Former Lytro Cinema Staff Unveil Plans to Commercialize Light Field Displays at NAB

Former members of the team at Lytro Cinema have founded a new company, Light Field Lab, aiming to commercialize holographic display — essentially a glasses-free version of 3DTV that presents objects to viewers exactly as if they occupied real physical space in front of or behind the screen.

Lytro Cinema blew some minds at NAB last year with the possibility of using light-field imaging — a kind of image acquisition that gathers information about the direction of light, as well as its color and intensity, to make it possible to manipulate the footage as if it were a 3D scene — to make it possible to adjust fundamental image properties like focus and depth of field in post-production. Now, Light Field Lab co-founders Jon Karafin, CEO, Brendan Bevensee, CTO, and Ed Ibe, VP of Engineering, say they are developing ways to display light-field images as full holographic pictures.

The first application may be consumer displays for use in the living room, but the company sees applications for live venues, medical and education, theme parks and gaming, and eventually even consumer applications like a mobile phone with a holographic display.

Karafin calls it “the pinnacle of immersive display,” meaning that, if the technology works as billed, the holographic images will register on human eyes exactly the same way real objects do.

“When I look across the ecosystem, the things that have been designed and built [for stereoscopic display] always require you to put something on your physical body, so it’s still not quite working from a biological standpoint,” Karafin told StudioDaily. “Your eye is not seeing the exact thing in space. You’re still looking at, for the most part, two images. We think the key to unlocking a fully immersive holographic, volumetric experience is the ability to have a glasses-free experience that’s completely passive and social. You don’t have to rely on a headset to induce motion and re-render that position in space. It’s the physical movement of the viewer, who is able to walk around the space and see with zero latency.”

The key technical problem is that, for a light field display to work properly, it must treat the human eye itself as the lens. That requires taking data from the original light-field capture and manipulating it to present light as if it originated from within the original scene.

An artist’s representation of how a light-field display would project rays of light to hit the human eye as though they were being reflected from an object as a specific location in space.

“You project those rays of light back to the same plane where they would have converged in the real world, so you’re creating the opposite reflection of that object,” Karafin explained. “This is known as the 4D function. You take the original reflection [of light off an object] the eye sees, and trace those rays back to a 4D plane. If you do that with the correct optics and sufficient resolution, you have recreated the original rays.”

Karafin said there are three key areas that define the quality of a light field image. Rays per degree refers to the density of rays generated by the display. It requires a certain number of those rays to make the object appear real. The view volume describes the space in front of the screen that viewers can occupy and still experience the stereoscopic effect. (Unlike earlier glasses-free stereo displays, light-field displays will not require that spectators be positioned in sweet spots to experience the stereo effect properly.) Finally, 2D equivalent resolution is a metric for ray density at a “slice” of space inside the view volume.

The most important takeaway from all that is that Light Field Lab will be starting small, developing a small-scale prototype over the next one to two years with the goal of securing series-A financing to fund development on a larger-scale version. Karafin says leaving Lytro Cinema was a risky move, but insists that the company’s founders are confident that they can provide a compelling holographic experience.

“We have a novel illumination system and a very complex set of optics that allow us to create a completely flat-panel holographic display,” Karafin said. “You can literally hang it on the wall. It will look like a flat-panel display — not as thin as a wall panel OLED — and this is the game-changing aspect of our specific implementation.”

Karafin will discuss the technology as part of an NAB Super Session titled “Next Generation Imaging — Taking Content Creation to New Places” at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25, in room S222-S223 of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Light Field Lab: