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Postcard from GDC 2004: Kodak's Protype Stereoscopic Display

March 26, 2004

Kodak, best known for producing film, cameras, and the PhotoCD and Picture CD image formats, has been previewing a lab-built prototype of an auto-stereoscopic display. I had a chance to play a racing game on the display and talk with its inventor.

Kodak's bulky, yet convincing autostereoscopic display system.

I've viewed a lot of other stereoscopic displays over the years, including a few immersive cave environments, several different flavors of lenticular lens-based autostereoscopic LCD panels, head-mounted goggles, Sharp's new 3D laptop, as well as the various implementations of LC shutter glasses--the flicerific consumer game models, the professional flicker-free CAD systems, and 3D Imax.

This experience was unlike any of these and was quite compelling despite its limitations. As you can see in the photo, the display is bulky and your head must be kept very near the viewing hood and in a small sweet-spot (as in every other auto-stereoscopic display).

But I found it was much easier to find the sweet-spot in the Kodak unit, and because of the way the images are presented, the field-of-view was significantly greater than any other non-immersive display.

Kodak is claiming a 45-degree field of view for the device--shy of the typical 80-degree field of view described as the minimum for an immersive experience, but far better than the 10 or 15 degrees a desktop monitor provides.

Kodak believes it can make the unit smaller (small enough for a consumer device), but the first models will probably be placed in museums, arcades, and other public spaces. According to the Kodak scientist that developed the system, the optics inside the cabinet bend light into parallel rays--thus virtually eliminating the eye fatigue that plagues other close-up stereo displays.

The sweet-spot is indeed small--only eight cubic inches for now--and the shape of the cabinet made the ergonomics of using the steering wheel awkward. But I found this experience of racing around a virtual track to be much more believable than any arcade or PC racing game I've tried my hand at--because of both the stereo effect and the greater field-of-view.

I'm not convinced that the inherent limitations of size will ever make this a display widely used for home gaming, but the experience is high enough that it should be viewed as the benchmark for the quality and immersiveness of any stereoscopic display. And because of that, when it becomes commercially available, game developers should consider it as a development tool for testing the ability of their games to operate in a stereoscopic environment.

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