Sony's New Display Introduces VR-Like Experience

But it's not quite ready for consumers, yet

Key Takeaways

  • Sony’s new Spatial Reality Display makes images look 3D without a headset.
  • The display costs $5,000 and is aimed at business users.
  • Similar technologies are likely to make their way to the consumer market, observers say.
Sony Spatial Reality Display
Sony 

Sony’s new Spatial Reality Display (SDR) uses eye-tracking to make images look three-dimensional without a VR headset and the technology could eventually make its way to consumers, experts say. 

While the SDR can create stunning 3D images it’s aimed at business users because of its high price tag and the fact that content that takes advantage of the system is limited. It’s one of a growing number of devices that claim to create a virtual reality experience without goggles. Such displays are likely to eventually make their way into living rooms, observers say.

"I’ve used Sony’s displays for 3D product prototyping, as well as at events like CES where they truly wowed people who’d never seen a spatial display before," Adam Rodnitzky, COO, of Tangram Vision, a vision software company, said in an email interview. 

Only the Fastest PCs Need Apply

To produce images that look three-dimensional, the SDR tracks eye movement, as well as your position as you move around the display. There’s also a micro-optical lens over the LCD that splits the screen for your left and right eyes to create a stereoscopic image. "Content extends deep within the display from any viewing angle," Sony says on its website. "Simply moving around—up or down, side to side—makes you feel like you're interacting with the content right in front of you."

The metal, wedge-shaped SDR contains a camera, and a 15.6-inch 4K screen. To render detailed likenesses, the display requires special software and at least an Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA's RTX 2070 Super GPU. It starts at $5,000 but experts say such displays are likely to get cheaper. 

"We’re likely still a few years off from this technology reaching everyday consumers," Rodnitzky said. "They still employ unique components that are not yet manufactured at scale. That means prices will remain high until clear signs of mass-market adoption drive the supply chain to manufacture those specialized components at a scale that lowers the price."

Manufacturers have been trying for decades to make displays that replicate the way your eyes see the world. Back in 2010, Nintendo used a stereoscopic effect on its 3DS game system, pointed out Markus Peuler, CEO of NeXR Technologies, in an email interview.

In the film industry, a new production standard debuted in last year’s Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, Peuler said. "Instead of green screens, LCD video walls are displayed in the background of the scene and adapt to the camera angle," he added. "This creates an incredible wow-effect, as it is no longer necessary to wear a headset for perspective 3D."

A Wave of Holographic Displays

Other companies are producing displays that aspire to produce similar results as the SDR for homes and businesses. Looking Glass, for example, offers a 3D-screen using light field technology which is both cheaper than the SDR and works with several viewers at the same time. "As you move around the Looking Glass, your eyes are exposed to different sets of 3D information, creating a life-like 3D experience for the viewer," the company states on its website


Roomality
and Light Field Lab are also working on similar holographic concepts, but in larger formats than the SDR. Roomality describes its product as "an immersive, 3D system" that projects a virtual world onto the user’s own surroundings without the need for a headset, goggles, or glasses. "Users can change their environment and relax in a tranquil forest, or watch the sun go down from a desert mountain, or experience the thrill of an Arctic snow blizzard from the comfort of their own home."

The SDR and its competitors don’t yet match the potential of virtual reality headsets, Peuler said. Unlike virtual reality, "It is not possible to carry out any physical movement in space, to grasp objects or look behind the scenes," he pointed out. "It's like looking through a small window into a room that you cannot enter."

For the average consumer, Sony’s display is just a glimpse of a future in which virtual reality might be possible without goggles. Until then, there’s always a Star Wars rerun.