3D Computer Displays

What are stereoscopic 3D computer monitors good for?

Valve VR 3D Development Kit

 Valve

Just as 3D HDTVs didn't catch on with consumers like manufacturers had hoped, 3D computer displays will likely remain a niche luxury for the foreseeable future. That said, 3D PC monitors could be a game changer in the fields of medicine and architecture.

Information in this article applies broadly to a type of computer hardware.

3D Displays vs. 3D Graphics

3D graphics are nothing new to the world of personal computers. 3D graphics represent a three-dimensional world rendered in a two-dimensional display. While viewers have a sense of the depth between objects, it is no different than viewing a standard television program or film that has been shot in two dimensions.

3D displays, on the other hand, are designed to simulate depth using stereoscopic vision. This is done by presenting two different images so that the viewers' eyes interprets them as a single 3D image. The displays themselves are still two dimensional, but the brain perceives three-dimensional depth.

Types of 3D Computer Displays

The most common type of 3D display is based on shutter technology, which uses special LCD glasses to synchronize two images. This technology has been used with computers for many years through specialized hardware, but it's now possible to produce 3D images in higher resolutions with greater refresh rates. Some virtual reality goggles, such as the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, are capable of producing 3D effects the same way by displaying separate images for each eye.

Autosteroscopic 3D displays don't require glasses. Instead, they use a special filter called a parallax barrier that is built into the LCD film. When enabled, light from the LCD travels differently at various angles, causing the image to shift slightly between each eye, thus generating the sense of depth. This technology is best suited for small displays like the Nintendo 3DS.

The latest 3D display technology, called volumetric 3D, probably won't make it into consumer products for some time. Volumetric displays use a series of lasers, or rotating LEDs, to present an image in a three-dimensional space. There are major limitations to this technology, including the large display size, lack of color, and high costs.

Who Benefits From 3D Displays?

There are a few 3D computer displays available that support 3D movies and video games. Unfortunately, not many games and movies are optimized for 3D, so it's not really worth the investment unless there's a particular movie or game you must see in 3D. Even then, the quality of the 3D may not meet your expectations.

Aside from the entertainment industry, the biggest benefactors of 3D computer technology will likely be doctors, scientists, and engineers. Medical scanners already produce 3D images of the human body for diagnosis, but a stereoscopic 3D display allows doctors to get a more complete view. Designers can use 3D displays to render buildings or objects. While 3D computer monitors won't be in every home any time soon, they will likely start showing up in more labs and universities.

Problems With 3D Displays

Even with all of the various 3D technologies, there is a segment of the population that lacks the physical ability to see 3D images. Some people just see a two-dimensional image, while others experience headaches or disorientation. In fact, some manufacturers of 3D displays are putting warnings on their products to suggest against extended use due to these effects.

Aside from the extra costs and peripherals, the biggest barrier to widespread adoption of 3D computer monitors is that a 3D display isn't necessary for most computer-related tasks. For example, a 3D display will not be useful while you're reading an article on the web or working in a spreadsheet.