Simulating 3-D has been something of a Holy Grail for cinema and TV. But that is set to change with mobile devices, which are expected to come with simpler and cheaper 3-D technology.
Rudimentary 3-D technologies have been around practically since the dawn of filmmaking.
The first-ever attempt came in 1890, when the British film pioneer William Friese-Greene invented a process in which two films were projected side by side on screen, and the viewer looked through a stereoscope to converge the two images.
We've come a long way since this bulky and impractical solution, yet 3-D film and TV is still some way from becoming an everyday reality, partly due to cost. But that looks set to change, and mobile devices - with simpler and hence cheaper 3-D technology - could well lead the charge.
"The mobile market has always been much more dynamic and receptive to new technologies than the television market, as the whole idea of mobility is based on dynamism," explained Atanas Gotchev, the scientific coordinator of the EU-funded Mobile3DTV project.
Gotchev also points out that the viewing conditions, and hence technical requirements, for mobile devices are not as exacting as they are for cinema, which targets a mass audience who expect a thrilling experience, and television, which needs to be of 'home entertainment' quality.
"In Mobile 3-D technology, the viewing mode is personal, the required display size is small and the user is expected to adjust the display position for the best viewing experience," he notes.
The story of 3-D TV for mobile phones has been one punctuated by stops and starts. As early as 2003, Sharp launched a 3-D mobile phone in Japan and Korea's SK Telecom launched a 3-D phone - from Samsung - in 2007, and Japan's Hitachi just launched one in 2009.
But the big challenges have been the paucity of content and coming up with a profitable business model. Apple's iPhone also supports 3-D TV, but can currently only be viewed with special glasses, according to a Mobile3DTV project release.
Mobile3DTV is developing the core elements of the next generation of 3-D TV for mobile devices. "One major challenge is choosing the optimal format for representing 3-D video for mobile delivery," Gotchev points out.
"Another challenge is to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable 3-D viewing experience," adds Gotchev. Mobile3DTV is employing so-called auto-stereoscopic displays, which produce 3-D images that do not require those awkward glasses to view them - which is good news for people who want to be incognito about their mobile viewing."
"Auto-stereoscopic displays use additional optical elements aligned on the surface of an LCD, to ensure that the observer sees different images with each eye," explains Gotchev.
"As mobile devices are normally watched by a single observer, two independent views are sufficient for satisfactory 3-D perception. We have access to probably the most advanced 3-D portable display - one delivered by the Japanese giant NEC LCD," says Gotchev.
Mobile3DTV has already demonstrated these technologies at a number of trade fairs.