. Even it is prior art dressed up to look new. The USPO should chuck this out. It really fails originality.

    1. Vic

      Yes it is.

      > Stereo viewing doesn't work for nearly 20%

      Stereo vision gives 3D for every animal with two overlapping fields of vision. That includes all humans with two working eyes.

      You appear to be talking about dot autostereograms - but that isn't what is described in the article.


      1. Mage Silver badge

        Stereo vision gives 3D for every animal.

        That's not entirely how 3D vision and Depth perception works,

        If one eye is enough weaker (almost no-one has matched eyes), then pure stereo vision doesn't work. I.e. if one eye sees box and other eye sees animal, with perfect stereo vision the animal is in the box.

        It doesn't work for significant number of people.

        Also REAL 3D has depth. The eyes focus at different distances according to the object. With FLAT Stereo vision that doesn't work. You get a headache.

        So not only is this not going to work for some people, as even Active shutter doesn't work (which is surprising, I thought active shutter might work for slightly "lazy eye", but apparently doesn't)

        But it's horribly complicated and not really an original idea.

        The guy is wearing Stereo goggles obviously

        1. mitch 2

          3D or not 3D

          To clarify, stereopsis gives depth relative to your point of focus, which could be centimeters from the end of your nose or or many meters away. Its great for picking out an object camoflaged against its background, which is why predators have forward facing eyes.

        2. Vic

          Really, it is.

          > That's not entirely how 3D vision and Depth perception works

          Yes, it is.

          You have two eyes.

          Any depth perception effects you have are a result of the images coming from those two eyes.

          Whatever you might be trying to say about various methods used to attempt to create a 3D display is irrelevant - whatever you see, it comes from a stereoscopic view created by the two eyes in your head.

          Any alternative to this proposition would mean that you have 3D view with a number of eyes other than two - and you don't, even if you can infer something about distance-to-object from its size.


          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


            Stereoscopic images are only part of the whole picture (pun intended).

            There are two other features of depth perception that are also important. One is the act of focusing the eye for the correct distance, and the other is that each eye moves to focus the object of interest on the center of the retina, where there are more light receptors.

            If you just use separate images beamed into each eye, you can have the correct image for an object close to you. The brain says that it should be focusing close, but in actual fact you need to focus on the screen further away. Ditto the depth related parallax issue of the two eyes. These are what causes people to have headaches.

            If you want a demonstration, try the following.

            Hold both one hand about 6" in front of your right eye. Hold the other at arms length in front of your left eye. Try to focus on both hands at the same time. Don't do this for too long, or else you will get dizzy.

            Then find someone you know quite well, hold your index finger about 2' from their face and ask them to look directly at it. Watch their eyes, and move your finger to about 6" from their face. You will see that they go slightly 'cross-eyed'.

            Stereoscopic vision together with both of these other effects are required for the brain to correctly determine depth. If you only get one of them, some people can ignore the fact that the others are missing, and some can't.

            Oh, and one more thing. With proper depth perception, moving your head will alter the image due to parallax (again), but the current 3D TV cannot do this. If the eyes are tracked correctly, this system *could* be able to do it, but I agree with most people that this is unlikely using any tech. we are likely to see soon.

            1. Vic


              > Stereoscopic images are only part of the whole picture (pun intended).

              They're actually pretty much the whole of the picture.

              > One is the act of focusing the eye for the correct distance

              That is a very short-term effect, if it happens at all. This is why contact lenses are often prescribed for monovision as people get older - the eye adapts *very* rapidly to changes from "the norm" in terms of focussing. This is why you can put on a pair of glasses with only very temporary disturbance to distance estimation, even if the prescription is really quite strong...

              > the other is that each eye moves to focus the object of interest on the center of the retina

              And, by positioning each entity within the image, the angle between the eyes is set for that entity, thus creating the 3D view. That is exactly how stereoscopic vision works - and it matters not whether the image is real or synthetic. The eye moves to place the object correctly...

              > If you just use separate images beamed into each eye, you can have the

              > correct image for an object close to you

              You can also have the correct images for an object far away from you.

              Here's an experiment to show you how it works: pick an object - any object, at the distance of your choosing. Can you see it in 3D? Good. You're now interpreting that 3D image according to two images - one in each eye. It really is that simple.

              > Try to focus on both hands at the same time.

              That has nothing whatsoever to do with 3D vision. It is how the human vision system ignores items in the vision path. And it's a temporary effect - wait a while, and you can focus on both.

              > Don't do this for too long, or else you will get dizzy

              Nope. Do this for a long time, and you acclimatise to it.

              > You will see that they go slightly 'cross-eyed'

              That's how stereoscopic vision works. The angle between the eyes is used as a reference. That angle is set by correlating the two images, and it happens whether the images are real or synthetic. It's also the reason why aliasing causes strange effects - which is why Ford Escort headliners used to look so odd, and why random dot autostereograms work.

              > Stereoscopic vision together with both of these other effects are required

              > for the brain to correctly determine depth

              Absolutely untrue. Eyeline angle is an *effect* of stereoscopic images, and focussing is a feedback loop - it alters over time.

              > If you only get one of them, some people can ignore the fact that the others are missing

              Anyone looking at something with two working eyes is using sterescopic vision. That is the beginning and end of it. Look up the term if you don't believe me - it's "stereoscopic vision". Everything else you say implies some deep-seated misconception about how human (and most animal) vision works. But don't take my word for it - look it up. You will see that the separate images are all that is necessary.

              > the current 3D TV cannot do this

              It's a good job I wasn't talking about 3D TVs, then, isn't it? I'm talking about stereoscopic vision - the sort I'm using right now to look around me - which isn't reliant on any display technology. .


              1. mitch 2

                3D or not 3D again

                Its a good job deer and rabbits don't have eyes on the sides of their heads then, or they would always be bumping into trees.

                Oh wait...

                Seriously, stereo vision is a latecomer in evolutionary terms. One eyed people manage fine without it and they don' t think they see the world in 2D.

              2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


                Nothing I have said indicates that stereoscopic vision is not a major part of depth perception, and I don't think that anybody would think that I said anything different.

                It's just not the only thing that matters. You can ignore that the other effects exist if you want to, but that would not alter the fact that they do exist.

                I did look it up before posting. Maybe you would like to look up the monocular cues Accommodation, and Blurring, both of which are real documented features of depth perception, along with Motion Parallax. Wikipedia will appear top of the search list, but it is not the only reference for this on the 'net.

                The universe is vast and complex. Anybody believing that we fully understand any part of it is either a fool, or deluding themselves.

                1. stucs201

                  So what if stero vision isn't quite a complete system of depth cues?

                  If you'd been around in the days when artists were starting to use perspective properly in their paintings would you have been telling them not to bother with that too? Proper use of perspective was a step forwards. Stereo based 3d is a step forwards. No sense in not taking one step just because we can't take them all at once.

                  1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

                    @stucs201 re: one step forwards.

                    I'm not sure what you are getting at. I was responding to the comments that stated that some people get headaches, which they do, and I was trying to explain why that was.

                    I don't buy into 3DTV or other 3D displays of any type at the moment or the foreseeable future, but that is my opinion, and I don't try to force my opinions on anybody. I may discuss them especially with people who I believe have not seen all the sides of a problem, but that is what dialogue and conversation is all about.

                    1. stucs201

                      To: Peter Gathercole (no nasty twitter style addressing from me)

                      My comments weren't really directed to you, though technically I think I clicked reply on your post as the last in a thread. The comments were directed more towards the whole 'its not exactly like the real world and therefore crap' argument that gets raised here everytime an article on 3D films/tv/displays appears.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does this mean...

      "That they think they can do this or are they being cheeky and just describing what would need to be done."

      Well, given that they're merely describing the basic optics required for people to see depth in projected images, it's what academics might call a review paper, or what people in other lines of work might call a position paper.

      Combining basic observations of optics with widely considered "here's how you'd direct the rays" observations (and I wonder whether already deployed lenticular technology is referenced, because that's already used to do this kind of thing) and head-tracking (also widely understood and demonstrated) isn't worthy of a patent, but as usual this is a company wanting to have a monopoly on "this kind of thing".

      Given the tendency of Apple and similarly-minded companies to erect a toll booth in front of any kind of business they think they must "own", I suggest that such patent-waving tactics be referred to as a "Stevejob".

