Three-dimensional displays have made it to televisions and even handheld video game consoles, but there are limitations. One is that the illusion of three dimensions starts to break down if the viewer looks at the image from a range of different angles. Furthermore, 3-D displays can produce headaches and even nausea.

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ZSpace, a California technology company, has designed a large display that preserves the 3-D illusion better than almost anything out there, because it tracks the viewer’s head. It still requires glasses, but the glasses have small reflective tabs on them that allow a computer to track the exact spot the user is looking at.

Ordinarily a 3-D display presents two images, each offset a tiny bit from the other, or with different polarizations. The images flicker in such a way that each eye sees a different image — that’s where the glasses come in, to help the eye focus on the image it’s “supposed” to.

The problem is head movement or standing away from the center of the image. When you move, the image projection is off because in most displays it only goes in one direction, straight out to the middle of the room if it’s a 3-D television.

The zSpace design uses the head-tracking software to adjust the images slightly. This maintains the illusion and prevents the nausea and headaches, which are caused by eyes straining to keep images focused. The tracking system also works with a stylus to generate an image of a laser-like beam that can work as a kind of pointer, to manipulate objects in the visual field.

David Chavez, chief technology officer of zSpace, told DNews he sees it as an aid to fields where looking at real objects is important, but sometimes expensive or problematic. One display, he said, was sold to a medical school — Touro Medical College — allowing aspiring surgeons to “handle” human organs and practice before they actually try their skills out on cadavers.

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The displays aren’t cheap; they run into the thousands of dollars for a single unit, so it isn’t something that will come into the home quite yet. Chavez added that the other big market will be designers that want a clear idea of how new products look and function before they fabricate something and of course, gaming, which has a habit of picking up new display technologies.

Credit: zSpace