The current paradigm shift in display technologies – i.e., the move to 3D – took a further step into an unknown future when Sony demoed its RayModeler technology at SIGGRAPH 2010 three days ago. Sony’s “Sonystyle Blog” discusses the technology, termed a “360-degree autostereoscopic 3D display” and also contains a short video demo. The display consists of a cylinder 27cm high and 13cm wide – obviously not the biggest display around. It’s not quite small enough to carry around in your pocket, but just big enough to show off the technology. The interface is gestural, giving users some control over the display with hand movements, and the really great thing is no overpriced shutter glasses are required.
Obviously this is a first step for Sony, testing the water for future (presumably larger, or even scrollable) displays. The unknown and intriguing aspect is not the technology itself, but how people will respond to it. I can immediately think of dozens of disciplines where volumetric displays could add a new and exciting dimension to learning materials and our perception of them. One problem that suggests itself is the concept of scale, however. Currently when we see a non -3D television broadcast of, say, a Friday night football match our brains accept the idea that the small figures running across the screen are players who are obviously far away from us (and therefore not life-size). Once we introduce displays that include 360 degree views, that perception is immediately compromised, so the scale adjustments made in our cortexes become rather harder to make.
I’ve always believed that true 3D displays would need to be glasses-free to qualify for inclusion in a Jetsons-style future. Maybe Sony is going to get us there.