3D TV (no glasses required)

During the cyberdelic early 1990s in San Francisco, my friend Dan Mapes was one of the rave scene's most dynamic digital video and virtuality evangelists. I hadn't heard from Dan for several years, but today's New York Times reveals that his vision for the future hasn't changed. Dan's now co-founder of Deep Light, a San Fernando Valley-based start-up marketing a high-res 3D TV that delivers the illusion of depth without any clunky glasses. In the Times article, Michael Krantz gives a sneak preview of Deep Light's HD3D, a system based on technology first developed by Cambridge University professor Adrian Travis.

Back in autumn 1986, while he was an optics-obsessed grad student, Mr. Travis had an idea that he called time multiplexing. Suppose you were to pass an image through a lens and open a shutter when it emerged to guide the image out at a precise angle. And suppose you could do that for 30 images a second through each of 10 angles. Like fanning out a deck of cards, you'd beam out 10 angles of your image so quickly that, no matter where the viewer was in relation to the screen, each of his eyes would see its own angle of live video. Voilà: natural 3-D.

The problem was speed. Movies need 24 frames per second to fool our brain into seeing motion. Video needs 30. Time multiplexing needed 300, and no device existed to deliver it, so Mr. Travis decided he'd just build one himself. "I thought it was a get-rich-quick scheme," he says with a chuckle. "I'd make my fortune and then decide what I really wanted to do in life." Instead, it followed the course of so many other high-tech eurekas: a long, painful succession of investors nibbling away at it, until the trail of licenses and sub-licenses reached from Europe to Asia to Los Angeles and Dan Mapes.