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. BorkedAgain

      Well, yes...

      ...Not least because they were displays you could see and use...

    5. John Sager
      Paris Hilton

      You can get patents for unrealisable schemes

      See GB patent 1310990 - the infamous British Railways patent for a flying saucer. It was actually granted in 1973 but lapsed in 1976 due to non-payment of the renewal fee:

      Paris? Well, you haven't got a Barbarella icon so she'll have to do!

    6. Annihilator


      By moving to America, land of the free and the litigious!

      However it's more than an idea. You couldn't patent "a black box that does some magic and presents a 3D image", you would have to explain what it is the black box does.

      Quite often ideas exist before the technology can be built (due to manufacturing constraints at the time etc). But if you come up with an idea and try to get it funded to chase the technology required, your investors will really want to be sure you "own" the idea in the first place.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        given that a patent lasts for 25 years they essentially lay claim to anyone trying this, even if they make absolutely no effort whatsoever to pursue it themselves?

        1. asdf Silver badge


          Yep. Isn't it great how our patent system benefits society and encourages innovation? I am sure the founding fathers would be proud of the Rube Goldberg special interest driven patent system we have in place today.

    7. Peter H. Coffin

      In a word....


      The fact that I can't see it working (even poorly) with this decade's technology for more than a handful of folks under near-ideal conditions and using a whole rack of processing power to do so means that the most you're likely to ever see is one demo rig in a children's science museum in California, someday.

      Meanwhile, I'm going to put out here, for all the world to see, the simple plan of twist-polarization CONTACT LENSES for both corrective and non-corrective use. Since somehow the world has gotten the idea that glasses are such a TERRIBLE BURDEN, this eliminates the glasses, and should be compatible with the RealD systems already in use in many theaters.

      1. skellious

        As a wearer of glasses

        It's the stupid paper / plastic designs that are the issue. Make them out of carbon fibre or a light-weight metal and you hardly notice them (in a future where everyone wears them for 3D and some for correction). But I agree. If you never wore glasses before, you will notice them. Perosnally, contact lenses are very annoying and I would opt for glasses systems being developed alongside them to give choice.

        But even that is unecessary. What's WRONG with 2D tv? It's clearly very entertaining and the 2D element keeps it seperated from the reality of your living room. (horror movies would be a lot more scary if the zombie could reach out of the screen, but not everyone would like that...)

        I don't feel 3D adds to the medium of TV.

        1. Graham Marsden

          As a very short sighted wearer of glasses...

          ... I'll opt for Contact Lenses any day, but I wouldn't want to swap to a different pair just to watch TV!

    8. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: Patently

      Yep, but if I make it expensive *and* really complicated I have a different version to yours as well.

    9. Chris 244
      Thumb Down

      Re: Eye matching

      Mismatched vision is only going to become more common. Vision correction in anybody aged 40+ frequently intentionally mismatches focal depths so that one eye dominates for distance and the other for reading.

  18. Sam Tait
    Thumb Up

    Sounds like Snow Crash ...


    The futuristic computer doohickeys in that book worked in a similar fashion for immersive VR, sending indidual beams onto your retina to create the scene (though obviously for one user at a time, you'd negate the 'bottleneck' potential)

    (oh and wotcha Ms Bee)

  19. Anonymous Coward

    So many problems, where to start.

    So I'm prepared to concede that it could work for one person - maybe. The thing is the further you get from the screen the more accurately the system needs to work since the difference in angle between the observers two eyes will shrink. Also the bigger the screen gets the greater the variation in the angles you need to project the picture at but still hitting the bullseye several million times a second. The screen and projector have to be rock solid, as others have mentioned, or track each other and the observer REALLY accurately.

    As others have mentioned you also need to be tracking the observers' faces to accurately know where their eyes are.

    Is the projector also allowing for people lying on the floor, standing up and all altitudes/attitudes in between?

    Now lets add another viewer to the mix and we're really cranking up the bandwidth and the complexity of the calculatons. There must also be a point where there are so many observers in the room or where observers are so close together that the different images 'bleed' into your own view not only spoiling the '3D effect but blurring/tinging the image.

    I'm sure there's more but . . . icon says it.

    I agree with all of the other posters who believe there should be some limitation on patenting technological fantasies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's too bad Apple didn't call you before wasting their time. I'm sure that the people who worked on this would have been grateful for your expert advice.

  20. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    ... and another thing

    What happens when the observer turns slightly sideways?

  21. jai


    i bet the performance is much snappier than 2D displays

  22. Shakje

    In the land of the Apple patent

    the one eyed man is fucked.

  23. loopy lou

    Monitor replacement?

    I'm deeply skeptical too. But if it could be made to work for just one viewer and just targeting a face sized area (so no 3D) it would make a pretty neat monitor replacement. The screen could be at a comfortable distance and the projector could be very low power since most of the light would be getting to the viewer - and no-one would be able to see over your shoulder...

  24. Francis Vaughan
    Thumb Up

    Beg to differ

    Well, I beg to differ on the effectiveness, and innovativeness of this idea. I suspect that it can be made to work and with not too great a leap in both compute power and projection technology.

    Years ago I set up a single wall VR system. SGI Onyx, Crystal Eyes shutter glasses, Ascension Flock of Birds motion tracker. We ran a mix of open source and proprietory software on it, and it provided a very nice semi-immersive 3D environment. It suffered from all the defects that are well, known, not the least of which is the problem that there is no depth of field. That problem is common to every 3D system in existence, including all the movies.

    But, looking at this patent, and looking at what we had to work with, what we could achieve with the then available technology, versus what is needed here, I don't think the jump isn't nearly as large as people think. Probably the most expensive thing to make will be the screen, and that is simply a matrix of thousands of shiny hemispheres.

    The issues of tracking the subjects and locating their eyes is pretty much a solved problem. The Old Flock of Birds did it very well, but needed a sensor mounted on the shutter glasses. There are modern multi-camera systems that can identify and track humans to enough resolution. The projection systems could be addressed with little more than a stack of modern LCD or DLP projectors. As a rough approximation you need one projector worth of illumination per eye observing the screen. Considering what we used in old VR systems, this is dirt cheap. The compute power needed to convolve the image isn't actually all that much. It is simple geometry - all you need to do is determine where the eye is - cast a ray back to each hemishphere, calculate the bounce, and find which pixel in the reflected screen you pick up. There will be conflicts, and some image degradation, but it may be manageable. Once you know the mapping from hemishphere to projected pixel you just scramble the projected images with the map. A couple of FPGAs would be coasting, Not likely doable with a home gaming PC, but certainly doable with a more high end processing setup.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Beg to differ

      But your system didn't need to pinpoint the correct microscopic spot on millions of tiny reflective dots in real-time correcting for any relative motion between the projector, screen and observer. Also you didn't need the light to be reflected from each of those microscopic dots with almost zero dispersion directly to the observers eye. Remember if another view er catches sight of any unintended scatter from another viewer's image then their image will be compromised. As some other poster said you will almost certainly need laser-like beam convergence to have any hope of carrying off that trick.

      Still to be convinced.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Octopoid

      Plead to quarrel

      "cast a ray back to each hemishphere"

      Just to expand on that slightly, you mean calculate 2,073,600 rays per eye, per viewer, 60 times a second, and manipulate 2,073,600 sub-millimeter lenses in a tight grid, accurately to thousandths of a millimeter, based on data tracked from measuring 2 centimeter squared targets in 3D space, 10 feet away from the screen, and about 3 centimeters apart. That's a lot LOT more complicated than you suggest.

      I'm not sure which world a "high end processing setup", more powerful than a gaming rig PC, just to display the image, makes sense. Here's my 2 TFLOPS PS3 for running the game, and I'll just connect that to my 10 TFLOPS projector. What? Even if this thing could be created, it would cost a literal fortune, and at best produce an image about the same a current polarised efforts. It's just a crazy idea - it could be made to work, in a lab at least, but it's just so much more convoluted than other methods there's just no point.

  25. stucs201

    Cut out the middleman

    If proposing a 3D system based on tracking eye position and accurate aiming of laser beams then why bother with a screen? Just draw directly onto the retina. Oh yeah, 'cos they might have trouble patenting an idea that SF authors thought of ages ago.

  26. MyHeadIsSpinning
    Paris Hilton

    It tracks you and then displays the appropriate image

    Am I the only one thinking of Microsoft Kinnect?

    1. TeeCee Gold badge


      Apparently so, otherwise that would be an MS patent.

      Presumably they are now busily kicking themselves to death while trying to work out if any of the Kinect patents can be stretched to get 'em a piece of the licensing action.....

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To get rid of glasses...

    ....but maintain accurate "eye detection" why not have a headband of some kind with sensors for each eye.

    When you put on the headband you make sure the sensors are right above your eyes, then allow for approx. 1/2 inch down angle, and as long as the machine can "see" the sensors, it will then be able to accurately display the images for each eye.

    The sensors can be extremely small, and cheaply made, so the "headband" should not cost to much.

    Granted you would need one for each person, however it should be cheap enough to allow multiple sets per unit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @To get rid of glasses . . .

      But then why not wear glasses and simplify the whole system? The whole point of the fiendish complexity of this thing is that uviewers are completely unencumbered. Headbands kind of defeats the point.

  28. Michael 43

    Apple Invents ?? WTF !!

    all they need now is someone to invent it and get it working, then 'hey presto !!' Apple owns the patent!!

    It proves one point.. Apple don;t invent anything... they are justa good marketing company !!

  29. Ben Ryves

    Sounds similar to the Microsoft one.

    Microsoft demonstrated something that sounds remarkably similar back in June:

  30. Grubby

    Ooh a shiny!

    I can just see it being like one of them Pokemon cards you flip round and it looks like it's moving. I wonder if the TVs will come with a free stick of gum.

    Personally I wouldn't mind wearing the glasses if they didn't look so $hit. Why do they have to look like Where's Wally rejections.

  31. BongoJoe

    Flat out

    I can't see how this would work for people lying down on their side or at an angle. Either the signal to the second eye would have to come on a different line or the viewer would get a confused image until they stit upright.

    Or I may have no idea whatsoever.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another patent for a future claim...

    So basically not much more than an idea on the back of a matchbox and they have another patent they can pull out of the cupboard in the future if anyone so much as goes near any of their idea.

    Totally rediculous how they can patent a stick man drawing without so much as anything to back it up. Going by that you could effectively patent any future tec you could think of and then just wait for somebody to go anywhere near it.

    Daft idea anyway, going to all the trouble to try and track where multiple users eyeballs are and then somehow manipulating numerous deflectors to get the image to the correct person and correct eye.

    Sync'd glasses/contact lenses are simple and already work very well, certainly as well as this would. Up the resolutions, up the frequency, glasses become more and more clear etc. - job done. Next we wait until we have in eye projection systems or holographic displays and, after that, direct neural projection.

  33. Camber01

    How about forgetting 3D and just film at 300+fps?

    How about the industry no focus on 3D technology and just start producing in a film speed at a very high frames per second? That alone will give the presented picture more depth in the field! I don't care about things "coming at me". Give me the depth and I'll really enjoy the scene greatly!

  34. Keith Doyle
    Thumb Down


    Seems like they're 130% of the way to implementing a dynamic lenticular system, but that wouldn't work any better than an 100% dynamic lenticular system. Why not just leave it at 100% and you don't have to worry about tracking the viewers at all?

  35. Steen Hive

    What's the point of "no glasses"?

    Surely better to leverage the rose-tinted pair already worn by all Apple-users?

  36. Martin Usher

    The flaw's in the drawing

    One of the generic boxes in their diagram is a "Digital Signal Processor". These things are specialized processors for running algorithms on streaming data, they're not magic boxes. This suggests a certain cluelessness about how this thing would actually work which suggests that its yet another valueless patent designed as a land grab. These are crap -- they exist so that when someone (probably a Japanese company) puts in the leg work to make something that actually works they can turn up with their hand out claiming they "invented" the technology.

    The patent system is a joke. It fails to protect the real workers against the predations of the carpetbaggers.

    1. asdf Silver badge

      not carpetbaggers

      far worse pond scum lawyers.

  37. Alan Firminger

    Come back in 50 years

    Theoretically the idea of shooting the wanted light into every eye watching the screen is excellent. It means that heads can move to anywhere, and tilted. As a viewer approaches the screen the image gets extra depth. Each person present could see a different film. This is terrific.

