Apple awarded patent for glasses-free 3D display system

apple silences iphone 4 discontent with forum censorship logo1Apple has been awarded a patent for an interesting bit of technology: a display system that capable of delivering high-quality 3D images to multiple viewers. The kicker? The system requires no special eyewear to make viewing the 3D imagery possible.

The patent, modestly titled “three-dimensional display system,” was filed by Apple in 2006 and approved yesterday. It outlines a design built around an autostereoscopic reflective screen. As the patent explains,

Autostereoscopic displays attempt to present a spatial image to a viewer without the use of glasses, goggles, or other personally-worn physical viewing aids. Autostereoscopic displays are appealing because they hold the prospect of offering the best experiential approximation to the optical characteristics of a real object.

The document outlines how the technology will locate and track a viewer’s eyes and will then render images on a textured screen that correspond to the eyes’ position. The 3D image is formed from the merging of two images drawn from the difference in perspective of the viewer’s two eyes. Apple seems to think that it should be possible to do this for multiple viewers simultaneously.

3D technology that doesn’t require any headgear has big potential in the home theater market. Electronic manufactures have already launched 3D-ready TVs and blue-ray players, but all require some form of eyewear. The extra headgear can be uncomfortable, easily lost, and just flat out obnoxious in a home theater setting and is largely thought to be responsible for preventing 3D technology being widely adopted.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only company interested in ditching the glasses in 3D display systems. Toshiba is currently readying a lineup of glasses-free 3D TVs that are expected to launch sometime this month in Japan. There’s no word from Apple from stating its plans for the technology.