Back in May 2021, Acer announced and teased SpatialLabs, a glasses-free stereo 3D display technology/product aimed at 3D professionals such as CGI/CAD designers and engineers. What seemed like a far-off technology has now been launched by Acer as a product embodied by the ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition laptop.
On its website, Acer presents the concept as follows: “Design, review, and present all your designs in eye-popping, glasses-free stereoscopic 3D… allows visual artists and engineers to get early previews of their work without needing to render.”
I’ve been able to see it for myself, and it’s been performing better than I was expecting. First, let’s provide some background on how SpatialLabs works.
SpatialLabs is built on a lenticular display technology that can work in 4K in 2D or 2x2K (2K per eye) in stereo 3D. Lenticular displays are built to show each eye a slightly different view of the scene, thus creating a depth perception that a regular screen simply cannot achieve.
Beyond the physical display panel, Acer also provides software in the form of drivers, apps and utilities for doing things like turning 2D content into stereo-3D content. The company is also working closely with middleware developers such as Epic (Unreal Engine) to facilitate adoption.
~6-7 years ago, Japanese TV manufacturers attempted to commercialize glasses-less “holographic” 3D televisions based on lenticular technology. Back then, the result was not satisfying, primarily for a couple of reasons:
- Dividing 1080p resolution in half yielded poor image quality
- Lenticular displays work best when the display is tuned to a specific user position, and multiple people might be watching TV
After seeing SpatialLabs with my own eyes, I have to say that some demos are very compelling. I can sit 20-27 inches from the display and the Acer software would adjust the 3D rendering for proper left+right eyes image separation and rendering. Try to stay still because there’s a small lag between head motion and stereo compensation.
You can perceive objects “coming out of the screen” by up to half-distance between you and the screen’s surface (10-13 inches), which is impressive, and it works better for small objects, right at the center.
In my opinion, the depth cue can be useful (from a productivity standpoint) to select professionals who design objects to be manufactured later as it’s not quite the same to see them in 2D vs. stereo 3D.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to take a picture that would accurately represent what I’m seeing, but if you’ve experienced 3D TVs with glasses before, try to imagine your best experience, but without the glasses, near-perfect stereo separation, and 4x the resolution.
That would be a good approximation of what Acer SpatialLabs offers: vastly superior image quality and user experience.
For example, one of the demos was “Showdown”, and you can see the 2D version in the video below. There are tons of objects flying by the camera that “pop out of the screen” if you have a stereo 3D setup like SpatialLabs.
Still, the 3D effect has characteristics of stereoscopic 2D: sometimes, you see exaggerated parallax, and objects that are too close might show some ghosting. But when the content is tailored for stereo 3D, it’s easy to get avoid these.
Also, a laptop use case means the user typically sits at the proper location, right in front of the screen. Furthermore, Acer has installed optical sensors to track exactly where the eyes of the user are in space, to make real-time adjustments.
Jewelry, toys, spare parts, and much more are great examples of industrial design activities that could benefit from better depth perception. Architecture could also benefit from it as well as lots of models are constructed during these projects.
Realistically, lenticular 3D displays like this one won’t totally replace the need for sculpting, 3d-printing, or prototyping physical objects. However, they can lower the frequency (and cost) at which designers and engineers need to build expensive physical models. That is valuable.
Reducing the wait for physical prototypes can speed up the “iteration loop” and increase the productivity of expensive personnel. If true, that’s another layer of potential added value. Each company will have to gauge the benefits for their specific use case as it’s a niche market, for now.
As display technology gets better and with 8K displays on the horizon, I expect lenticular displays to further improve. For now, the results are great and although it’s not quite “holographic” yet, Acer might be leading a nascent high-margin niche market.