    But as everyone above has observed, it is way beyond the possible, and I add, now.

    The patent has a life of twenty five years in the States, so it will have lapsed by the time technology catches up.

  38. El
    Paris Hilton


    So it's good only for porn, then? Exactly what I would expect from Apple...

    (But seriously, what are the limits on the number of people whose heads can be individually tracked and provided with unique stereoscopic images?)

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    so... a 3d display version of the wii head tracking demos that are all over youtube?

    You know, the ones where it looks like you're looking through a window...

  40. T J

    Not new, so stay tuned

    This is an old, old idea, its just become possible with current tech. So - will be some interesting patent news down the track once Toshiba, Sony, LG etc get on the case. Stay tuned!

  41. Farai
    Jobs Halo


    MAYBE the hardcore processing is going to be done in the cloud, via Apple's billion-dollar data center (, with a new-generation Apple TV device delivering the results to your home...?

    1. Octopoid


      So now we're reading excessively accurate positioning data about any number of viewers bodies, heads, eyes and pupils, along with data about the projector position and screen position, sending this over the internet, letting the server convert all of this into an insane amount of motor instructions,sending it back down the internet where it finally moves several million tiny lenses by incredibly precise amounts.

      And you reckon thats going to work 60 times a second, with no foreseeable issues? Under current technology, you would be doing just fantastic if you got the overall latency down to 1 second, let along the millisecond response times needed.

      And that's not even the biggest problem - the biggest problem is the projector. Under current technology it's just not possible. Don't be swayed by talk about sub pixel fields. That doesn't even begin to help with this type of problem. Individually targeting pixels in this way requires motorised lenses 100x smaller than anything in existence, and not just one - over 2 million, closely packed. And not even one lens - a focal system PER PIXEL is also required. And then there's simple stuff, like the data bus itself. 2 million pixels, each requiring a pitch and yaw, and a focal setting, to an incredibly high level of accuracy, probably at least 32 bit per channel. A quick calculation shows you'd need at least 11 gigabytes (88 gigabit) per second just to pass the control signals back, not even including the image itself.

      Even if any of this did become possible many many years down the line, it's just a non starter. There's so many other ways of generating 3D images which don't require mainframes, laser arrays, millions of tiny focal systems, highly specialised screens, and magic.

  42. JaitcH

    Apple Tosh ... not a recipe ...

    actually the name of the process where some brainless scientist gets together with a guileless patent attorney and dream up, or re-engineer an existing patent, and produce sketches and prose that is sufficiently obtuse to confuse the American Patents Office.

  43. Spoonsinger

    Sharks with frickin laser beams,

    Train them to strobe peoples eyes with an image. (This idea is hereby in the public domain. The use of sharks is figurative and can be interchanged with any other laser based mechanical method for the delivery of an image onto a subjects retina. Use of three or more lasers also allowed).

  44. Philip 5


    A post about Apple and no mention of the word 'fanbo*' by the el Reg Pavlovians? Surely some mistake...

  45. Pinky

    Not sure this is safe..

    I'm pretty sure that firing tight-beam lasers at a perfectly non-lambertian screen has been done before, but we'd usually regard that as disco lighting, and tend to avoid looking down the beam. There's also the minor question of creating a coloured image - the blue source could be a bit a pain (literally)!

    This looks like it was dreamt up on a Friday evening, and some idiot took the beer mats to the patent office.

  46. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    What's the point?

    Seriously, what does anyone see in these things (no pun intended)?

    Simulated-3D displays have limited applications in some fields - engineering, medicine, etc - but there passive-polarized glasses work just fine for nearly all users. And that tech's been around for ages - I saw commercial systems at SIGGRAPH in 1988.

    For entertainment, the appeal of simulated-3D video utterly escapes me. If I want to see in 3D (which I don't, particularly, except to the extent it's functionally useful), I look at the real world, which is far more interesting than anything in some James Cameron film anyway. TV is interesting when it features strong plots, complex characters, engaging dialogue. Fortunately, even the USPTO is unlikely to let Apple patent those.

    And you damn stereoscopic kids get off my lawn.

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