The History of 3D Technology

3D technology has come a long way since its genesis in the early 1800s. The concept first started with simple glasses which view two separate images of an object, one for each eye, giving the illusion of 3D depth.

The earliest attempts at creating 3D viewing devices was by Constantin Perskyi in 1838 but it wasn’t until 1908 that the first version of anaglyph glasses were patented by Allen Ducan . These used red and green lenses to create a more distinct image due to contrasting colors. A major flaw with anaglyph glasses however is that they only work properly when viewed from directly in front and not from other angles. This makes them problematic as a practical means of watching movies and any other type of content that would require a theater-type setting.

         The next development in 3D technology was unveiled in 1922 in France and it used polarized light, created by placing two linear polarizers perpendicular to each other. Though the system worked in theory, at the time there was no way of displaying an image that could be properly viewed through this technique. It wasn’t until 1939 when Edwin H. Land patented his Polaroid filter which would allow for successful application of polarized light transmission. In 1940 he filed a patent for a three-dimensional film system using polarization, but it wasn’t until 1952 that his company released their first movie projector capable of projecting polarized images called the Paravision.

         However, even with the adapted projection apparatus, watching a 3D movie was still problematic as theater owners had to install large polarization screens at great cost. As a result, the public responded poorly and this led to 3D movies becoming quickly phased out.

         The next major advancement in the history of 3D technology came in 1957 when Willam F. Schreiber and Jacob Leventhal working for New York University developed a system called Telechrome which added color to the viewing process using filters.   It wasn’t until 1962 that their invention became available commercially and it allowed for viewers to watch content in full color instead of just red and green.

         In 1968, Dr. Robert W. Wood who worked at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) introduced what is now referred to as “Vectographs”. This system used an electron beam to control the release of liquid dye in order to create full color images.

         The next major breakthrough in 3D technology occurred when Dr. Benton R. Leigh developed a system called “Regiscope” at his company American Regicom Corp.. It allowed for 3D viewing without the use of glasses by projecting two different images one after another on the same surface while slightly offsetting by using an electronic shutter synchronized with the projector’s alternating image sequence.

         The first public demonstration was held during the 1964 New York World’s Fair and interested parties had to place an order which ranged from $35,000 to $100000 for this new form of technology.

         There was once again a lull in the advancement of 3D technology until 1993 when James Cameron released “True Lies” which was shot with two cameras simultaneously, one for each eye. This process is known as Stereoscopy and allowed for scenes to be filmed from more than one vantage point at the same time. Though this method didn’t require glasses to watch it, it does not offer the full effect that other methods do because objects are still only being viewed from within a limited range of depths.

         The next major breakthrough occurred in 2003 when Edwin Catmull along with his colleagues presented their findings on how to make 3D viewing easier through what they called “autostoscopic displays”. These displays use computer-generated imagery which only requires the use of glasses with polarized lenses to view.

         The next development in 3D technology was presented by NVIDIA Corporation’s Distributed Ray Tracing rendering technique which made its debut at SIGGRAPH 2015. This method allowed for real-time ray tracing on new generation graphics processing units (GPUs).

         As of today, there are many different types of 3D technologies including stereoscopy, autostereoscopy, holography and more each offering some degree of immersion regardless if the content being viewed has been specifically created for that type of viewing experience or not.