IT'S become the must-see technology for cinema-goers and now it's about to enter living rooms through the family TV.
• Engineer John Braithwaite, demonstrating his Realview innovation in his garage near Lanark, hopes that his 3D television technology won't fall flat with demanding home cinema viewers. Photograph: Robert Perry
The biggest flaw up to now in viewing 3D images is that it's only been possible via the lenses of an unflattering pair of coloured spectacles.
Now a Scots inventor has created what promises to be the ultimate in 3D watching – a screen which allows TV viewers, cinema goers and gamers to see three-dimensional images without special eyewear.
Two-dimensional technology, which is used in traditional TV or film, displays only a flat pictorial image. But the optical technology developed by engineer John Braithwaite from a workshop in his garden in the Clyde Valley uses a separate screen to split a single image. When it hits the right and left eyes separately, it tricks the brain into seeing the picture in three dimensions.
Realview, the company co-founded by Braithwaite nine years ago to research 3D tech, is already working with multi-media giant Sony on bringing the invention to market.
Special screens have been designed for testing on hand-held gaming machines. But Realview is now starting to manufacture the first screens which will fit directly over a TV set or personal computer and is also working on a version for use in cinemas.
Braithwaite, 65, who also has a company making astronomical telescopes, said: "Glasses-based 3D has existed for so long – I remember it being said to be the next big thing when I was a child in the 1950s.
"But it hasn't really developed since then. The problem with the traditional method is that to view something in 3D, you need the content to have been produced in 3D. For our version, you can use it with whatever image is on screen, as long as there is movement."
The company believes the technology could eventually be widened out for use in a number of different industries, including sub-sea engineering, healthcare and the aerospace sector, where experts are already considering its use in aircraft simulators.
The first batch of 10,000 screens, which are due to sell for $199 (134) each, are to be manufactured in a factory in Norwich next month and shipped to the US, where Realview already has a deal with a distributor.
The screens will initially be sold only for 23-inch TVs but there are plans to manufacture the product in a range of sizes.
"We want to get to a point where people can come to us and buy our technology in a particular size," said Braithwaite. "What they do with it after that is up to them."
Three-dimensional viewing works by mimicking the binocular vision of human eyesight, in which two sets of lenses create depth of field. It allows the viewer to feel more involved in the action, giving the impression that a character or object is actually coming out of the screen into the room.
While 3D films have existed in some form since the late 1800s, the technology has developed slowly. Film-makers use two cameras shooting the same scenes from different angles to create the 3D effect for cinemagoers.
Recent blockbusters such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland have created a demand and the technology is now moving into the home, with Japanese and US retailers earlier this year beginning to sell the world's first 3D television sets.
The president of Sony has said that 3D viewing is "the next great consumer experience." But the sets, manufactured by technology firms including Sony and Panasonic, are sold complete with two pairs of 3D glasses and cost around 50 per cent more than a comparable normal flatscreen television.
Although modern 3D glasses use clear lenses – unlike the red and blue version which once came free with cereal packets – Braithwaite believes that the spectacles-based technology will soon be obsolete.
"TV producers are shying away from the idea of 3D TV because it is so expensive for them to produce special content," Braithwaite said. "They have seen the idea of 3D glasses come and go over the years and they are wary of investing a lot of money into it.
"And people want to be able to watch 3D without wearing the glasses. Our screen will work on any visual content which is already in existence."
He added that he had watched a Laurel and Hardy film in 3D as part of a test run of the cinema version of his technology and had won the approval of a group of sceptical projectionists.
Josh Welensky, who runs digital music retailer AMP3 and is The Scotsman Magazine's gadget columnist, said: "This kind of thing definitely has great potential.
"Some of the 3D technologies already in existence have had problems with being able to achieve depth of field unless specialised content is built from the bottom up in 3D for TV programmes or films such as Avatar.
"If this screen manages to achieve that depth of field so you really feel like the images are spilling out at you, then that's great and it really could transform things."