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Are Light-Field Displays Moving Beyond Science Fiction?

February 17, 2021

Those futuristic holographic projections seen in an array of your favorite science fiction films—from Star Trek to Iron Man—may be near reality. If the movies translated to real life, the projections would be using a “light-field (or holographic) display”.

Bold creators, engineers, and scientists have been nose deep in developing and testing the technology that would bring true holographic video to life. As one could guess, creating photorealistic, floating images up to par with expected standards is notoriously difficult. 

New to the idea of light fields? Don’t worry, we’ll get you up to speed!

What Are Light-Field Displays?

Coined by physicist Andrey Gershun in 1936, a “light field” can be defined as a vector function that “totals all light rays in 3D [three-dimensional] space, flowing through every point and in every direction.” So, a light-field display (LFD) is what would reproduce a window-like, 3D aerial image, without the need for glasses or headwear—allowing the consumer to view the visual representation from any perspective.

From Science Fiction to Reality

The idea itself dates back over a century ago to the concept of Integral Photography by Gabriel Lippmann. He proposed the initial method of light-field capture to create images that would act more like a window. Lippmann’s forward thinking precedented the development of the hologram by Dennis Gabor in 1948.

While both were astonishing discoveries and accomplishments for their time, the resources available made it difficult to truly breathe life into realistic, perspective-shifting holography.

Some have experimented with the light field since then to bring the coveted sci-fi experience to fruition, but not without roadblocks. Though it seems that 2019 is finally the year for light-field displays to move beyond science fiction. If so, LFD’s have some pretty amazing benefits for the viewer and the industry.

Light-Field Display Benefits

The main and most obvious benefit that LFD’s have to offer is enhanced storytelling through immersive media. Can you imagine watching a holographic light-field cinema in your living room and feeling like your favorite actor is actually there with you?

It would be the richest, most realistic experience viewers could get—a 100 percent representation of filmed content in high resolution. It also would allow the creator to change the integral features of an image after it’s been taken. For example, adjustments to the focus or the creation of 3D pictures from one exposure would both be possible.

Even as we’re on the cusp of such revolutionary technology, there are already some emerging LFD projects in the works.

Emerging LFD Projects

Just two of the most promising innovations currently being developed are by Light Field Lab and Draper:

Light Field Lab

Light Field Lab is a company dedicated to building a holographic ecosystem. Recently, they embarked on an ambitious mission to bring the famed Star Trek Holodeck to life in partnership with a graphics software firm, Otoy. To do so, they’ll be using holographic displays that don’t require headgear for viewing and Otoy’s open-source, royalty-free media rendering format for real-time graphics. Their goal is to bring this experience to professional and consumer markets.


Engineers at Draper, a research and development organization, designed a light field projector module (LFPM) using “surface acoustic wave (SAW) optical modulators mounted on a printed circuit board and illuminated with precise fiber-optic arrays.” If all goes well, it would provide a truly holographic video experience with technology that supports commercial use.

With that in mind, the Immersive Digital Experiences Alliance (IDEA) has already formed and launched at this year’s NAB Show. It anticipates releasing the first draft of an immersive media

Tag(s): Featured , LFD , News

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