Glasses-free 3D, also known as auto-stereoscopic 3D, is a hot trend right now in digital signage. In a medium where compelling imagery is king, what better way to break out of the clutter than images that appear to leap off the screen and into the viewer’s environment? If a digital signage system designer is looking for a way to outdo the competition, this is truly it. Not only will 3D images get more attention, but 3D images will also earn more dwell time. It’s not unusual with glasses-free 3D for people to reach out and put their hands where they see the image coming out of the screen—a phenomenon that puts a whole new spin on the concept of a touch screen!


The Technology

Glasses-free 3D is created by interlacing multiple channels of the same content (still or video), each captured at slightly different perspectives. This is combined into one final composite image or video.

So viewers don’t have to wear 3D glasses see the 3D effect, the screen does. A special filter is placed over the panel that performs interlacing at the screen level.


The simplest filter is a parallax barrier—a fixed barrier of foil mounted between two pieces of glass that inserts a series of tiny slits that allow each eye to see a different set of pixels and thus see a glasses-free 3D image. A more sophisticated solution is a lenticular barrier with edged grooves designed to project two sets of images at the same time, splitting them between the right eye and left eye for the 3D effect). You may be familiar with lenticular printing—the technology that gives printed images on expensive postcards or business cards an illusion of depth. (There’s a good explanation and comparison of the two technologies in Wikipedia.)


While glasses-free 3D technology has been around for a while, two trends make it viable for today’s digital signage customers: 1) the dropping cost of glasses-free 3D HD displays; and, 2) the ready availability of high performance, low-power processors with sophisticated integrated graphics. Put the two together and you have a cost-effective 3D solution.


On the content side, content developers need to be trained on the latest 3D composing tools and auto-stereo 3D workflow. Several 3D content development programs, such as 3D Max or Maya are available. For video, the best solution is to shoot with multiple cameras set up to create the 3D effect. A new company named Imcube is working on a camera that shoots glasses-free 3D content using just one lens that could simplify 3D video tremendously. In the meanwhile, there are also a few cost-effective techniques for putting 3D images in front of existing 2D content, plus some software solutions for processing 2D images into 3D in real-time (e.g., 3D Bee Ultimate).


Naturally, as demand for 3D content increases, so will the expertise and solutions available for creating it. Already, with the growing interest in 3D TV, a growing number of software companies are moving into the market.


Glasses-Free Displays

One manufacturer making innovative glasses-free 3D displays using lenticular technology is Philips. Introduced this year, these full HD LCD displays (widescreen1920x1080p resolution) come in sizes of 23" (58cm), 42" (1.07m) and 55" (1.4m). They also include a built-in 3D conversion software that converts both 3D stereo and 2D content into glasses-free 3D content in real time. According to their website, the rendering core integrated in these auto-stereoscopic 3D displays supports the unique Declipse image format from 3DFusion that enables a true look-around 3D effect and improves the overall visual quality of a 3D picture.


Other display manufacturers, such as Toshiba and Panasonic, are also offering glasses-free 3D displays. In fact, Panasonic recently debuted a massive 103” glasses-free 3D plasma display prototype.


Cost-Effective Solutions for Powering 3D Signage

Compared to other content types, 3D is more compute-intensive since it must be rendered on the fly instead of being pre-rendered. The use of auto-stereoscopic displays further increases the graphics processing workload because of the multiple views that must be rendered at the same time to display a 3D image. Add any interactivity features or anonymous video analytics for matching content to viewers, and the processing requirements further escalate. This means to provide a great viewing experience, the system must be powerful enough to perform this rendering without pause or jitter.


Previously, this high level of graphics processing required a discrete graphics card, but because 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors integrate a high-performance graphics and media processing in the processor, this is no longer the case. The combination of their next generation graphics technology (the integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4000) and Intel® multi-core technology provides all the computing muscle necessary to support multi-view video decoding and smooth playback at more than 30 frames per second (FPS). The secret is in the onboard dedicated hardware for accelerating video decoding. Decoding video, such as MPEG-4 and H.264, is done independent of the graphics engine and other applications processing, leaving other processor resources for other 3D workload tasks.


By eliminating a discrete graphics card, Intel Core processors offer a number of advantages. They lower system cost, reduce power consumption, improve reliability, and help shrink form factor size. In fact, using these processors enables a smaller, lighter, more concealable form factor without sacrificing image quality. You can learn more about these processors, including their cost-saving security and manageability features, in my recent post “Matching Processor to Signage Application.”


Speeding 3D to Market with Ready-to-Go Signage Players

There’s a wealth of excellent digital signage players using Intel Core processors to choose from the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. The 200-plus member companies of the Alliance have the inside track when it comes to working closely with Intel to develop hardware, software, tools, and services. I’m just going to give two examples of players that you can get from one of the Premier members of the Alliance: Advantech. Many more can be found by searching the Alliance Solution Directory.


The first player is the Advantech ARK-DS762 (see Figure 1), a 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7/i5/i3 processor-based digital signage platform that supports for Direct X11 and OCL 1.1, and can power three independent HDMI displays. For some glasses-free 3D displays, a DVI to HDMI converter would be required. The Advantech ARK-DS762 provides great flexibility for expansion and storage, such as HDD, Cfast*, Mini PCIe* and USB 2.0 and 3.0. Developers using Advantech products can also make use of Advantech Embedded Software Services. These services provide BIOS, OS, and API assistance and can help decrease design effort and accelerate product development.



Figure 1. Advantech ARK-DS762.


Where the ARK-DS762 is ready to go for powering a glasses-free 3D display, another 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7/i5/i3 processor-based digital signage platform from Advantech is interesting for showing how such displays will be powered in the near future. The ARK-DS262 (see Figure 2) supports the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS). OPS digital signage players enable faster deployment and lower implementation costs by requiring no optional connections. To connect player to display, you simply insert the player into the specially designed slot of an OPS-compatible display and begin using it. OPS is an industry standard interface that’s catching on fast and something I plan to write on more in the future.


Advanttech DS262.JPG

Figure 2. Advantech ARK-DS262.


One thing I haven’t been able to find though is a glasses-free 3D display that’s OPS-compatible. But I think that’s just a short-term issue. Philips, for instance, makes a number of OPS-compatible displays, just none in their glasses-free 3D line. If you know of an OPC-compatible glasses-free 3D display, please comment. Also, remember my earlier statement that 3D could put a whole new spin on the concept of a touch screen? What do you think about adding a gestured-based interface using Microsoft Kinect? Could a combination of glasses-free 3D and a gestured-based interface get people even more involved with an advertiser’s messaging?

retail[2].pngTo learn more about bringing intelligence to digital displays and other retail devices, see Digital Signage - Top Picks



Advantech is a Premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Mark Scantlebury

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine