IBM demos low-cost 3D TV tech

Company says the technology could be built into a standard DLP television for less than $20. Photo: Putting the 3D in TV

SAN FRANCISCO--Just because the television is flat doesn't mean the content has to be.

At the 22nd annual Flat Information Displays conference sponsored by iSuppli here, IBM's display laboratories demonstrated a low-cost way to get high-resolution 3D images from a large-screen television or home-cinema projector that's already on the market.

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IBM expects that the technology could be built into a standard DLP television for less than $20.

The company showed a 50-inch, flat-screen Texas Instruments rear-projection digital television with Digital Light Processing, or DLP, technology. IBM configured the set with its own hardware and software, which takes 3D content and splits it into two images that are later translated as a stereophonic image with the help of "passive" glasses like those one would find in an IMAX theater.

"This was on the drawing board for about two years and now we're at the conceptual proof-of-concept stage. We are here to look for a manufacturing partner to bring the technology to market," said Jim Santoro, a technology license program manager from IBM's office in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Santoro wouldn't release all the specifics of the IBM technology, which does not yet have an official name, but he did say the software is compatible with all OpenGL and Direct3D applications, which are widely used in PC video games.

The converter box can be retrofitted onto existing projectors for a little more than $1,000, Santoro said. That's a fraction of the cost of competing products such as the ZScreen monitor, which retails starting at $1,895. IBM's hardware is compatible with current VESA three-pin stereo interfaces.

IBM 3D TV tech

Viewing traditional 3D content in the theater or on a television screen required two projectors. The new generation of digital projectors, such as the one IBM demonstrated, translates 3D content with just one machine, alternating rapidly between images meant to be seen by the right and left eyes. The technology used in the "Chicken Little" film shows 144 frames per second, for example.

In one example, Santoro showed amateur footage of a high school basketball game that was shot in 3D.

"This is just in the testing phase now, but many sports broadcasters have expressed an interest in showing games in 3D," Santoro said. "Imagine 'Monday Night Football' in 3D. I'm a big football fan, so for me that would be great."

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